27 June 17 The Business Times by GODFREY ROBERT
THE pulse of football fever in any country is measured best by its domestic league.
The English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, the Bundesliga in Germany, and the Brazilian League all have a rich history, long tradition and, most importantly, a keen rivalry that results in their respective national teams receiving rave reviews and high respect.
Therefore, when the new council of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced over the last few days that it was looking into ways to spice up the S. League, it was a step in the right direction.
The FAS has sought the help of the Asian Football Confederation to reshape and better market the S.League while assigning two long-time local football administrators, Teo Hock Seng and S Thavaneson, to lead the council's charge to revitalise the competition.
Kudos to FAS president Lim Kia Tong and his team for making this move after seeing the S.League slump from a high since its inauguration in 1996 and the immediate following years to a pathetic state now where attendances have dropped drastically even with tickets being given out for free.
The situation is so dire that there is only one way for it to go now, and that is up.
As Mr Teo and Mr Thavaneson are about to draw up the plans to make the league sustainable and successful, they have sought the views of the public and esteemed professionals in their attempt to roll back the years.
It is a welcome move, and it is good that the duo have proposed some ideas, like relegation and promotion, a new format of at least 12 teams, financial prudence, formation of a think tank and discussions with Sport Singapore.
The idea to stick with foreign teams needs a re-think. While teams like Albirex Niigata and Brunei DPMM have provided the S.League with some spice, I believe that for a domestic competition to gel with local fans, an all-Singaporean line-up works better.
The S.League must take a leaf from the old inter-constituency tournament and bring in teams on a fan-based geographical perspective so that spectators can align themselves loyally to their teams located at or near their residence, either landed property or HDB flats.
I would suggest that the S.League team composition should be based on locations such as Woodlands, Sembawang or Yishun, Farrer Park, Tampines, Geylang, Changi, Jurong, Choa Chu Kang, Tiong Bahru, Tanjong Pagar/Pasir Panjang and the two uniformed clubs, Home United and SAF Warriors.
The sponsors' names can be tagged on to each team. And assign stadiums that can hold about 5,000 fans for each team.
This would create better fan allegiance for the alliance with Albirex and Brunei DPMM is something contrived for Singaporeans.
Remember the first inter-constituency football tournament for the Prime Minister's Cup in 1972 when a crowd of almost 25,000 turned up at the Jalan Besar Stadium to see Farrer Park take the inaugural title and claim the trophy from our founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
I am not against foreign teams, but it would be better of the local teams sign on good foreigners instead, as is seen universally.
Secondly, funding is a major problem. For a league to sustain you cannot have teams working on an annual budget of S$1.2 million for that reignites the talk about monkey and peanuts.
If salaries for local players range between S$2,000 and S$4,000, you can never get quality players. That's the reason for lopsided scorelines of 8-0 and 9-3 which we saw in a couple of matches last month.
Every team must have at least one marquee player, such as former Liverpool and Arsenal player Jermaine Pennant who played for Tampines last season. Yes, Pennant faded in the end but he did draw spectator interest initially.
For this to happen more regularly, teams must be handed better subsidies, after which it is the responsibility of the clubs to secure sponsorship.
In this area, the FAS has to work towards selling football to the corporates, especially the blue-chip companies and banks, both as a marketing tool for them as well as committing them to a social responsibility.
The S.League is the life of Singapore football and it desperately needs an injection of vigour and vibrance. After all, football can be the unifying force that binds constituents to a team and a people to a nation.