Tuesday, July 31, 2012


SLeague Obituary

Not much about Singapore recently. Mainly ‘cos it’s all been said before ad nauseum. The League Cup, which should be dropped, was expanded into a group stage so teams could play each other more often.

Then came an announcement that the top half would play off against each other as would the bottom half.
Are the people that run the game for real there? They love their talk of hubs, key performance indicators and the like but they ain’t at some business school theorizing to their hearts content. They are supposed to be running football and they are making a right balls up of it.

Crowds are falling so what do they propose? The same teams play each other more often!  The same teams that people have stopped going to see!

Is there no end to the lunacy? Yesterday the Singapore FA held its AGM and in more bad news for the few people left that follow the Singapore league the man in charge said he would not resign. Why not? After all when Singapore failed to qualify for the last world cup he said the whole team should be sacked for falling short of the required standard. What is good for the goose is surely good for the gander?

Under this guy we have had a strategic plan, which really looks like it is being made up as we go along, we have SLeague 2.0 and 3.0 yet it’s all crap. Attendances continue to plummet and nothing seems to be done about it apart from business school speak.

The league is probably still the most exciting in the region, witness Young Lions recent come from behind win over the once mighty SAFFC, but the punters aren’t buying. So what makes them think more of the same will work?

The SLeague is dying and it’s dying because the top gave up the ghost long ago.

Singapore is a hard market to sell in despite what some western expert claimed recently. People there will happily fork out $100 on a replica shirt from Liverpool yet baulk at paying a fiver to see a team that plays across the road.

How can you fight a prejudice that says everything European is fantastic, everything local is shit?

Singaporeans will wave the flag for Singapore; the crowds in the Malaysia Super League for the daftly named LionsXII prove that. And when the national team have a home game, and they stand a chance of winning, the fans turn out in force.

There is a Singaporean identity. One that moans about the MRT, is scared shitless of crossing the Causeway, loves to follow English football and takes great pride in the national airline. But there seems to be no affinity for where they live. Singapore, yes. But Tampines? Gombak? For many people their local team is Liverpool or Chelsea.

It’s a difficult mindset to challenge.

It doesn’t help when the local league is padded out with filler clubs. SAFFC are military, Home are coppers and Young Lions are, in theory, the future national team. Add the foreign teams of Harimau Muda (Malaysia), Albirex Niigata (Japan) and DPMM (Brunei) and you can understand a certain reluctance. It doesn’t feel like a local league. It feels like someone has upset a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and no one can find the picture.

Everyone conspires against the SLeague. Local papers will reprint agency stories that appeared in the English media about Andy Carroll or David Beckham 24 hours earlier rather than get off their arses and cover the local stuff in any depth.

It’s difficult to see what kind of future the SLeague has against this backdrop. If such an exciting league does not pull the fans then perhaps it is time to put the league out of its misery? Again we come back to the people at the top who are getting well paid for their part time sinecures yet achieving very little.

Waffling on about putting more effort into the strategic plan is just waffle. The plan when it came out was pure waffle; high on buzz words, low on detail. The President at the AGM says that because they are not reaching the desired goals does not mean they are failing! What planet has been on recently? Don’t the KPIs he loves to waffle on about apply to him?

When the man charged with taking the game forward says that not reaching targets is not a problem then perhaps it is best we just knock it all on the head.

At the same AGM someone got up and gave an impassioned plea for the game’s survival. The response of the President? It’s an old song, we’ve been hearing it 10 years. Of course you have been hearing it 10 years, Mr President, nothing has changed, the same problems remain and have not been addressed beyond a babble of MBA speak that gets us nowhere.

I would like to be wrong. I really would. I would love to be able to tell people that all they have to do to get to an SLeague game is get off at the nearest MRT and follow the crowds. Or pick up a weekly paper devoted to football on the island. Or go down a sports retailer and see Tampines Rovers or Gombak United souvenirs on sale. But none of that is likely to happen any time soon.

There is plenty of passion for the game. You just have to look at the links on the left had side of this blog to see people taking the time to write about the game they love; it would seem at times they devote more time than those who are supposed to administer the game.

But passion is not enough. There needs to be know-how and money and deep reserves of both. At the moment we have neither. Stick a few fruit machines in the club house and that seems to be the limit of some club owners.

There is talk of a fund that will kick off with 900,000 GBP. That is the level the administrators are operating at. With investors from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand looking at buying clubs in Europe, Singapore, by far the richest country in the region, wonders what to do with a sum of money that Carlos Tevez earns in a month. Small country, small scale, small minds.

Anybody wanting to do anything with the game would soon come up against a system that distrusts any kind of entertainment that attracts large crowds. Institutional apathy deadens the most enthusiastic; with Manchester City, Arsenal, Valencia and Chelsea floating through the region in the last 12 months none have bothered with Singapore. 

With the largest stadium holding about 7,000 spectators even the Teletubbies would be forced to give Lion City a miss. The replacement for the National Stadium is still at least two years away and no one thought to have a stadium in reserve while the new one was being built.

Can the SLeague continue given the seemingly insurmountable problems it faces, both cultural and institutional? It’s difficult to see how unless a total change in mindset is affected. It would be nice to see that happen. It would be nice to see Aleksander Duric get the credit he deserves; Noh Alam Shah be recognized as a Wayne Rooney type character receiving the same sympathy the real one gets from local wannabe Mancs; that promising players like Hariss Harun and Shafiq Ghani are given the opportunity to show their skills without worrying about National Service.

Singapore football is worth saving. Is anybody up to the task?

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