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Clenched Fist To Be Unclenched

It is not as if we want to dig up the past or flog a dead horse but having witnessed what happened for the past few weeks, anyone will feel that fist-clenching bitterness of the sorry state of Singapore football.

Prior to the landmark election that took place last Saturday and saw Lim Kia Tong's slate and their aligned candidates voted into the 15-member Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Council, the main organ of the local game governing body, the whole fraternity was rocked by the raids conducted by the police on offices of FAS, Tiong Bahru FC, Hougang United, etc.

Lawyer Lim Kia Tong is the first elected FAS supremo since 1965

The shocking development of events that unfolded since the night before Good Friday cast a shadow on last Saturday’s poll with calls to postpone it after defeated presidential candidate Bill Ng, former FAS president Zainudin Nordin, and FAS General Secretary Winston Lee were interviewed and later released on bail by authorities following the raids that taken place on 20th of April.

What was bemused was the electoral committee stated they don't have the power or certain mechanism to postpone it when their role was to facilitate the groundbreaking election even with such an awkward circumstance.

Not only the ambiance was weird, but the ability of those who won the election is also now put to test to deliver what they promised during the campaigning amid airs of skepticism when most of the newly-elected were once associated with the old regime.

Subconsciously, my mind drifted back to those days when FAS, under the charge of former president Zainudin, would always be ready to brace the barrage of questions from all corners.

Like how the one-time Member of Parliament faced a ballistic "Mr Jurong" K Suppiah who questioned the presence of foreign teams in the S.League back in the 2012 FAS Annual General Meeting (AGM), which was reported in The New Paper.

Cited the reason to "create a more competitive league with more quality players", Zainudin added: "We have to look at things in perspective. I think there are always differing views and ideas, but I think we have to adapt and make things better as and when it is necessary."

Other than that, answered critics who were not convinced of the sustainability of blueprints like "FAS Strategic Plan 2010-2015" by highlighting endorsements from the sport's luminaries such as both former FIFA and AFC presidents Sepp Blatter and Mohamed bin Hammam respectively (well, I know what you are thinking).

After "GOAL 2010", there was "Strategic Plan 2010-2015" (credit: FAS)

The malfunctioning of the youth development to nurture footballers was countered by sending young players like Adam Swandi to FC Metz on a two-year stint, entered Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Japanese FA in 2013 with promises to send our youngsters to train with top Japanese clubs and visibly highlighted those talents who caught the attention after their "outstanding performance" in the six-sided 2010 Youth Olympics football tournament where Singapore won the bronze medal despite the absence of many football strongholds.

All these examples show how painstakingly the folks at the Jalan Besar Stadium have been trying to convince things are on the path to yield the dividends in years to come.

Like in the first place, when the S.League was launched with much optimism to improve our footballing standard after pulling out from the staple Malaysia Cup tournament in 1995.

However, if we take a closer look at things back then, I would say everything started off on a wrong footing at the beginning.

The hastiness to fill the vacuum left by the Malaysian league had those amateur teams in our own Premier League were asked to transform themselves overnight to act like "professionals" without a proper structure in place in every aspect.

Instead of consolidating the foundation of the league, the ambition to expand to a 10-team competition in the second season (1997) with the admission of Jurong FC and Landmark Marine Castle (who later aborted the plan to turn professional at the eleventh hour) could also be a catalyst for the predicament we are facing today.

Nine teams featured in the 1997 Tiger Beer S.League 

Whilst many argued the league enjoyed healthy attendance in the inaugural Tiger Beer Series, had we not witnessed some games at the subsequent Pioneer Series (second half of the 1996 season) at Kallang were played in front of white elephants?

Probably, one reason resulted from the then boom period being the "novelty effect" of a mint product like the S.League which aroused curiosity among fans, another factor could be many household names during the Malaysia Cup era were still playing in that infancy stage and not forgetting the caliber of imports the clubs recruited in those days.

Unfortunately, problems creep in along the way with a lack of courage to admit shortcomings and make bold, painful decisions to correct those notable mistakes that plagued the league ever since and eventually led to procrastination of problems.

In a bid to resuscitate the sick man on the bed, the wrong medicine was prescribed by the old regime by forming the now-defunct Lions XII to play the Malaysian league in 2012 with the hope to reignite the loss of passion at the terraces.

Lions XII - Champions of Malaysia 2013 (credit: playmaker)

What was projected to trigger that "spill-over" effect did not materialize at all, instead it led to further division within the already fragmented fraternity (NSFW content, please click to see) during that four-year period when Lions XII were making waves across the Causeway (by winning the MSL title in 2013 and Malaysia FA Cup in 2015) at the expense of the S.League and local football.

During that superficial timeframe, our world ranking plummeted further down in recent years when many of those playing for the Lions XII were actually national team regulars

As the result, it meant some Lions regulars, due to their Lions XII involvement, were denied a chance to play at higher level tournaments such as the AFC Cup, etc. whereas clubs from the rest of the region improved tremendously in this tournament (i.e.: the teams from the Philippines and Hong Kong).

The importance of exposing our players to a higher level of competitive matches was raised in the past by the late "Uncle" Choo Seng Quee who once said, “We cannot gauge our standard by taking the Malaysia Cup results as a yardstick. Our goal should be the very pinnacle of Asian soccer.”.

The point was concurred by another former national coach Raddy Avramovic who once cautioned if S.League clubs are not making progress in AFC Cup or the higher-tier Asian Champions League, our youth players are missing out on gaining valuable international match experience at the club level which is essential when playing for the national team.

Coach Raddy cautioned about the lack of exposure to higher-level during his tenure

Many criticized Coach Raddy for virtually sticking to the same group of players even after the infamous disbandment of the national team by Zainudin in 2011 with the latter's attempt to build the new national squad from scratch but because of the flawed development system that regeneration did not take place.

Nonetheless, the Serbian did what he could through his vast contacts in the Middle East by regularly arranging friendlies against teams from the Gulf region to make up for the lack of exposure to a higher level of football and scored significant victories against Jordan and Iraq during his time as Lions' honcho.

Tampines's defeat to Ceres in AFC Cup brought local football to another new low

Sadly, after Coach Raddy left on a high note following the AFF Suzuki Cup triumph in 2012, the fortune of Singapore football nosedived to an unprecedented low ever since.

With no honeymoon period being given to the new regime that took office since the start of the week, the question is will we have the faith and patience to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the shredding of those blind make-believe myths?

Only time will tell if my fist will be unclenched eventually when that day comes.


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