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Corporate Revival In Local Football?

The possibility of the revival of the once-popular Singapore Business Houses Football League (SBHFL) or start something similar was raised during last year's Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Congress when president Lim Kia Tong was quoted in The Straits Times (ST) report that covered the event.

Said Mr Lim:"The plan is to see participation from both businesses and professional associations. We would like to have the corporate sector involved in football again."

The Commercial Cup (NLB archive)
Suggestions from the fraternity to revive SBHFL was nothing new and it was one of the topics brought up in the discussion during the campaigning of 2017 FAS elections.

"It was a good league (SBHFL) where you could get the companies to support football." said Lian Kim Fatt, the honorary secretary of the Singapore Government Services Football League (SGSFL).

"If you don't give the companies mileage, how can you expect them to come on board as sponsors? That's the best way to get companies interested in football." added Lian who was quoted by ST in an article back in April 2017.

The discontinued corporate league traced its roots way back to 1927 when it started off as Singapore Inter-Commercial Cup Competition (also known as "Mercantile Cup" in some press reports) before renamed as SBHFL in 1937.

Like most tournaments, the competition begun using knock-out format with the organising committee deliberated in 1929 on whether to switch it to a league format that did not take place until the competition's league table appeared on Malaya Tribune in 1933.

Ford Sport Club was the last champions in 1941 before the tournament was halted due to the World War II and kept the winners trophy (The Commercial Cup) safe in possession during the war years until it was rediscovered in September 1947 and prompted the organisers - the Singapore Amateur Football Association (SAFA, the precursor of FAS) on the possible revival of the tournament in following year.

The formation of Business Houses FA in 1950 (NLB archive)
The first tournament after the Japanese Occupation was staged in 1950 on a knock-out basis and was the last to be organized by SAFA before handed it over to Business Houses Football Association - a newly-created affiliate to oversee the corporate league operations in 1951.

During the era when the local game's top players were still amateurs, it was not uncommon to see state representatives (in the colonial days) or national players (after independence) turning out for their company teams in the SBHFL which was covered extensively by the newpapers alongside with the main local leagues and the popular Malaya (later Malaysia) Cup tournaments.

As such, it was a common sight to see a particular player who represented Singapore at senior level, also featured for his club side in the local league and laced up his boots to play for his employers in a space of a week.

Nasaruddin Jalil (right) was one of those former Lions featured in the SBHFL
However, while there were rules in place to ensure company teams with high calibre players did not take advantage by only allowed to field certain number of "NFL Division One" players during a match, there were cases of teams failed to adhere to the ruling and were complained by their opponents (source:1, 2) for breaking the rules.

This "multiple representation" of a player only came to an end when FAS decreed in 1994 that contracted players with them for FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) Premier League were not allowed to play for teams in the FAS Premier League, Inter-constituency, Business Houses tournaments.

Furthermore, given its amateur nature the availability of players at games were subject to their work commitments and it was not unusual to have teams pulled out of the tournament for not able to form a team for an upcoming season or teams conceded walkovers to their opponents when they failed to turn up at games (source: 1, 2).

"It was common to see games being postponed or abandoned due to reasons like absence of teams, not enough of players and in some cases when matches were being called off because of fightings among the players," confirmed by a co-worker who used to play for his previous company in the SBHFL in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, there is not much progress on whether a possible revival or starting a brand new corporate league is still on the card since the suggestion was made in last September but one club official whom this platform spoke to have his reservations on having organize such tournament.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, this official cited organising costs could be one of the hinder factors.

These were last heard of the SBHFL (NLB archive)
"If we use an Singapore Premier League match as a guide, the operating costs (of a match) would be around $2,000 in which the costs include the engaging of duty staff like ball kids, stretcher bearers, etc." said the club official.

"While we not sure if this revived or new corporate league is going to charge admission like in the old SBHFL and even if it doesn't which might see a lower operating costs, we still need essentials like standby ambulance, doctor on duty at matches and also the availability of the fields and match officials too." he added.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from sources, as credited, should anyone feel it's inappropriate to have any of the media shown, please kindly email me as soon as possible and I will remove them upon request.)

(P.S 2: I stand to be corrected should there be any mistake in this entry, please feel free to email me should there be any mistake, thanks)

(P.S 3: If you have any information on the SBHFL in the past, please feel free to share with me via email, thanks)


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