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The 30,000-Seater Stadium We Never Get to See in Tampines

Long before Lion City Sailors established themselves as the country's first privately-owned football club, there was at one point more than thirty years ago that one football club haboured a similar ambition to transform themselves into one as well.

When the news of Lion City Sailors planning to have their own stadium surfaced in November 2021, I remember reading something similar in the papers back in the 1990s when I managed to retrieve that old news report from the archives recently.

BLUEPRINT OF TAMPINES ROVERS "SPORTS CLUB"

It was part of the ambitious blueprint of a National Football League (NFL, now known as Singapore Football League) Division One club - Tampines Rovers Sports Club (hereafter to refer as "SC" in this article that is not to be confused with the Singapore Premier League club Tampines Rovers Football Club which later in this post will explain why), when the news was first broke out by The New Paper back in January 1992.

TNP broke the news in Jan 1992 (NLB archive)
TNP broke the news in Jan 1992 (NLB archive)

According to the tabloid, the cornerstone of this blueprint was a 30,000-seater privately-funded stadium.

It was estimated that the cost to build the second-largest arena behind the old National Stadium would be between $10 million and $40 million.

The blueprint also included several proposals such as having a clubhouse, country club facilities, and a sports business venture with plans to form a limited company with shareholders to "look after the interest of the club".

GEARING UP FOR PROFESSIONALISM FOR SINGAPORE FOOTBALL 

These proposals were geared toward fitting in with the plan by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to make the then top-tier semi-professional Premier League (not to be confused with the current Singapore Premier League) a professional league that was expected to debut in 1994 (although the professional S.League did not begin until 1996).

According to the same report, on the back pages of the popular tabloid, the plan was supported by Mr Mah Bow Tan, the then Minister for Communications and a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC. He was appointed as the club's first adviser while Mr Yatiman Yusof, who served as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs during that period, was named as its second adviser.

Match Tickets to Tampines Rovers SC matches in 1970s
Match Tickets to Tampines Rovers SC matches in 1970s

It became clear that the club would not be able to rely on "the goodwill of sponsors and well-wishers" but must "have products and facilities to generate income".

Some of the suggestions included gate collections, advertisements, and club membership for income generation.

Ong Ah Keng, widely known as the "Godfather" of the SC, was tasked to source for a piece of the land to erect both the stadium and the clubhouse which SC used to have located where Bedok Point is now (799 New Upper Changi Road).

RETURN OF QUAH KIM SONG

Additionally, the announcement of this ambitious blueprint marked former national star striker Quah Kim Song's high-profile return to the game.

In this report written by S Gulam, it was stated that he was "expected to be elected vice-president of the club's (SC) management committee at the club's next annual general meeting".

TRSC vs SAFSA in 1976 President Cup Final at Kallang
TRSC vs SAFSA in 1976 President Cup Final at Kallang

Quah, who was also a crowd puller for the SC in the 1970s, was asked to lead the technical sub-committee that will be looking after some of the matters outlined by the blueprint, such as:

  • Prepare a team for the professional League.
  • Form a 'B' team.
  • Introduce a youth scheme.
  • Help the constituency team.
  • Provide technical assistance to the schools within the Tampines constituency.
  • Recruit coaches.
  • Set up a committee to study and compile the latest techniques in coaching, refereeing and the rules of the game.
  • Scout local talents.
  • Engage foreign players and coaches.

It was unknown if this blueprint ever made any progress, although professionalisation of Singapore football marked a watershed moment for the club in 1996.

"TRFC" AND "TRSC"

The main crux of the issue was due to the fact that the name "Tampines Rovers", at one point, was claimed by both SC and their professional S.League counterparts.

While the current logo used by the five-time S.League champions indicated they were founded in 1945, some Straits Times (ST) articles in 1997 shed some interesting insights that opened some room for discussion.

The controversy occurred when one group, headed by Quah, went on to register as a new entity - Tampines Rovers Football Club (hereafter referred to as "Stags" in this article) with the Registry of Societies, as required by the Singapore Professional Football League Pte Ltd- the organiser of the S.League, in order to play in the professional league.

A copy of TRSC constitution
A copy of TRSC constitution 

The SC group retained the name "Tampines Rovers Sports Club" and continued playing in the FAS-organised NFL competition.

Prior to their Singapore Pools FA Cup third-round clash in October 1997, the Stags and their SC counterparts presented their versions of the accounts that led to the surfacing of this often-forgotten saga of local football.

Attempts, as reported by the broadsheet, were made to bring the two sides together but with little success, and the then Stags' chairman Quah went on to suggest his group might consider a change of name the following year while allowing the SC group to retain the name "Tampines Rovers".

1976 Year Book of Tampines Rovers Sports Club
1976 Year Book of Tampines Rovers Sports Club

The SC group was adamant they were the true flag-bearer of the name and even wrote a letter of protest, as seen by this blogger, to Straits Times to affirm the two sides being separate entities after an earlier news report suggested both shared the same lineage.

Interestingly, Stags officials "agreed" to the notion that they and the SC were completely different entities despite using the name "Tampines Rovers".

LAST STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S BACK

Apparently, one of the main reasons that resulted in the split, as reported by ST in a 23rd October 1997 story, was the discontinuation of fielding a team representing "Tampines Rovers" in the NFL competition.

While there was an agreement to allow the Stags officials to carry on running the club, the decision not to register a team to play the NFL (which SC won three times as NFL Division One champions in 1979, 1980 and 1984) proved to the last straw to break the camel's back.

The write-ups by Straits Times on the saga in 1997

This unpopular decision prompted some former SC players and officials to come together and registered a team to play in the NFL, according to SC club secretary Andrew Ho when being told of the decision to discontinue the club's involvement in NFL.

"We were shocked. They were going to let the NFL team die." said Ho on that decision not to field a team in the said competition, as quoted in the above-mentioned article.

"We are determined to keep our original name of Tampines Rovers." added Ho, who joined the SC in 1973, in a separate ST article that appeared on the same day.

In response to that remark, Stags' chairman Quah replied: "If they (SC) want to keep the name Tampines Rovers, they can have it. We may think of something else next year (1998)."

On the other hand, Quah claimed efforts were made to include some SC officials in the Stags' committee during the formation process but it proved to be a futile effort when there were some disagreements.

ONLY STAGS REMAIN

To this day, the Stags still retain the name "Tampines Rovers Football Club" and continue to ply their trade in the top-flight of Singapore football, little is known about the status of SC who at one point was managed by Colin Chee, a former actor who used to be an assistant team manager of the Singapore national team in the 1990s.

Tampines Rovers' data in Registry of Societies
Stags' data in Registry of Societies 

A recent check with the Registry of Societies (ROS) in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) website only reflected the record of "TAMPINES ROVERS" which belongs to the Stags.

(P.S 1: Some images in this entry were reproduced from online 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 if there is, thanks)

Comments

  1. I think it's about time we have mid size stadium, but not necessarily brand new one, maybe the relevant authority may consider upgrading the existing ones. As per your article, it's quite a big project for private entity to embark on such ambitious project, such as 30k seater Stadium. Without backing of big sponsors or consortium.

    I think there is still some space if we really want to, or may consider upgrading say, Bedok or Jurong West or East Stadium.

    ReplyDelete

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