So here I am a new challenge. I’ve taken over at Geylang International F.C., a boyhood club I’ve supported for many years. Growing up within stone’s throw of the stadium I’ve experienced the highs and lows of the club and even trained on the pitch growing up. It was one of the two powerhouse clubs that accepted the invitation of the Football Association of Singapore in 1996 to form the S-League.
Prior to 1996 local football was largely amateur, the national side played in the Malaysian League where they would compete against Malaysian State and club sides for the honor of being the best team in the Malayan Archipelago, a competition they had been a part of since 1921. Singapore or the Lions as they are called, won the title 21 times between 1921 and 1994, making them one of the most successful sides in the competition. It was largely the national team plus a few foreign imports. After winning the league and cup double in 1994, a dispute over gate receipts proved to be too strong, and Singapore left the competition and began to focus on the own domestic league.
Today 10 clubs form a league that plays a 3 round format and the S-League winners qualify for the AFC Champions League; the Singapore Cup winners get to take part in the AFC Cup.
Of the 10 clubs who play in the league only 7 clubs are Singaporean, 3 are foreign sides invited to the league. The participants in the league include:
- Albirex Niigata (S)
- Balestier Khalsa, formed from merger of Balestier Central and Clementi Khalsa in 2002.
- Brunei DPMM
- Geylang International, known as Geylang United from 1996 to 2012.
- Harimau Muda,
- Home United, known as Police FC in debut season.
- Hougang United, known as Marine Castle United (1998-2001), Sengkang Marine (2002-2003), Sengkang Punggol (2006-2010; merger with Paya Lebar Punggol).
- Tampines Rovers
- Warriors, known as Singapore Armed Forces from 1996 to 2012.
- Young Lions
There is an underlying fracture in the S-League system that embeds failure in my humble opinion. At the moment talented young Singaporeans form the core of the Young Lions which is essentially the National U-23 team, and the best local youngsters are also part of the LionsXII a side that represents Singapore and returned to the Malaysian League competition in 2012. What this has done is to dilute the options local clubs have when it comes to the best talent. And it gets worse.
Its a system that’s been heavily criticised and the fractures in the local football scene are clearly evident. Local football clubs hardly feel the need to develop local young talent since they get poached into two national teams, and even though the football scene in Singapore is rich with youth football, the impact the clubs feel is quite immediate, forcing a few of them to look at journeymen who ply their trade, and if these journeymen live in Singapore long enough, these average footballers become citizens of the country. Only a handful have truly changed the landscape. Whilst there may be a 4 foreigner cap on matchday squads, even this has seen clubs alienated from their fan base, and, efforts to start an Asean Super League, featuring a club from each nation is setting the stage for some dark days for local football. The twin threats of dwindling crowds and a lack of sponsorship funds even saw one club fold last season – Tanjong Pagar and two others merge.
This is the drama that I have chosen to join. Its time to shake the tree and see what falls out as I begin this challenge.