For a nation endowed with such financial wealth its truly shocking when you start taking a deeper look at local football. After much fanfare the Football Association of Singapore decided to kick off the new professional league in 1996 and called it the S-League. There was plenty of skepticism at the start but by far local football fans were quietly hopeful that this would herald a golden age of club football in Singapore. It failed to live up to its glorified promise.
The Singapore S league is a tragic example of misplaced priorities. The most glaring of which has to be the policy of having two Lions squads. Both squads tap the best youngsters locally and play them either in the Malaysian Super League or the S League in Singapore. What this does is force clubs into a no-win situation when it comes to grooming home grown talent. If a club decided to sign a promising youngster to the squad, he could easily just end up in one of the Lions squads leaving clubs ruing the decision to invest their limited resources into grooming youngsters.
Steve Darby the former Home United manager tried to rope in a 16 year old player into the senior squad, instead, the FAS Technical Director vetoed the move saying he needed to be playing in an age appropriate league. So much for grooming young talent.
If you go to any of the neighbourhood grounds you will see youngsters playing football, and some of them are actually very good, but few of them end up playing professionally, its a waste of young talent. And it all boils down to money. When you get clubs signing players to short 1 season contracts its bad, but when you find some clubs signing the players up to 11 month contracts it gets even more disturbing. Once the season ends, the players stop being paid. Its a sad situation. And this isn’t rule that’s imposed, its a bad practice. So its no wonder, you keep hearing parents warn their children not to end up as footballers.
The average local player earns between S$2000-3000 a month, thats like £935-1500 a month. The good local players get like £1600-2000 a month and the rest goes to foreign players. Is money for local football in such short supply in Singapore? The sad story of Duncan Elias is hardly a rare event. His career ended at the age of 28. Clubs have money, but that supply is falling fast as sponsors start pulling away and crowds keep falling. Even free food giveaways at stadiums remain unclaimed. Free Food?
The Lions XII squads are doing more harm than good to the development of national football in Singapore. Without an effective youth development program for clubs in Singapore, young local talent remains a major untapped source of wealth for these clubs. And as more and more fans get disillusioned at the state of local football, numbers will keep dropping at local football stadiums. While the aim of trying to improve local football by including the LionsXII in two leagues may appear to be laudable, the management of the football league has failed to prioritise the development of local football. They almost made matters worse at the start of this season when they tried to impose a min-max age limit for participation in the league, basically all 6 local clubs could only field 5 over 30 players, that didn’t go down to well. Thankfully it didn’t materialise but some clubs were too quick to react, players were handed their notices, and sadly,the reverse came too late.
For a nation as rich as Singapore, and one that prides itself on efficiency, the apparent failure of managing the S-League is just damning. For now I am still a loyal Geylang International F.C. fan, but I hope I don’t end up being the last one. It is embarrassing when you consider the fact that Singapore is the 3rd richest nation in the world but the contracts that footballers are being offered are so bad that I need to watch the next few words that come out of my mouth.