FAS: Laughing football socks & boots

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By: Suresh Nair

THE Lions left last night for Manila for the Suzuki Cup tournament in a precarious do-or-die mission. Likewise, a provisional council for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) was announced in a die-or-do assignment.

(Caretaker coach) V. Sundramoorthy’s fate will hinge over the next two weeks as three crucial matches against host Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia will decide if the Lions can lift their sorry downward-slide international image and qualify for a face-saving semi-final position, which is the minimum target for the four-time Asean champions.

Likewise, the laughing stocks, off-the-field, are newly-appointed Lim Kia Tong and his seven-member team, who has been appointed by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) to oversee the national football body as it prepares for its first-ever elections for office bearers.

2aI’m literally laughing my socks off because Mr Lim says one of his first priorities is the S-League when he has NOT come to watch a S-League match during his last term of office! Same, same for majority of his interim team, which includes a retired SAF general and a serving Member of Parliament (MP), who appear not to know their football bearings with the grassroots.

Sometimes, they hail “God Save the Queen” but I will stick my neck out and say “God save FAS” for putting passionless suit-and-tie personalities, who have lost touch with the football grassroots.

Ironically, in a media statement on Tuesday, the MCCY said the “key focus of the Provisional Council will be to prepare for the election of the new Council in early 2017, while ensuring stability and continuity in FAS operations in the interim period.”

Is the blind leading the blind, I wonder? These are the same committee members, without dedication and devotion who have lost touch with the heartlanders, with no sense of relationship or leadership with the 46 affiliated clubs, and now, rather audaciously, aspiring to hold office again.

“Old wine in new bottles” or whatever, don’t Mr Lim and his team have any face-saving grace to honestly give way to new blood? Minus dedication, deference, devotion and duty, do they still think they’re indispensible as the football warlords without delivering the goals, yet want to put on new jerseys for the new season?

‘GOVERNMENT MEN’

1They even dare have the audacity to say “we’re the government men…we’re the government team” as they swagger along the corridors of the FAS Jalan Besar Stadium headquarters with a $35million annual budget to flout.

In my opinion, this is a worst mockery of football, without honour or homage, and a slap in the face for the fair-play principles of football as Mr Lim’s team will now run the FAS from Nov 16 to Mar 31 next year.

The other members of the Lim team are retired general Bernard Tan, Member of Parliament Edwin Tong and former Singapore Pools chief executive officer Tan Soo Nam, who were made vice-presidents again. Sarjit Singh serves as honorary treasurer, the same post he held in the previous council, while Balestier Khalsa chairman S. Thavaneson, who is deemed the most unpopular among the football grassroots, and former national captain Razali Saad have been appointed as council members.

Mr Lim just lives in a world of fantasy. The 64-year-old lawyer, used to the air-conditioned offices along Havelock Road and seldom seen in any heartlander football events, dare say that his “list of priorities will be the cultivation of grassroots football such as women’s and school’s football as well as community participation as a whole”.

He goes on to blow his trumpet that the Provisional Council will establish “communication channels to form an open eco-system of discussion, that will include not only the key stakeholders, but also its Ordinary Members and the general public”.

PASSIONLESS PEOPLE

Sad that football has almost surely gone to the dogs. Passionless people continue to masquerade as football leaders having their own personal interests and/or ego at heart without caring for the football community, especially the grassroots clubs, who are crying for attention after being ignored for more than a decade.

How the Lim team is going to arrest this pathetic situation and lift Singapore’s lowest-ever No 171 FIFA ranking is a Houdini-styled question because they have no clues, simply because their ears, eyes and hearts are just not with the heartland community.

I grew up learning that football used to be all about fair play and respect. Nadesan Ganesan (former FAS Chairman, who regularly sat on the team bench and came for every Lions’ training sessions) brought some fire in the mid-1970s with the “Kallang Roar” mania but sadly, there’s no such thing in today’s game.

From over 120 club affiliates five years ago, FAS has shrunk to 46, simply because the clubs have lost confidence because pittens have been done for the grassroots. The relationship and leadership with the football man-in-the-street appears to have evaporated and that’s reflected in the crowd figures at S-League matches, which is the worst in 21 years.

I dare Lim’s team that if they wish to contest in the upcoming elections that they buck up, with constancy, courage and conviction, by convincing the grassroots that they’re sincere in their motives in keeping the FAS house in order. Not just wait for travelling perks to go on overseas AFF, AFC and FIFA trips.

The single-minded hypocrisy of our failed football administrators, who refuse to give way for refreshing faces, is close to unimaginable. Football is about results and as a coach, manager or player if you don’t deliver, you get the big boot. Not so for the Lim Team!

DECAYING LEADERSHIP

Singapore’s world-ranking at 171 says it all for a decaying FAS leadership that, on sheer reputation, deserves to be thrown out of office. There must be some promise of a fresh approach, otherwise football will further go to the dogs and the same “old wine in new bottle” concept will make the tear-jerking fans think it’s back to politics as usual.

Do-or-die. Die-or-do. Whatever. Singapore’s football image looks set to take a further beating if the house is not put in order with enterprising and enthusiastic people at helm.
Not just the fire in the belly (as ex-FAS Chairman Nadesan Ganesan always say with affection and allegiance) but in the Lim Team, the hope and hunger must be sincerely shown, at least by turning up to support the only professional league!
Seriously, and for God’s sake, the prevailing football issues are complex and we need a more collaborative and inclusive solution, working hand-in-hand with the heartlanders to get out of this quicksand predicament.
* Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered regional football matters for over three decades.