Game Changers: Bill brings big breath of fresh football air

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BEST news for the heartlander clubs: The National Football League (NFL) will get its biggest shot-in-the-arm and immediately shed its image as the S-League’s poorer cousin. More prize money and an awards night are among several initiatives proposed.

This is one of the major priorities under Bill Ng’s council, who intends to divert a portion of the S-League’s funding to the NFL’s coffers. Plans are just fanciful concepts if there are no funds to kick-start them.

In this regard, you got the best man for the best job as away from football, Bill’s specialty is mergers and acquisitions — rescuing companies in distress. And Singapore cannot find a more inspiring role-model, who is dedicated to change and who seriously and sincerely wants to revive the landscape of football.

Once treated as pushovers or nobodies, Bill has outlined ambitious plans to revitalise the funding model of the NFL clubs, making them self-sustainable. A department will be set up to pass commercial and marketing know-how to clubs.

And even in a discreet dig at Teo Hock Seng, nicknamed “The Godfather” and who is running as a vice-president in the opposing Team LKT, Bill said: “My team and I, when we take office, we will share with you how to fish rather than depend on (a) Godfather to feed you.”

Bill doesn’t shoot from the hips. He keeps to his football word and if there’re kampong-styled fairy-tales to be told in the S-League, just ponder over the “Cinderella” club he leads, Hougang United Football Club, nestled in a nice north-east corner of Singapore.

It is today a rousing role-model example of how the proverbial “blood, sweat and tears” from management to players, not forgetting their rip-roaring fans, can produce exciting results, if everyone puts their shoulders behind the wheel for a common goal of lifting the image of the S-League.

Under businessman Bill Ng’s iconic leadership, the financial thumbs-up is on the rise. Hougang made a profit in excess of $2 million and they’re well in the black, a situation virtually unheard of in an S-League that has struggled to rake in the sponsorship dollar or convince fans to flock to stadiums.

The Cheetahs (Hougang’s nickname), on record, appear to be the most profitable in the S-League. They are self-sufficient, which is almost unimaginable in a 22-year-old professional league where most clubs are dependent on FAS subsidies.

MODERNISE SINGAPORE FOOTBALL

Bill says: “We can assure you that our sole intention is to modernise the Singapore game from grassroots up, as well as from the administration and leadership levels. My team is unified by a common belief. (Singapore football) must get a major face-lift and politics must be removed. The focus must be on credentials and who can do better for our game.

“It cannot rely on one or two individuals in positions of power. Our collective expertise led by a common guiding principle will lead our game on the right path.”

If there’re seven quick points on his leadership mantra, a neutral will list these down quickly:

  1. He cares about others.
  2. He’s gained respect.
  3. His passion is contagious.
  4. He means business.
  5. He doesn’t hide.
  6. He’s likable.
  7. He’s smart.

No big profiles about him needed. He’s a gentleman who believes in delivering at the right time and right place.

Just read how he answers these quick Qs and As about why he’s leading the “Game Changers” in this election.

Football = Passion:

“For long, we’ve taken football for granted. Now’s the long overdue time for change. Passion must be combined with pragmatism, grassroots must be combined with financial competence. To some, football may be a hobby. But, to others, it is a beacon of hope. Any young lad who is good enough should know that he or she can make a progressive living playing professional football.”

The Game Changers:

“We actually have more qualified people coming forward to join us than the slate of nine requires, so we are in a very comfortable position. Our candidates and supporters are together as one because we have built up mutual trust. The main objective at this time is to demonstrate to the voters that we have a team that can deliver with accountability.”

Seven target ways to modernise:

“These seven areas are fundamental elements which are extremely pivotal to achieving success in the modern game of football. It is imperative that we get down to the basics, and start redrawing our strategies to ensure that football in Singapore becomes future-ready, is able to develop at all levels, and which will ultimately bring Singaporeans from all walk of lives together again. Football is a sport which can rally communities, and it is vital that we pool together to bring the roar back to Singapore football.”

Bring back the “Kallang Roar”:

“We loved the glory days because of the success, the icons that contributed to that success, and the way we achieved that success, built the romance around the Singapore game. Quality football leads to audiences, and audiences generate the incentive for quality football — both on the pitch and financially.

“However, we are currently in a vicious cycle where we are producing neither. Ending that rut is going to be our new team’s focus, to bring back the ‘Kallang Roar’ and to give the Roar a foundation to exist for the many generations to come.”

Big “kick” S-League really needs:

For too many years, S.League clubs have been subsisting on handouts from the government. If one day the government decides to turn off the tap, the league will fold. This is not healthy. We need to move away from the handout model.

“All football clubs in the world need to be run as businesses, no different from other industries. We need the profit motive and threat of losses to encourage efficiency and thinking out of the box to stay alive. In this digital age, things move very quickly, we need our clubs to continually evolve to stay competitive.

“My view is that we need to move the league towards privatization and allow clubs to be privately owned. Privatisation allows clubs the freedom to develop their own income streams. Football clubs must be fully liable and accountable for their own profit & loss.”

The future of National Football League (NFL):

“Big bounce in the NFL as it’s the key battleground of this election simp,y because the 24 NFL clubs have voting rights, and form more than half of the 46 affiliates eligible to vote at the elections. I definitely want to improve the amateur competition and help it fulfil its role as a pipeline to the S-League.

“We will seriously re-look into the NFL to ensure players are coming through the system to decisively join the  S-League and national teams.”

How Hougang reportedly managed to turn a $2 million profit:

“The profits do not come from football operations. Just like Formula 1, football is a high “burn-rate” sport. Without sponsorship or alternative income sources, you wouldn’t be able to run these sports. An S-League ticket costs $5. Even if we were to fill the stadiums with paying spectators for every game, we wouldn’t make enough to cover even a small fraction of players’ annual wages.

“Our profits are generated mainly from our clubhouse operations. The main part of this formula is the ability to find a good group of administrators and partners that are creative, committed and meticulous.”

Frustrations a chairman of S-League club might face:

“(Laughs) Sometimes, my staff and I, we are lost. It seems we have to accept the fact that we cannot make everyone happy. When the club loses money, we will be criticised. Now that we are profitable, people are questioning us as well. But I think we have to be clear and remain steadfast about our vision and be unafraid to make unpopular decisions. I repeat again, we must be able to think out of the box quickly in the digital world. If asked for advice, I’d borrow Nike’s slogan “Just Do It” and say just believe in yourself.

“Sometimes people will say we are not football people, that I am a businessman who doesn’t understand football. But if we base our decisions solely on football, the club will be bankrupt very quickly and you won’t have a club anymore! I have seen these scenarios many times.”

Who most shaped my life:

“I always remember fondly my ex-Chairman of the RHB Group, Tan Sri

Abdul Rashid Hussain. I learnt the code of ethics, to be upright in our dealings,

keeping a low profile and making things concise and to the point.

“When you make a mistake, just admit it instead of spending time to argue or to go around it. And no matter what pressure you face, you have to be happy and enjoy your work. Even if you don’t like this job, try to learn to like it. You will learn something.

I still remember quotes like that and I tell that to my co-partners and children.”

Singapore quest to be No 1 always:

“Our society is very intolerable of mistakes. This is not good. Perhaps some

of this unforgiving mindset comes from our quest to be No 1 in everything. But now, things should change. I don’t agree with the zero-tolerance policy especially in the service industry or in the people businesses, except when it comes to dishonesty, corruption or match-fixing. Same results can be achieved with a softer touch.”
Big heart for SG football:

“We love and care about Singapore football. We’re saddened at its present state, and want to rebuild it to bring back its glory days for the fraternity and the public. We believe in an inclusive environment, in constant and constructive engagement with all stakeholders, and in being fair, rational and     progressive in formulating our plans and policies.

“Our team is not named after anyone individual, as we are convinced that it takes a team effort to administer a team sport. We believe in collective responsibility,and all major decisions will be made as a team.

“We are committed to not just drawing up impressive strategic plans, but to implementing them. We do not just talk, but will walk the talk. We cannot undo the past overnight, but we will ensure progress is made with each and every step that we take –with you and for you.”

Game Changers’ is led by Bill Ng and the refreshing alternative team of football-hearted personalities who will be contesting the FAS elections on April 29 at the SportsHub.