S.League: Paul rips Balestier

S.League: Paul rips Balestier
Great Eastern Yeo's S-League 2013: Balestier Khalsa 4 vs Tampines Rovers 0. Balestier’s Paul Cunningham reacting during the match at Toa Payoh Stadium on 25 May 2013.

He joined Balestier Khalsa in 2010 and quickly established himself as one of the pillars of the club in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

He took on the captain's armband in his second season and was regarded as one of the best defenders in the league.

Besides his playing ability, Paul Cunningham was regarded as brave, hardworking and loyal - an exemplary professional. But the love affair between the Kiwi defender and the Tigers has been shattered.

Speaking to The New Paper recently, Cunningham, 27, slammed the club over the way he was released at the tail end of last year's campaign.

His contract with Balestier expired on the final day of the 2014 S.League season on Oct 31, eight days before the RHB Singapore Cup final which pitted the Tigers against Home United.

In a bid to make him eligible to play in the final, the club offered the defender a 15-day contract extension on Oct 20.

According to Cunningham, he was told he could either sign it or not bother to show up for training any more.

"They gave me a Mickey Mouse contract and basically told me I could take it or leave it," said Cunningham, who was the club's highest-paid player last season.

He declined to state his salary or reveal the details of the proposed deal but added: "I never spoke to the chairman (S Thavaneson) at the time and still haven't.

"Maybe there was a money issue, but at least shake my hand and explain things to me. I'd have understood.

"I mean, I've been with the club for five years; I was their captain. Instead, it was - here's a contract, take it or go."

GOODBYE

Cunningham rejected the deal, but still showed up for a few training sessions in the days leading up to the cup final, which Balestier eventually won (he did not play) when they beat the Protectors 3-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

"I felt like an intruder when I went down; just completely left out. So I just said goodbye to the boys and, before the final, I wished them good luck again."

Balestier finished last in the S.League in the two seasons before Cunningham arrived at the Toa Payoh Stadium.

Since then, the club have won two trophies - last season's Singapore Cup and the StarHub League Cup in 2013.

The Tigers also finished fourth two seasons ago, Balestier's best performance in the S.League in 16 years.

The towering Kiwi represented New Zealand up to Under-18 level and moved to the S.League from Australia's Sorrento FC on the advice of former Sengkang Punggol coach Trevor Morgan.

In the middle of 2011, he received an offer to join A-League side Perth Glory as a foreign signing but turned it down after a discussion with Thavaneson, whom he described at the time as a "father figure".

"I'd like to think I played a big part in taking Balestier out of the bottom three," Cunningham said.

"We went from a bottom side to a team who helped decide the destination of the league title, upsetting title contenders on a few occasions.

"I had a good relationship with Thava all these years and so it's really disappointing, and surprising, how things ended."

Cunningham said he is not going to return to the S.League and is now in Switzerland discussing a possible deal with a club there.

He endured an injury-plagued season last year, missing around 10 weeks of football after undergoing knee surgery.

He is not sure if his injury influenced Balestier to offer him the paltry 15-day contract extension.

"My biggest regret was not dealing with my knee during my first season," said Cunningham.

"I took injections and played on because I thought I was doing the club a favour.

"In the end, it went from a one-month absence to a three to four-month recovery process.

"I know how clubs crunch numbers on the number of minutes played. As a professional, I understand and accept that.

"But, again, at least meet and explain things to me. Treat us players as people, especially after five years of service."

The club chairmen know nothing about football. They just think they do. During a game, some chairmen even head down to pitchside and yell at a player... no self-respecting coach would stand for that, but that's the problem - most of them are just puppets. - Former Balestier skipper Paul Cunningham (right, in red) on the S.League club chairmen.

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