War of words erupts in S-League v LionsXII row

War of words erupts in S-League v LionsXII row
S-League club chairmen including (from left) Hougang United’s Bill Ng, Geylang United’s Patrick Ang, Balestier Khalsa’s vice-chairman S. Thavaneson, Tampines Rovers’ Teo Hock Seng and Gombak United’s John Yap, publicly backed Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin’s decision to disband the national football team at a press conference on 12 January 2011.

SINGAPORE - The long-standing battle between the S-League and the LionXII came to a boil at a meeting between Football Association of Singapore (FAS) bigwigs and the league's club chairmen on Monday.

The Straits Times learnt that voices were raised as S-League club chairmen debated the future of the ailing 10-team competition, which suffered further following the migration of national players to the Malaysian Super League (MSL), to play for the FAS' LionsXII.

The chairmen's contention is that both the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions (a team largely comprising the best Under-23 players in the country which play in the S-League) are depriving the clubs of fielding top local players, and therefore killing the league.

With the ASEAN Super League (ASL) - a proposed tournament featuring top clubs from the region - set to kick-off in a couple of years, the S-League could be given the death kiss if nothing is done.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one club chairman accused FAS of running the S-League as a "mere sideshow".

"Even our national coach (Bernd Stange) was quoted as saying he does not go to S-League games, so we told the FAS that things need to change," he said of the meeting, which FAS president Zainudin Nordin and general secretary Winston Lee also attended.

"We have grown tired of sourcing for sponsors and wooing fans when FAS themselves have their eyes on the LionsXII and the ASEAN Super League."

Monday's heated exchanges were also sparked by the fact that the FAS' deal with the Football Association of Malaysia to have their youth sides play in each other's league expires in July, after an MOU was signed in 2011.

The MSL move, which had been fronted by Zainudin, momentarily raised the interest in local football. The LionsXII played to full houses at the Jalan Besar Stadium when they won the MSL title in 2013, but the chairmen argue that the long-term damage outweigh short-term gains.

It is understood that S. Thavaneson and Teo Hock Seng, the long-serving chairmen of Balestier Khalsa and Tampines Rovers respectively, were the most vocal critics during the two-hour long meeting at Jalan Besar Stadium.

The pair were quoted in December as saying that top young players should be given back to the clubs, and they reiterated that stance during Monday's showdown, adding that the S-League cannot flourish without the country's best talent.

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