Suppiah fires broadside

Over the last 18 months, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin has repeatedly described it as his biggest mission.

On Monday, at the FAS Annual General Meeting, he once again stated that it was his No. 1 priority, as he reviewed football over the last financial year and announced plans for the upcoming year.

But, just when the two-hour AGM broke up, Jurong FC founder K Suppiah stunned the 70-strong audience in the FAS boardroom when, without being scheduled to speak, he stood up to question the football chief and his officials.

The 61-year-old, who was a member of the main launch committee of the S-League when it was inaugurated in 1996, had flown in from Surabaya, Indonesia, only hours before the AGM.

Suppiah bemoaned the presence of foreign teams in the S-League, saying it went against the original principle of having just local teams.

"When Jurong didn't have the money, it was driven out, but a foreign team can come all the way and play for one season and get funding," he claimed. "What is wrong with our own league?"

Suppiah then demanded to know why the S-League still shunned a promotion and relegation system - it currently comprises just one division of 13 teams, 10 local and three foreign - to increase pressure on underperforming clubs and therefore induce better performance and excitement for the fans.

He questioned why the uniformed clubs - SAFFC and Home United - have stopped taking in footballers serving National Service and relying on foreigners instead, before taking a potshot at the FAS' directive preventing S-League chairmen from speaking to the media about confidential information.

"You are the boss... please change the rules," Suppiah challenged Zainudin.

The FAS chief responded by saying the introduction of foreign teams was to create a more competitive league with more quality players.

"Name me the English players who are playing in Arsenal and Chelsea... how many are there?" said Zainudin. "We have to look at things in perspective. I think there are always differing views and ideas, but I think we have to adapt and make things better as and when it is necessary."

Balestier Khalsa vice-chairman S Thavaneson agreed.

He was also there at the start in 1996, and said: "When we started the S-League, there was a certain vision but that was not set in stone.

"As we moved on, there have been hiccups but there is no doubt that the foreign teams have improved the quality of the league."

During the AGM, Zainudin had gone through highlights of the last 15 months that included progress into the third round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, the success of the Cubs in the 23rd Lion City Cup, the implementation of centres of excellence (COEs) and junior COEs, increased funding for the S-League, and the official links formed with the Japan Football Association and the Football Association of Malaysia.

He then listed initiatives for the upcoming year (see box on left).

The immediate goal for the national team and the Under-23s is the final of this year's Suzuki Cup and next year's SEA Games respectively.

The mid-term goal is for the Under-23s to win the 2015 SEA Games gold, which Singapore will host.

But there is no doubt what the main priority is - winning back the fans.

Said Suppiah: "We want fans to follow clubs, we want to fill stadiums. Our stadiums are not (built for) 30,000 spectators... 3,000, 5,000... we can't fill that?

"You can put millions of dollars in it, but what speaks most is the attendance, that is your target."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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