Singapore's NFL plagued by management woes

More incidents of double-booked venues, late fixture changes, and even a case of missing linesman in the second rung of Singapore football has come to light
The National Football League (NFL), the second tier of football competition may have received the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) attention earlier this year in a proposed revamp, but tales of administrative problems are still a concern for the players.

Two weeks ago, Goal Singapore reported a case of double-booked venue affecting NFL and Women's Premier League matches, but according to players, such cases are a common occurrence.

Halik Walit, who plays for Starlight Soccerites in the NFL Division 2, told Goal that last minute fixture changes happened too often, causing massive inconvenience for the part-time players who have other commitments, while another, Hassanul Ariff, cited an incident where a match official failed to turn up for a match.

"During the opening day of the new league season on April 26, my team was scheduled to go against Bishan Barx FC at 5pm at Bukit Gombak Stadium; however, upon reaching the stadium we noticed that the National Football Academy (NFA) boys, who were coached by Saswadimata Dasuki, were about to take to the pitch for their training," said Halik.

"Coach Saswa refused to leave the field, saying that he had the right to train there as he was the first to book the field ahead of us, which was understandable but still somewhat frustrating for us."

Halik added that the NFA training eventually ended at 6.15pm and his side's scheduled NFL match went ahead at 6.30pm, an hour and a half after the original kick-off time. As a result another match that had been set for a 7pm kick-off at the same venue on the day was also affected, and had to be pushed back to an 8pm start.

Four days prior to the double-booking incident at Meridian Junior College reported by Goal, another NFL match had also run into a similar problem. Starlight's game against Siglap FC had been scheduled at a venue for the same kick-off time as a friendly fixture between two social teams. In the end, the NFL match was given the go ahead.

Frequent changes to fixtures has also been a recurring problem said Halik, who pointed out that players who have to make special arrangements from their work schedules were usually left stranded.

"On May 17, there was supposed to be a 5pm kick-off at Jurong Stadium, however, it was changed to a 7pm kick off at Bukit Gombak Stadium at exactly 9.18am on the matchday itself," recalled Halik. "That's eight hours before our game for a change in venue. What happens if players had taken leave or time-off from work just to play for a 5pm game and can't make it for the 7pm game?"

A week later, another change in venue and time, three days before a match, left Halik in the lurch, after having arranged his work schedule to fit in the original date.

"I'm sure there are many other players or officials willing to tell their side of the story about the organisation of the league," said Halik.

For 30-year-old Hassanul, the NFL experience does not get much better.

The Sembawang Sports Club player, who has been involved in the league for five years, saw his fixture against Yishun Sentek Mariners FC on May 17 postponed after a match official failed to show up.

“After we warmed up, I saw the referee talking to both team officials, and after that I asked my coach what happened and he said that one linesman didn’t turn up," said Hassanul.

"We tried to call him a few times but there was still no answer. Then the referee suggested we use one each of our own players and theirs to act as the linesman."

The referee's proposal was rejected by the teams who felt the game could not be run impartially if the players had to be involved as officials.

“Most of my team-mates all stay in Jurong, so to come to Pasir Ris [for the match] and get this kind of unexpected event is uncalled for," he added. "We waited until 7.30pm and that’s when the referee decided to call-off the game. We packed up and went home."

“As of now, my coach or staff haven't said anything about the incident, so I assume that FAS haven't got back to them [regarding the incident]. We have no idea what happened to him (the linesman) that day."

Incidentally, the match was rescheduled for May 21, resulting in the clash with a Women's Premier League game that Goal Singapore had reported on.

Earlier this year, FAS implemented new rules to restrict the number of older players with players aged 40 and above not eligible to play in the NFL anymore. Clubs may only register a maximum of two players between the ages of 35 and 39. A maximum of 10 players between the ages of 27 and 34 will be allowed, along with a minimum of 13 below the age of 27.

A 2.4km test requirement has also been introduced although results from this year will not be used to restrict participation for the current season, but will be used to gauge the standards for 2015.

The new rules had already drawn criticism when it was first proposed, with The New Paper reporting unhappiness from several players and clubs.

FAS committee member and Balestier Khalsa FC chairman, S Thavaneson told the local daily that the changes were meant to impove the standard of the league.

“It was explained to them that we wanted the NFL to be more competitive and meaningful," he told The New Paper in a report on January 31. "It is not a social league. There’ll always be a guy who is 41, 42, 43, who is fit. But where do we draw the line?"

“I’d rather he give up his place for an 18-year-old who, even if he is not as good, can hopefully make it to the S.League in the future."

For Hassanul, the presence of older players has value for the team, as mentors for younger players. He also added that fitness was not necessarily age dependent. The former Primer League player, however, is not alone, and the overall frustration in the management of the NFL, has left players feeling disillusioned according to him.

“They have all the right to introduce [new rules] for the improvement of our league, but this kind of situation involving an official (missing linesman) is not fair for us," said Hassanul. “I am not sure if I should say this, but the refereeing standards at Division 2 is really below par.”

"Over my five years, I think the league is going down, I think it’s declining," Hassanul told Goal before stating that he would consider switching to a social league that boasts of better management, and run by his friends who were once NFL players themselves.

Goal Singapore approached FAS for comments over the incident involving the Women's Premier League match and NFL side, and were informed that an internal investigation has been launched. The affected fixture between Arion and Winchester has been rescheduled for June 11, at Meridian Junior College.

Goal have contacted FAS for a follow up response to the latest allegations.