THE image of football took another bashing when several parents questioned on the “excessive lop-sided” scores in the ongoing Singapore Schools ‘B’ Division tournament.
“The scores resemble rugby and it is a major embarrassment to the teams and football’s image in the grassroots,” says technician Ismail Selamat, whose son plays in the tournament. “Don’t the organisers know how to properly link up the schools according to their playing standards?”
The National School Games (NSG) Football tournament for ‘B’ Division boys have turned up some really shocking one-sided results. There have been unhappy sentiments if the computed results on the official website were actually a mistake, as some scores resemble rugby scorelines.
“This is unbelievable, Singapore Sports School bashing 29 goals past the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science,” says tutor Janel Leong, whose son played for the losing team. “The final score stuck out like a sumo wrestler in a room full of jockeys!”
“My son and his team-mates were in tears after the match. It was just a weird feeling,” she says. “It wasn’t like we thought it would have been horrible or dangerous for the game. We just felt football’s not a sport where that’s supposed to happen, so let’s not do it.”
Predictably, many on social media pounced on the unusual scores. Words and phrases like “embarrassing,” “disgusting” and “nothing to be proud of” weren’t difficult to find.
Former international goalkeeper Yakob Hashim, who is involved in grassroots coaching, believes the scary scores will only demoralise the school and the players involved in thrashings.
“The image of the school will be affected and the players and parents will surely be demoralised,” says the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) Council Member when interviewed by The Monitor.
He warned that the consequence of such scores will also inevitably lead to the possibility of the lower-ranked schools pulling out or stopping all future involvement in the tournament.
Two matches involving favourites Singapore Sports School, where the teenagers almost train full-time, saw a total of 50 goals being scored. The Singapore Sports School whacked Canberra Secondary School 21-0 and also put 29 goals past the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science in a 29-0 scoreline.
In other scores, Meridian Secondary School trounced Methodist Secondary School 12-1 while Jurongville Secondary put 13 goals past Bukit Batok Secondary School in a 13-0 rout.
Sembawang Secondary School also hit Assumption Pathway School 13-0 while St Joseph’s Institution put 15 goals past the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science.
Yakob Hashim, who is also a qualified coach and played for Singapore at the 1984 Asian Cup qualifiers, says: “There is a possibility that principal will have doubts and will not put up a team the following year.”
PROPER STREAMING NEEDED
Pragmatically, he suggests that schools be football-streamed properly and play in preliminary zonal tournaments before being cast into groups with other teams across the country.
To avoid lop-sided results in David versus Goliath confrontations, he suggested that the Singapore Schools Sports Council adopts a league system with two tiers – with the top their involving teams from the likes of the Singapore Sports School and other schools which traditionally have a strong football history.
Another development coach Mustafa Rozali says the “Ministry of Education (MOE) has to probe the silly scores that goes beyond 25 goals per match”. He adds: “This is a laughing stock for football. The FAS is pushing for more matches for schoolboys without realising that there are several schools poorly prepared without proper training.
“So when you play Singapore Sports School, which has very high-intensity pre-tournament preparations, you become the inevitable beating boys. We cannot let this continue to happen and the MOE must make sure the school teams don’t cut costs and have shoddy preparations.”
Venga Raman, 15, who plays for Bukit Batok School, moans of poor pre-tournament preparations as the key to recent routs. He says: “Not many kids play football these days. Many of my friends prefer computer games in air-con rooms. Football is not taken seriously and my school fields a team just to make the numbers.”
A number of factors are contributing to the lack of interest in grassroots football, according to Academy coach Raymond Leong. He believes the lack of playing space is a major issue. “The main problem now is that there are hardly any spaces where kids can play casual football whenever they’d like, out of their own free will.
“Some schools have sacrificed their football pitches for indoor halls for multi-sports activities. At certain void decks, there are even spikes high up on the walls purposely installed to deflate footballs when hit,” he says.
As a result, fewer youngsters are inclined to take the initiative to organise a random pick-up game with their peers. “You don’t see kids walking around carrying a ball – any ball, be it plastic balls, worn-out footballs and the like,” he adds.
POOR AGE-GROUP RESULTS
More worrying, too, says architect Rahman Saad from Pasir Ris, a string of embarrassing defeats by Singapore’s national age group teams, touted as the future of local football, has shone a harsh spotlight on overall youth development here.
Local experts whom THE INDEPENDENT spoke to pointed to a litany of issues that are currently plaguing youth football development. These include a lack of professionalism and accountability, lack of support for coaches’ education, a poor talent scouting system, and a lack of competition among the youths.
They say catching youths in the “golden age” bracket and imparting them with technical skills is key to development, with primary and secondary school coaches bearing the bulk of the responsibility in youth development. However, the majority of school coaches – who are hired and graded based on their teams’ performances in inter-school competitions – have chosen to forsake development, and technical skills, in order to gain quick results on the pitch.
Former school principal Richard Leong from Tampines East says the “football community is not working hard enough to reinvigorate the local scene”. He says there is a defeatist mentality among stakeholders – from the FAS administration right down to the coaches and players.
For example, he pointed to the perennial complaint about the lack of football training pitches. “Has the FAS done enough to find more fields for their clubs, for their Centres of Excellences (COEs)? How about the coaches?” he asks.
Belgium World Cup coach Michel Sablon, the former FAS Technical Director, outlined a comprehensive plan to improve 11 main areas of Singapore football, including coaches’ education, utilisation of sports science and medicine, and changes to the format of the schools competition. He wanted to develop a “Singaporean style of play” – defined as fast-passing, offensive football – within the next six years.
However, observers say there are no guarantees that schools and coaches have properly adopted the new methods and guidelines and, more worryingly, there is no concrete monitoring system.
Gone are the days of Jita Singh (SNOC 1981 ‘Coach of the Year’), P. N. Sivaji, FAS technical director from 2004 to 2007, former head of COEs and coach education Robert Lim, who would conduct surprise spot checks on the COE (Centres of Excellence) and academy coaches to ensure the training sessions were run properly.
A senior coach says: “Robert was literally like the police…he would hide somewhere or go up a HDB (Housing Development Board) block to record your training and then later call you in to explain your actions.”
Following Sablon’s public outburst, before he left late last year, the FAS stated that benchmarks and targets have to be put in place to chart the progress of youths and technical development. FAS said in a statement: “FAS is accountable to our stakeholders and to the public, and it is only right we ask for accountability considering the way the region’s youth teams seem to be playing at a much higher level than our boys.”
Now with the latest lop-sided scores, that make football look like rugby, the FAS must step in and correct the flaws, otherwise Singapore football can expect to suffer in the short-term.
As Hussein Hamid, an experienced coach and referee from Woodlands North, says: “We must acknowledge the problems, from school-levels, and find long-term solutions. This matters most as we have to start immediately on solving our problems.
“But if we sweep it under the carpet…nothing will change. Let’s be honest, let’s put our hands up and say we must fix the sorry setbacks of the silly schoolboy scorelines, for starters…this is the plan to make us better, I think the public (and parents) will accept it.”