By Suresh Nair
FOOTBALL Association of Singapore (FAS) President Lim Kia Tong is urgently calling for a meeting Monday evening to find out the farce behind the National Football League (NFL), which reached its ugliest heights on Sunday with a free-for-all at Jalan Besar Stadium.
In his new capacity as the NFL Chairman, Mr Lim is apparently seeing red over the quick degrading of the NFL, which comprises the most number of Singapore-based amateur clubs, who play in two divisions.
A mass street-like brawl broke out during a NFL Division 1 tie between the top-of-the-table teams, Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) and Yishun Sentek Mariners on Sunday night, with SAFSA leading 3-2.
The match was streamed “live” over the FAS social-media channel.
The contentious free-for-all, which apparently started in the closing stages of the match, was shown to a regional audience, without viewer-censorship with SAFSA and Yishun Sentek players fighting with unstoppable punches and flying-kicks.
But immediately after the incident, the social-media channel was abruptly pulled off-the-air. But THE INDEPENDENT has excerpts of the clip of the mass brawl and photos of the free-for-all.
Ironically, in the thick of action was FAS Council Member Yakob Hashim, who is Yishun Sentek coach. He and FAS Match Commissioner K. Kandasamy could only watch as several brawling players rained martial-art kicks and punches in combative scenes seldom seen at the heartland of Singapore football.
It brought back ugly memories of the September 7, 2010 S-League match at Jalan Besar Stadium between the Young Lions and Beijing Guoan. Both clubs were docked five points and fined $5,000 each. The FAS Disciplinary Committee, after an extensive investigation, threw the book at 16 players – 10 from the Chinese-based club and six Young Lions.
“I feel ashamed to be a Singapore football fan. There was absolutely no law and order or even respect for football,” says Ms Junaidah Rahim, 39, who supports SAFSA. “I’m very ashamed that the players were very combative and in a war-mongering mood, just to bring the game to disrepute.”
Eye-witnesses said the incident happened in injury-time after the 90-minutes of play when Sentek Mariners’ defender Zulfadhli Suzliman was sent off.
Yakob Hashim, a former Singapore goalkeeper in the 1990s, was quoted in The Straits Times: “Zulfadhli told me Nazirul (Islam) verbally abused his mother and he retaliated with a kick, which led to his red card although Nazirul was not booked. I was paying attention to the both of them when another scuffle involving the reserves broke out at another corner of the pitch.”
The three FAS match-officials were hapless as the skirmish went about uncontrollably for about 15 minutes as Kandasamy, a former Security Branch police officer, immediately alerted the police.
The quick arrival of police lowered rising post-match tempers among players and team officials and eye-witnesses said the lawmen were still at the stadium at 11pm on Sunday night.
Yakob, who is known to be a no-nonsense club official, who almost single-handedly brought “kampong club” Yishun Sentek to the upper echelon of the NFL, said: “It is regrettable that such an incident has happened. Investigations are ongoing and we will co-operate fully with the relevant authorities.”
Kandasamy declined to be interviewed by the media. It is believed he has submitted a full report to the FAS Competitions Department.
SAFSA is leading the NFL Division One table, with 12 clubs, after 19 matches with 50 points. Yishun Sentek still rank as potential title-winners, trailing closely with two matches in hand, on 48 points.
“The NFL is going down the drain in the final stages of competition, with two or three matches to go,” said a club vive-president, who asked not to be named. “There have been recent reports of lop-sided results, poor sportsmanship and even a missing ambulance made the headlines, where a player was seriously injured at Jalan Besar Stadium in a NFL Division Two match with no instant medical-aids available.”
The involvement of SAFSA in this latest Sunday brawl is shocking as the footballing soldiers have been involved in a headliner-scuffle recently. On Oct 1 last year, the Singapore FA Cup first-round match at the Gombak Stadium between SAFSA and Balestier United Recreation Club was halted by the referee in the 88th minute when a fight broke out with SAFSA leading 2-1. The match was later abandoned.
After two FAS Disciplinary Committee hearings, Balestier (who, ironically, come under the wings of FAS Vice President S. Thavanesan) were banned from participating in the FA Cup for two years and fined $1,000. Three players, Taufik Jiahuddin, Masnashzreen Masturi and Khyruddin Khalid, are banned from taking part in all FAS-sanctioned matches and tournaments until Dec 31, 2017. They were also fined $500 each.
Syafiq Siraj, SAFSA’s captain last year, was given a conditional warning for his role in the Gombak Stadium brawl.
In my opinion, what happened the past fortnight in the NFL has brought absolute disgrace to FAS and disrepute to football as a family-orientated sport.
Mr Lim Kia Tong, as newly-appointed NFL Chairman, must crack the whip and restore law and order to a failing league of 24 affiliated clubs, majority of whom voted for him at the April 29 FAS elections.
Football, as its image goes, is fast losing the respect of the man-in-the-street as the governing organisation appears not to be conducting it as an “entertainment business”. From the Lions, to age-group development teams, to the S-League and Prime League, and now the NFL, the best interests that the good public image of its sport is maintained, is imperative.
Says NFL fan Timothy Leong, 44, who supports Katong FC: “The governing body must seriously control the behaviour of individuals engaged in its sport by strictly enforcing various rules, codes and regulations, both to facilitate game play and to protect the integrity of the sport. There’s no place for rowdy behaviour as fans will not come to watch any FAS-organised matches. It’s earning a sick repute as the National Fight League (NFL)”
Ravin Kumar, 42, from Bishan Barx FC, says: “This week, we’ll closely watch how FAS handles the errant football hooligans that fall outside the scope of specific rules. Even the absence of an ambulance for a NFL match is a very serious matter and the FAS has brought the game into disrepute as failed organisers, if this is found to be true.”
In the final context, the ball is in Lim Kia Tong’s court as FAS President and, more seriously, as Chairman of NFL.
Football is now at a make-or-break stage, with hardly any good news, as the season closes on its 125th anniversary.
Mr Lim now has no choice.
He must take no-nonsense action to bring commonsense at the FAS headquarters at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Otherwise I dare say the NFL stands to be run down by football fans as the National Farce League!