Pay up, Tampines, or S.League may pay the price

If Stags really are facing cash-flow problems, then it will only fuel the cynicism of jaded local football fans, argues Neil Humphreys...

Well, this is awkward.

The club that has done more than any other to resuscitate the reputation of a dying S.League now generates the kind of headlines that once turned cynics away from the game.

Tampines Rovers reportedly have cash-flow problems.

Several reports claim that the Stags have approached the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) for financial assistance. Around $1 million is apparently needed to help the club balance the books until the end of the season in November.

Whatever the circumstances, the story is hard to sugar coat because the claims offer combustible fuel for every cynic’s fire.

Chairman Krishna Ramachandra has stressed the proactive steps were taken to get the cash-flow issue in order at the earliest opportunity and the Stags deserve the benefit of the doubt after their whirlwind attempts to revolutionise both the club and the league.

But this matter really must be settled quickly, effectively and decisively, to avoid the league slipping into cliché once more, tumbling head first into another parody of incompetence and delivering another unfunny punchline for international media.

In an earlier column, the double-edged sword of Jermaine Pennant’s signing was addressed, emphasising how the winger brought more baggage than a luggage warehouse sale. Singapore football had been dragged into the global spotlight, whether it liked it or not.

Pennant’s arrival dragged the S.League into the spotlight.

Pennant’s girlfriend’s appearance at Jurong West Stadium, where he made his debut against Geylang International, made headlines in several British newspapers.

The titillating stuff did the S.League no harm, quite the opposite in fact. But Singapore football’s administrators also had to be prepared for a warts and all analysis in Pennant’s Brave New World.

In the old days, the odd match-fixing scandal and the occasional club collapse rarely attracted front-page headlines in Singapore, let alone beyond its borders, where the extent of the western media’s knowledge of the local game began and ended with Wilson Raj Perumal.

But that all changed when Pennant scribbled his name across a Tampines contract.

There was a slight concern that a fresh match-fixing scandal or a sponsorship farce may expose “that Jermaine Pennant league” to wider ridicule.

Whatever else happened, any negative publicity surely couldn’t come from the club itself, not Tampines Rovers, not a club signing more memorandums of understanding than the United Nations.

Ronaldinho had already agreed to establish the Ronaldinho Football Academy, adopting the Tampines academy now being organised by the club for the North East Community Development Council.

Eight former LionsXII players also clambered aboard the glittering bandwagon bound for domestic and AFC glory.

Pennant swiftly followed, but any dissenting murmurs over his inflated salary were swiftly silenced by loud, brash press conferences and plenty of cheque presentations and ‘grip and grin’ photo ops.

Gerard Houllier was announced as Tampines' international ambassador

And the announcement of Gerard Houllier as the club’s international ambassador appeared to be the strangest appointment of all, with sceptics legitimately wondering how much influence the former Liverpool manager could have on Tampines’ youth development from afar.

But such cynicism was swept aside by a tsunami of goodwill and generous publicity towards each Tampines initiative and deservedly so.

From Hougang to Bishan, S.League attendances swelled. The timely demise of the LionsXII precipitated the renewed interest, but Tampines’ impressive initiatives certainly added to the appeal.

Even the most jaded of followers had to acknowledge the Stags’ proactive approach, but the cynical whispers remained.

In a league that has struggled financially for years, the questions were a little lost in the hoopla. But they were still being muttered nonetheless.

Can Tampines’ laudable goals be sustained in the long-term? With a significant wage bill and an AFC Cup campaign to pay for and no jackpot operations to reduce the financial burden, how would the club pay for all this?

Obviously, Tampines sourced external revenues, bringing in a law firm, a sports retailer and a sports marketing firm, among others, and raising almost $1 million, according to reports, which appeared to be an industrious, positive template for others to follow.

So if the Stags really have approached the FAS for financial assistance, so early in the season, then the underlying message is a damning one.

Even Tampines cannot make it.

Krishna Ramachandra has to settle this issue quickly

All that sponsorship, all those brand names and subsequent publicity and still, the club must return to their overseer, cap in hand, in a scene borrowed from Dickens, politely asking for more.

Even if this is not the reality, the perception is this: the club that signed Jermaine Pennant cannot pay its bills, just two months into the season.

For those waiting patiently for the other shoe to drop, this unexpected development offers confirmation of a football backwater suffering delusions of grandeur, a league with little substance trying to cover itself in stylish window dressing.

That’s the problem with perception. It tends to linger until the bill gets paid.

Not long ago, the league’s future appeared to cling to the coattails of Tampines’ bold ambitions. Now it may depend on the Stags settling their cash-flow concerns. The sense of urgency is overwhelming.

Tampines really should get their house in order quickly to avoid damaging a much larger house of cards.