S.League Old Boys: Billy Bone, the midfield general who refused to throw a game

A powerhouse who packed a mean shot and a strong tackle, Billy Bone was regarded as one of the top foreigners who have played in Singapore. FFT caught up with the 47-year-old, whose time on the island was a roller-coaster ride which saw title wins, burgeoning interest in the S.League and an untimely match-fixing scandal... 

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He won numerous trophies during a storied playing career in Southeast Asia, but no silverware will help Bone ease the nightmarish memory of being arrested by the Corrupt Practices and Investigation Bureau (CPIB) for alleged match-fixing back in 2000, despite him being the one who alerted authorities to begin with.

The events may have conspired to happen more than 18 years ago, but Bone recalls them clearly during his recent interview with FourFourTwo.

William (Billy) Bone

  • Age: 46
  • Clubs: Sembawang Rangers (1996), Geylang United (1999-2001), Home United (2002-2003)

  • Honours: S.League (2001, 2003), Singapore Cup (2003) 

“Till now I still often pinch myself and wonder if this was a bad dream after all?” said Bone. “What did we actually do wrong for our names to be at the centre of headlines at that time? All we did was to assist in putting the goalkeeper behind bars."

It all came about when then-Geylang skipper Bone alerted club officials after teammate Brian Bothwell was told by their German custodian Lutz Pfannenstiel to "take it easy" in a particular game, the Englishman said.

The CPIB were then called in to conduct investigations, with Pfannenstiel sacked by the club.

But, in a shocking turn of events, Bone and Bothwell became somehow embroiled in the scandal due to an anonymous letter sent to the CPIB before the Eagles edged Marine Castle United 1-0 in a league game, claiming that the outcome had been fixed that Geylang would not win by more than a goal.

Bone (back row, first from left) was part of a championship-winning Geylang side

Bone was brought in for questioning along with Bothwell, but both were released on bail and later cleared of any wrongdoing.

With the news even reported abroad, Bone had to instruct his family not to leave their home in the United Kingdom to avoid unnecessary finger-pointing while investigations were ongoing.

What did we actually do wrong for our names to be at the centre of headlines at that time? All we did was to assist in putting the goalkeeper behind bars

- Billy Bone

The unpleasant episode came to an end when Pfannenstiel was sentenced to five months in prison (although the German, who claimed his innocence, was later released early due to a lack of evidence).

"There is a certain clause in every player’s (S.League) contract which states that we have to report any suspicious activity, which I fully understood. How small-minded can people be to manipulate a game of football?

“Both me and Brian did what was right. We didn’t want to be labelled as heroes, we just wanted to assist by reporting. But by doing that, we opened a can of worms and somehow became involved in headlines on the front pages of newspapers all through poor journalism.

“It became big news at that time as I was a recognised face in this region due to my sheer hard work on and off the pitch which was earning me football contracts. It caused immense embarrassment for us and our families.”

Bone in action for the Eagles

Bone chose to step down as captain in 2001, and the whole saga would inadvertently lead to his eventual departure from Geylang to join main rivals Home United in 2002 – a season after he helped the Eagles to win their second S.League title alongside the likes of Lionel Lewis, Hasrin Jailani, Noor Ali and Aleksandar Duric.

“What I will say (for the reason of departure) is that nobody at any stage during my time at the club thanked me for my contribution for uncovering a suspicious activity involving my own goalkeeper,” he shared.

“I left Geylang after fulfilling my contract as Alan had resigned and was offered a deal by Home United which I could not refuse. Coach Roberts Alberts felt that I was the missing piece of their jigsaw to regain their position as the number one club in Singapore.”

[NEXT: Spending time in Sembawang and Sarawak]