T Aravinthan, Telling It Like It Is: S.League fixing scandal still haunts me today

T Aravinthan is undoubtedly one of the most colourful figures in Singapore's recent footballing history. Here the former S.League player and referee tells us his story, including the day he received a phone call to fix a match...

I was the first person to ever make the transition from being a player in the S.League to being a referee and that’s something I’m really proud of, as I basically had two careers in football.

I started my playing career at the age of 19 at what was then the Crescent club that later became Sembawang Rangers when we entered the first season of the S.League back in 1996.

I said no – I turned the phone off as I didn’t want to have anything to do with match-fixing

After two seasons with Sembawang I moved to Hougang for another season, but by that stage I had already developed an interest in becoming a referee and set about getting my badges.

By the time I stopped playing at 35 I already had the licences, but another factor was just simply to stay involved in the game; I wanted to keep fit so I decided to pursue that path.

In many ways though the decision was also forced on me as I was suspended for one year due to some business around not reporting an approach I had received from some guys trying to fix a match.

A dark day in his personal history

The situation was someone called me and I didn’t know who it was. I didn’t know if they were good people or bad people, but they said to me ‘why don’t you work with us and we can sell the game’.

I said no – I turned the phone off as I didn’t want to have anything to do with match fixing.

Then the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) contacted me and because I didn’t report that approach, they suspended me for one year.

A pic from his playing days

They asked me and I told them the truth and then they suspended me anyway and so for 1997 I didn’t play. When I tried to come back in 1998 that was effectively the end of my career because I didn’t train for that one year and that was the end of me.

I sent off many players, even ones I played with, national team players – it was all the same

Still today I feel very bad and sad about what happened.

It meant though that I started my refereeing career at the age of 35 and by the 2000 S.League season I was already in the league, which was a little bit unusual because not only was I the first person to make that switch, I was also refereeing many of the players that I’d played with.

But I think they respected me as a player from before and that helped.

I knew most of the players and called them by their name or if I didn’t know their name I would call them brother and they would respond. But if they didn’t want to talk to me then I wouldn’t talk to them and after that you could see what would happen.

Earning respect with a whistle

It was easy for me; if they didn’t respect me I would just show them a card and finish the game. I sent off many players, even ones I played with, national team players – it was all the same.

They knew other referees wouldn’t talk but the players would talk to me because they knew me from a young age.

I probably enjoyed my refereeing career more than playing because it allowed me to maintain fitness and it certainly allowed you to see both sides of the picture because when I was playing I was a nasty player, very nasty, a very dirty player.

He was never afraid to produce cards

The biggest challenge as a referee was definitely around penalty decisions, whether it was or wasn’t a penalty, and those decisions are the key to being a good referee – you have to be bold and that helps the players respect you. If they don’t respect you then it's trouble.

Communication is also important and with some players you could do that clearly, but some players would ask stupid questions and I was very straightforward with them.

If I was right I would tell them that and if they asked me stupid questions I wouldn’t speak to them. I’d just say ‘go away and don’t disturb me’.

Singapore referees have a bright future

I did many big matches in the league, cup finals and all sorts of games, and I was named Referee of the Year in 2008.

I then stepped down in 2010 to become a fitness instructor and mentor and scout for the younger referees and we have some really talented ones in Singapore.

We have six FIFA referees and six assistants. Muhammad Taqi is the leading one, he was my junior and I’ve worked with him since he was 19, and we think he’s a really good chance to go to the World Cup in Russia.

Nowadays in Singapore many people want to become professional referees from a young age as they see it as a good path to reach the World Cup; as a player or team that might be a difficult dream, but for a referee it’s a goal you can achieve.

We have some great young officials in Singapore that are close to the level of being the best in Asia.

It’s just a shame for me that there are a lot of issues in football in Singapore at the moment and the crowds don’t enjoy the football and there’s no promotion of the game.

It’s too expensive – six dollars for a ticket is a burden to one family and if they lower the price I think the crowds will come back.

If you say three dollars then people will come, if it’s six they’ll rather go watch movies, it’s really that simple.