Why S.League can't afford another salary farce

Tampines’ reported payment problems give fresh ammo to the haters and is the last thing the S.league needs right now, argues Neil Humphreys  

In life, nothing is certain but death, taxes and Arsenal flapping around in the Champions League like a fish in a shrinking puddle.

In the S.League, nothing is certain but salary strife.

That’s the stereotype anyway, the perception, and perception is everything in the eyes of the ignorant.

S.League sceptics seldom need an excuse to write its obituary, which makes Tampines Rovers’ latest wage woes about as welcome as a 5-0 defeat to Ceres in the AFC Cup.

According to reports, several Stags have struggled with delayed payments. It’s not across the board, apparently, with some paid on time, but others had to wait days, weeks or months for their wages.

Almost a year after Tampines acknowledged their cash-flow struggles and called upon the Football Association of Singapore for financial assistance, they find themselves in the news again for the wrong reasons.

Only this time, the latest development comes a week into the new season – a week – which barely allows the S.League’s haters a chance to polish their knives.

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The league needs more focus on its football, rather than off pitch problems

Frankly, it’s the last thing the competition needs right now.

The S.League rushed to get its house in order in pre-season, with subsidies, sponsors and even the fixture list confirmed very late in the day.

Apart from state sponsorship, jackpot revenues and the indefatigable support of Hyundai and Great Eastern, it was hard to see where the S.League might attract additional revenue.

And yet here we are, a week into the season and there are already reports of late payments, convoluted salary schemes and a strange explanation involving Tampines’ payroll company being closed over Chinese New Year.

So this season was always going to be a pivotal one, a chance to stabilise a year on from the LionsXII debacle and re-establish local credentials before the daft Asean Super League waddles onto centre stage.

And yet here we are, a week into the season and there are already reports of late payments, convoluted salary schemes and a strange explanation involving Tampines’ payroll company being closed over Chinese New Year. (Presumably, everyone else in Singapore was still paid when the island ushered in the Year of the Rooster.)

Apart from the inauspicious timing, the Stags’ salary concerns also hold wilder implications for the S.League.

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It reflects poorly on the S.League, should players not be paid on time

It is no coincidence that in a period of economic uncertainty, the Government has referenced the need for financial independence on several occasions recently.

Whether it’s small and medium-sized enterprises or even the arts and sports fraternities, government handouts cannot be the way forward, the obvious fear being that they encourage neither entrepreneurial spirit nor self-reliance.

In other words, the Government needs to trim the fat. Tax dollars must offer some sort of economic or societal return if they are going to be handed out indefinitely.

Show us the sustainability and we’ll show you the money, that sort of thing.

So Tampines’ wage problems hardly help the S.League cause, particularly when the idea of a part-time competition was heavily trumpeted in pre-season

So Tampines’ wage problems hardly help the S.League cause, particularly when the idea of a part-time competition was heavily trumpeted in pre-season.

Indeed, those seeking to amplify local football’s kampong quirks have been served a smorgasbord of Tampines titbits in recent days.

Apart from the late salaries, there were the three red cards in the Community Shield at the National Stadium. The rather literal officiating didn’t help, but frazzled temperaments certainly did the rest for Tampines.

And the Stags' fiscal shortcomings were then hit further with a couple of administrative fines that defy belief.

One was for failing to meet the registration deadline for their Prime League squad on February 24. The other was for not bringing a second kit to their Asian Football Confederation Champions League qualifier against Global FC in January.

Apparently, for administrative reasons too convoluted to explain here, the kits were not delivered to Tampines on time, ensuring a Singaporean professional football club failed to do something that Sunday morning pub teams have successfully managed to do for decades.

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Tampines Prime League had to don a different kit than planned

The Stags were fined for not having the right football kit. It’s a point worth repeating, as it almost certainly will be across the country by sceptical parents trying to steer their kids away from the grubby round ball and towards swimming or table tennis instead.

For the game’s haters, the delayed salaries are merely the coup de grâce.

Lowly-paid S.League players has always been the bane of its existence. But unpaid S.League players will eventually be the death of the competition, because that particular failing taps into the greatest stereotype of them all.

It’s a stereotype, a widely-held belief in fact, heard at the family dinner table across the country: professional football is no career for a young Singaporean.

He could rival Robben out wide and dance like Messi through the middle, but his parents will simply not entertain the prospect of paltry wages, short-term contracts and financial instability, not in Singapore, not in this lifetime.

If the game doesn’t pay, kids won’t be allowed to play.

That’s not kiasuism. That’s common sense parenting, particularly in light of Tampines’ ongoing financial struggles.

S.League clubs must settle their debts with players or they may eventually bankrupt the game itself.

Photos: S.League