Monday, October 5, 2009

Asian History - The Begining

Singapore clubs first foray into Asian club competition was a tough beginning.

From this early stage, it was not difficult to tell that Asian club competition never captured the heart and mind of Singapore football as no Singapore club ever got past the first round of either the Asian Club Championship or the Asian Cup Winners' Cup and many times Singapore clubs would choose not to participate in either competition.

In fact, in this era, Singapore had representatives in only five editions of the Asian Club Championship while for the Asia Cup Winners' Cup, it lasted only three editions.

When the inaugural Asian Club Championship started in 1967, Singapore, as an independent country, had only been in existence for a mere two years and was in no state to develop sport let alone football so from 1967-1971 when the first five Asian Club Championship were held, Singapore football had no part in it. There were no Asian Club Championships from 1972-1984 with the logistical problems of organising an Asia-wide competition proving too much for Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as well as the many political reasons that led to the competition not being held.

In 1985, when the Asian Club Championship make its return, Singapore National Football League (NFL) had already been in existence for eleven years and the time was ripe.

The first ever Singapore club, that should be considered to have participate in it, was Tiong Bahru CSC (Now
defunct Tanjong Pagar United).

In order to save cost - an important factor of that time - it was decided the winner of the
inaugural ASEAN Club Championship joined the Final Group Phase of the Asian Club Championship.

The ASEAN Club Championship was already held way back in 1984 in Jakarta, Indonesia with five teams - Tiong Bahru CSC (Singapore), Tiga Berlian (Indonesia), Bangkok Bank (Thailand), Malacca (Malaysia) and Royal Armed Forces (Brunei) - participating in it.

It was no a glorious start for Singapore football as Tiong Bahru CSC was knocked out in the
ASEAN Club Championship finishing joint third with Malacca behind Tiga Berlian & Bangkok Bank with one victory and one draw. Tiong Bahru achieved Singapore club first ever victory in Asia against Royal Armed Forces with a 2-0 score line.

After that, no other Singapore clubs took the interest to participate in the Asian Club Championship until Tiong Bahru CSC took up the challenge again after the Singapore club had stamped its class and authority all over Singapore football.

In 1987, Tiong Bahru CSC make a clean sweep of all the domestic titles picking up the Domestic Treble winning the League title, the League Cup and the President Cup.

Despite that, much like the previous Asian football campaign, Tiong Bahru CSC failed to get past the ASEAN group phase as the Singapore club finished behind Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia and Tiga Berlian of Indonesia in a four-team group. Kota Rangers of Brunei make up the group. Tiong Bahru CSC won one match in the group and like the previous time it was against a Brunei team, Kota Rangers, with the scoreline 3-2.

With that, the NFL love affairs with Asian football came to an end with FAS introducing the semi-pro era with the birth of Singapore Premier League (SPL) in a bid to to improve Singapore football.

It must be said there was hardly any love affairs between Asian Club football and NFL with only one club Tiong Bahru CSC actively taking part in it while all the other Singapore clubs chose to spurn it.

Matters though did not improve during the SPL era although early in the SPL era it looked as though Singapore football clubs would be in it for the long term as Geylang International (Now known as Geylang United) actively participated in Asia.

Geylang International took over Tiong Bahru CSC role as the flag bearer for Singapore in Asian Club competition as it entered the Asian Club Championship in 1988 after winning the first ever SPL title.

In a five-team group - Geylang Internnational (Singapore), Royal Thai Air Force (Thailand), Pahang (Malaysia), NIAC MItra (Indonesia)and Belait (Brunei), Geylang International disappointed badly; finishing just above Belait with one victory and one draw. Yet again the victory came against a Brunei team with Geylang International winning 3-1 against Belait.

For the next edition of the Asian Club Championship, Geylang International took part again when the ASEAN group phase was held in Malaysia. This time Geylang International did much better as it nearly got into the ASEAN Club Championship Final where the winner can get into the Semi-Final group phase of the Asian Club Championship. It finished third in the five-team group - Geylang International (Singapore), Kuala LumpurMalaysia), Pelita Jaya (Indonesia), Air Force (Philippines) and Muara FC (Brunei). Geylang International had notched up two victories earlier against Air Force 3-0 and Muara FC 5-1 and they only had to make sure in the remaining two matches against Pelita Jaya and Kuala Lumpur; they won at least one more. It would mean they would have finished in the top two for the ASEAN Club Championship Final. However it was not the case as both the Indonesian and Malaysian club proved too strong defeating Geylang International 4-1 and 4-2 respectively.

In 1990, there was a revamp of the Asian Club Championship as AFC decided to put an end to the practice of orgainsing the ASEAN Club Championship as the entry point for the Asian Club Championship.

This was to give the Asian Club Championship more weight in Asia, as apart from the ASEAN Club Championship there were other region groups like the Gulf Cooperation Council Club Tournament doubling up as the entry point, and this took away the importance of the Asian Club Championship.

Geylang International was drawn into a tough three-team group - Geylang International (Singapore), Pelita Jaya (Indonesia) and Bangkok Bank (Thailand) - with the group phase held in Singapore. It was no surprise though when Geylang International was knocked out with one point from the two games as the other two ASEAN teams were top teams in their own domestic league and packed with international players from their national team.

Also in 1991, the Asia Cup Winners' Cup was given birth by AFC and Geylang International as the double champions of the Singapore domestic scene also took part in the new Asian Club competition but the outcome was no different from the Asian Club Championship as Tiga Berlian of Indonesia knocked Geylang International out of the competition on away goal rules. The first leg game ended 1-1 at Indonesia with the second leg game 2-2 in Singapore.

In 1992, Geylang International decided once again to take part in only the Asia Cup Winners' Cup but the result was the same as the previous years as they had the bad luck of meeting a North East Asian team; Japanese Nissan FC. The result was a thrashing defeat at Japan losing 0-6 but some pride was restored in the second leg with a 0-0 scoreline.

From 1992 onwards, the love affairs with Asian Club competition took a dip and ended as Balestier (Now defunct Balestier Central) withdrew from the Asia Cup Winners' Cup before the meeting with Quang NamVietnam. Geylang International also failed to part in Asian Club competition after that despite continuing to dominate the domestic football scene.

With that, the SPL era of Singapore club football in Asia Club competition came to a rather abruptly end.

In all, one can feel Singapore enter the Middle Ages as developments elsewhere in Asia had gone unnoticed after SPL clubs kept to themselves playing domestic football

Like NFL, SPL hardly had a love affair with Asian club competition with Geylang International participating in only three editions of the Asian Club Championship and only two editions of the Asia Cup Winners' Cup. The rest of the SPL clubs did not even touch Asian club competition and when Balestier did participate, it chooses to withdraw before any meaningful participation. Certainly the record of SPL clubs involvement in Asian club competition can be considered no better than the NFL clubs.

With closer inspection of events, it is easy to pinpoint the reasons for Singapore clubs dismal results in Asian clubs Competition before the S-league era.

The blame lies on all fronts - FAS, clubs, media and fans.

All good local players were called up for the Singapore team in the Malaysian league leaving the local football scene stale. Once any local player make an impact, he was bound to leave with clubs receiving nothing in appreciation for what they have done to nurture the player.

This make clubs unwilling to develop their players; further adding to the serious problem of poor standards in the domestic league.

Clubs themselves also have to share the blame as many of the clubs lacked the foresight and vision to improve their club beyond Singapore shore.

The lacked of financial incentives for the Singapore clubs certainly make matters worse as unlike European and South America club competition, Asian Club competition do not generate any profit for clubs participating in it.

They were then kept satisfed with what domestic football was serving up with no regard on how Asian football can help them progress even further.

As for the media, they were only concern about hoodwinking the fans to be content with being the frog in the well and the fans were willing to buy into that context; forgetting international stage was the true stage of the National team.

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