Fans upset but Hougang United-Woodlands Wellington merger all above board
As far as the larger football fraternity is concerned, it came out of the blue.
And in a flash, Woodlands Wellington, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.
The Rams merged with Hougang United at the end of the 2014 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season, with the new entity retaining only the Hougang name.
Upset over the deal, fans of Woodlands, founding members of the S.League when it was launched in 1996, petitioned the governing body, questioning the legality of the merger.
They have continued to press the S.League over the deal, questioning how the licence Woodlands had obtained to run a games room with jackpot machines would now come under Hougang's control.
The New Paper understands questions were also raised over Hougang chairman Bill Ng's involvement with Woodlands even before the merger was mooted last year.
However, the S.League and Ng (right)are firm in their belief that everything is above board.
"The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and S.League have consulted and obtained in-principle approval from the relevant authorities on the merger and is overseeing the merger process," said an FAS spokesman, in a statement to TNP that also revealed that the move to merge was in fact, mooted by the league in its consolidation initiative for a 10-team competition in 2015.
Tanjong Pagar United also dropped out, trimming the S.League from 12 to 10 teams this year.
The FAS statement, issued in response to TNP's queries two weeks ago, explained that the "assets of both clubs have yet to be merged", due to the fact that Woodlands have outstanding debts and their accounts have yet to be audited, as per legal requirements.
TNP understands that Woodlands' books are being audited now, and the process will take some five to six months, with the northern-based club around $400,000 in the red, a debt that has been taken over by Hougang.
The FAS spokesman revealed that the "operations of the Woodlands clubhouse will be taken over by Hougang".
But both clubhouses will remain at the respective home grounds - Hougang Stadium and Woodlands Stadium.
"Both clubs have obtained approval from the relevant authorities for the merger and have also engaged their fans in both formal and informal meetings," said the spokesman.
The FAS added that according to law, all clubs that run clubhouses with jackpot machines submit their accounts monthly and are audited annually.
"All this is done with strict corporate governance."
Corporate governance was the very issue raised in response to Ng's involvement - and presence - at Woodlands board meetings in 2010 following the exit of Jayadev Unnithan as club chairman.
Winson Song, Ng's No. 2 at Sengkang Punggol (the name Hougang used before their re-branding in 2011), took over the stewardship of Woodlands, with Ng present at meetings where the club's finances as well as football matters were discussed.
The FAS was unperturbed by what appeared to be a conflict of interest, saying in a statement at the time: "Having encouraged Song to take on the club chairmanship at Woodlands, Ng has acceded to (Song's) request to provide his expertise and advice for a couple of months."
Following Song's departure after the 2011 season, another of Ng's associates at Hougang, Hussainar Abdul Aziz, took over the mantle at Woodlands, till the end of the 2014 season.
"The FAS asked me for help in finding a suitable person and I suggested those who worked with me in football," explained Ng, adding that it was difficult finding sports administrators who have experience in local football and are willing to join the fray.