Merger of Hougang and Woodlands at an impasse
Hougang and Woodlands merger at an impasse
The news was broken to Woodlands Wellington's players at the end of the 2014 S.League season, and wheels were set in motion for the merger of the Rams and Hougang United.
But, over a year later, even as the 21st edition of the S.League looms, the merger has yet to pass muster, and is instead at an impasse.
In April, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) told The New Paper that it had obtained "in-principle approval from the relevant authorities on the merger" that it had proposed.
However, in response to queries earlier this week, an FAS spokesman revealed that rules governing S.League clubs - registered societies under the Societies Act - was one of the issues holding up the move.
"The FAS is currently awaiting a decision from the relevant authorities with regards to Woodlands' status as a society and the operations of its clubhouse," said a spokesman.
TNP understands that Woodlands were some $400,000 in debt at the end of 2014 - one of the reasons the national sports association decided on the merger - with the FAS spokesman revealing in April that "operations of the Woodlands clubhouse will be taken over by Hougang".
While the FAS did not answer questions about the nature of Woodlands' current existence, their spokesman said: "Following their sitting out from participation in the S.League in 2015, Woodlands have already commenced repayment of their debts from the revenue generated from the club's fruit machine operations."
The spokesman assured that proper financial procedures were being adhered to.
He said: "Like any other S.League club, the accounts of Woodlands are audited as required to ensure proper financial governance.
"During this period, the club will continue to organise and conduct football activities and programmes."
To have Woodlands - a founding member of the S.League when it kicked off in 1996 - back in the fray and running football activities was the key consideration of a fan group led by R Vengadasalam and James Lim, who raised questions about the merger, and petitioned the FAS to keep the Rams alive.
TNP understands that the last chairman of Woodlands, lawyer Hussainar Abdul Aziz, will not be returning to helm the club should the merger fall through.
But the group are ready to take the club forward should it come to that.
"A new committee must be formed with people involved with the grassroots in Woodlands. We've got people who're willing to help us, and the aim is to get back into the S.League in 2017," said Venga, who was involved in the club since before their S.League days, when it was known as Wellington Football Club.
Lim, meanwhile, is hoping for the club to get back into the community.
He told TNP: "We want it to be a proper football club again, working in the community, with a youth development system in the centres of excellence for 14-year-olds through to 18-year-olds.
"Whatever revenue from the jackpot rooms must be channelled to make this vision come true."
Hougang chairman Bill Ng, who had previously told TNP that his club operate a profitable clubhouse that can fund their football activities even without FAS subsidies, which amount to around $800,000 per year, is adopting a wait-and-see approach.
"Hougang are working closely with the FAS on the matter, and will await further instruction from them," said Ng, who in April opened the books of the jackpot operations of Hougang and Tiong Bahru Football Club - which he also oversees - to TNP.
With Malaysia's Harimau Muda ceasing their participation in Singapore football, the S.League is poised to start the 2016 season with just nine teams, down from 12 in 2014, but TNP understands that Woodlands will not have enough time to engineer an immediate return.
But Venga is just happy that the club he helped start have not disappeared from existence.
"Woodlands were one of the founding members of the S.League, and we are a club with deeps roots in the community in northern Singapore.
"We're still hoping that the club can continue to work with the community here, and also play in the S.League."