Singapore League (S. League)

by Bhaskaran, Kunju

The Singapore League (S.League) is a professional football league and represents the highest level of domestic football competition in Singapore. It was officially launched in 1996 with eight local teams contesting in the inaugural season.1 The league accepted its first foreign team in 2003 in an effort to raise its competitiveness and profile.2

Prior to the inception of the S.League, Singapore’s primary football competition was the Malaysia Cup. Although a local league existed in many variations – running simultaneously with the Malaysia Cup – these were mostly contested by amateur teams.3

Singapore’s final season in the Malaysian Premier League and Malaysia Cup was in 1994. The competitions were highly successful, with Singapore winning both the league and cup. Led by national coach, New Zealander Douglas Moore, the campaign culminated in a 4-0 win over Pahang in the finals of the Malaysia Cup held at Shah Alam Stadium.4

In 1995, the Football Association of Singapore announced a controversial decision to withdraw from the Malaysian Premier League and Malaysia Cup competitions, a participation that had begun since 1921. The official stand on the pull-out was the need to promote and expand the growing local football community via Singapore’s own league.5

The S$10-million S.League was launched by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the National Stadium on 14 April 1996. Culminating the ceremony was an S.League All-Stars match against Thailand’s national team. The draw of 1-1 led to a penalty shoot-out that saw the Thais winning with a 5-4 scoring.6

The inaugural S.League Championship featured eight football clubs contesting in a two-stage series, with the winner of each series competing for the season championship. The Tiger Beer Series was won by Geylang United, while the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club (SAFFC) clinched victory for the Pioneer Series.7 Geylang United was crowned the first season’s champion after scoring 2-1 against SAFFC at the National Stadium on 9 November 1996.8

S.League welcomed its first foreign team when Chinese club, Sinchi Football Club (FC), joined in 2003 as part of a scheme to raise the competitiveness and profile of the league.9 In 2004, Japanese club Albirex Niigata came on board.10 Other foreign teams that had competed in the league included Sporting Afrique FC, South Korean Super Reds FC, Chinese teams Liaoning Guangyuan and Beijing Guoan FC, and Bruneian team DPMM FC.11

In 2014, there were plans to implement new age restrictions to the S.League 2015 season. Teams with a 22-man squad would be limited to a maximum of five players aged 30 and above, and a minimum of three players aged 25 and below. Teams with a 20-man squad would be allowed only four players over 30 years old and a minimum of two in the 25-and-under bracket. The changes were met with mixed response from footballers and fans. The S.League eventually revoked this ruling.12

The 2016 season saw new rules being announced: a reduction in the number of foreigners from five to three per club, and expansion of the squad size from 22 to 25 players. This is to allow more local professionals to play for S.League clubs.13

In 2016, Jermaine Pennant, a former English Premier League player, signed a one-year contract with Tampines Rovers. It was hoped that an international name could give a much-needed boost to the S.League, which has been facing low-quality playing and poor crowd turnout.14

Corruption cases
The S.League has faced several corruption cases since its inception. The first case occurred in 1997, when Manap Hamat and Abdul Malek Mohammad from Balestier Central FC pleaded guilty to fixing games between their club and Tampines Rovers.15 In 2000, Lutz Pfannenstiel from Geylang United and Mirko Jurilj from Sembawang Rangers were charged with accepting bribes in exchange for fixing matches.16

2008 saw the biggest scandal faced by S.League, when Liaoning Guangyuan was charged with fixing six S.League matches during the 2007 season. Seven players were convicted and imprisoned. The team manager, Wang Xin, who faced similar charges, absconded and was subsequently arrested in China for manipulating China’s domestic soccer matches.17


Bhaskaran Kunju & Shereen Tay

1. S.League. (n.d.) Overview. Retrieved 2016, May 20, from S.League website:; S-League names kick-off clubs. (1995, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Gulam, S. (2003, April 11). Put your house in order, Sinchi. The Straits Times, p. 61. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. 50 greatest moments in Singapore football. (2012). Singapore: Straits Times Press, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 796.334095957 FIF); Palakrishnan, & Das, M. (Eds.). (1996). S.League: The kick-off. Singapore: Singapore Professional Football League, pp. 71–73. (Call no.: RSING 796.33406095957 S)
4. Khoo, P. (1994, December 18). The perfect end to Singapore’s 14-year drought. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Dorai, J. (1995, March 30). It’s the S’pore soccer league. The Straits Times, p. 31; S’pore quits Malaysia Cup for good. (1995, February 23). The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tay, C. K. (1996, April 15). PM kicks off S’pore’s pro-soccer league. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 50 greatest moments in Singapore football. (2012). Singapore: Straits Times Press, pp. 86–87. (Call no.: RSING 796.334095957 FIF)
7. S-League names kick-off clubs. (1995, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 1; Gulam, S. (1996, June 18). Eagles ready to swoop. The New Paper, p. 35; Singh, S. (1996, October 24). Pioneer champ SAFFC notches double with Fair Play Award. The Straits Times, p. 43. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Geylang wins S-League’s championship match. (1996, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Gulam, S. (2003, April 11). Put your house in order, Sinchi. The Straits Times, p. 61. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Japanese boost for S-League ambition. (2004, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lim, L. (2006, December 22). Chinese, South Korean clubs for S-League. The Straits Times, p. 21; Shamir Osman. (2009, November 25). Beijing Guoan eye S-League spot. Today, p. 63. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Low, L. F. (2014, November 5). Uncertainty over S-League’s changes for 2015. Today; Phua, E. (2014, November 24). Players ambivalent about S-League u-turn. Today. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website:
13. Khalis Rifhan. (2015, December 13). S.League clubs strengthening squad ahead of new season. Retrieved 2016, May 20 from S.League website:
14. Ho, S., et al. (2016, January 30). For S.League, a marquee signing brings more questions than answers. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website:
15. Singh, M. (1997, October 14). We’re guilty, but mercy please. The New Paper, p. 10; Jailed. (1997, October 16). The New Paper, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Nair, S. (2000, August 30). Kelong: 2 charged. The New Paper, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Zul Othman. (2008, February 14). Soccer player pleads guilty to match-fixing. Today, p. 10; Chong, E. (2008, April 23). Six match-fixing Liaoning soccer players jailed. The Straits Times, p. 4; Wang, M. M. (2009, November 26). Former Liaoning team official arrested. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 1 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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