Singapore’s Tiong Baru FC under scrutiny after raking in S$36m last year

Investigators arriving with carton boxes and push trolleys at Tiong Baru Football Club clubhouse at People’s Park Centre. — TODAY pic
Investigators arriving with carton boxes and push trolleys at Tiong Baru Football Club clubhouse at People’s Park Centre. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, April 21 — Nestled in an inconspicuous corner at the basement of People’s Park Centre in Upper Cross Street, it would be easy to miss the Tiong Baru FC (TBFC) clubhouse if not for the brightly coloured neon lights illuminating its entrance.

The clubhouse, which operates from 10am to 2.30am daily, is already a popular haunt for retirees on most days. It became the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons yesterday as several of its key assets and documents were seized by a group of people whom TODAY understands to be officers of the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

This comes following a police report that Sport Singapore (SportSG) lodged against TBFC, which is run by businessman Bill Ng, for suspected misuse of funds, as well as for an attempt by a senior club officer to obstruct the completion of audits into the S.League sit-out clubs. TODAY understands the senior officer refers to Ng.

One of the most profitable clubhouses among local football clubs, Tiong Baru, which plays in the first division of the amateur National Football League (NFL), generated a total revenue of S$36,736,775 (RM115.5 million) from its fruit machines in the last financial year. 

The clubhouse currently has 29 functioning fruit machines. That is more than triple the eight machines that S.League club Balestier Khalsa has at the Toa Payoh Stadium, and almost double the 15 machines that Albirex Niigata (S) has at its clubhouse, also in Toa Payoh. It paid out around S$23 million in winnings in 2016, according to the club’s annual report lodged with the Football Association of Singapore.

The club paid its 15 employees S$2.073 million in salaries in 2016, and also forked out an additional S$528,000 for staff training, uniforms and staff welfare. But spending on its football team was a more modest S$169,000.

After accounting for its various expenditures — which includes employee compensation, paid out claims, tax on takings, rental fees and expenses for accessories for its football team — the club earned a profit of S$604,542 in 2016. 

TODAY found that Tiong Baru also paid around S$960,000 in total rent in 2016 to the unit’s landlord, Polygon Ventures, which is listed on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) as a company dealing in general wholesale trade. That works out to be about US$80,000 per month.

The listed owner of Polygon Ventures is Bonnie Wong Yuk Ying, who TODAY understands shares the same residential address as Ng.

With the clubhouse measuring 2,583sqf, it means that the rental amounts to S$31 per square foot.

In contrast, a check showed that other basement units in People’s Park Centre are charging between S$2.92 and S$11.23 per square feet in rent. The only unit charging S$31.50 per square feet in rent is located at street level, and measures only 200sqf.

While Ng is understood to be running the club, the chairman of TBFC’s general committee is listed as former FAS president Zainudin Nordin. 

Other members of the committee are Song Ying Kong (vice-/deputy chairman), Kelvin Ng Boon Kee (vice-chairman), Chan Kok Cheng (Hon Secretary) and Kevin Tan Wee Boon (Treasurer).

The Tiong Baru clubhouse also appears to be immensely popular as it has close to 25,000 members. One reason could be that it offers its patrons food at selected times, as well as a free flow of drinks such as coffee, tea and Milo round-the-clock.

A patron, who only wanted to be known as Teo, said: “Most of us here are retirees or hold part-time jobs, so we come here and play (the fruit machines) to pass the time. It helps that they serve us drinks and during the evenings, they’ll usually provide us with cooked food for us like fried rice and bee hoon.”

Another patron, 65-year-old Wong, added in Mandarin: “They occasionally also change the fruit machines and bring in new ones, and this keeps things fresh for the customers. 

He also said that while the clubhouse is supposed to close at 2.30am, it sometimes stay open for an hour longer because they “would rather not chase patrons away”.

“On average, I can lose hundreds of dollars each time I come here and admittedly, the payout isn’t that good. But it’s a convenient place for me and a good way to help me pass the time so I still come back,” he said.

Another patron Goh, 72, a retiree said she frequents the clubhouse two to three times a week: “ I’ve made friends with some of the regulars here. It’s usually very crowded here in the evenings. It’s especially crowded during public holidays and in particular, Chinese New Year, and sometimes there aren’t enough machines to go around.”

Despite its profitability, Tiong Baru, which was registered as a society in 1994, continue to play in the NFL. 

It did, however, play in the FAS Premier League — then regarded as the top-tier competition of Singapore football — in 1995.

Ng had revealed during a press conference to unveil Team Game Changers’ manifesto last week that he had asked the FAS if he could get Tiong Baru to play in the S.League as they were now a self-sustainable outfit. 

However, Ng said that FAS general secretary Winston Lee had told him to leave the club in the NFL and instead donate a sum of S$500,000 to the Asean Football Federation (AFF) for the development of its Football Management System (FMS).

However, Lee later refuted Ng’s version of events, and instead pointed at Zainudin as the person who had asked for the donation. — TODAY

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