THE last time a man born in Singapore arrived at Ibrox, he did so to unadulterated acclaim and enthusiasm from Rangers supporters. Bill Ng, should he succeed in buying the club, will have to work much harder to earn their admiration and trust.
Of course, when Terry Butcher joined Rangers in 1986 to help a transformation from also-rans to the most consistently dominant force in Scottish football, his connection with the former British colony was largely unknown. The big defender spent just the first 15 months of his life in Singapore, where his father was based while in Royal Navy service, before moving to Suffolk.
As Ng looks to write his own successful chapter in the Rangers story, he has claimed an affinity with the club stretching back to when he watched black and white television pictures of their 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph.
It did not require undue levels of cynicism to take that comment with a considerable pinch of salt. Even the most fervent Rangers fan might find it difficult to believe the club’s finest hour at the Nou Camp 40 years ago carried great resonance in south-east Asia.
An interview with Ng in leading Singapore newspaper Today in December 2010, following his takeover of S-League club Hougang United, appears to provide a more telling indication of the 52-year-old’s attitude towards the game.
Reflecting on the new venture, and his previous purchase of Tiong Bahru United in 2005, Ng was brutally honest about his motivation for becoming involved. “I came into football because I was influenced by the love my two sons have for the sport and I have to admit I’m not a football man,” he said. “When I came in, I didn’t even know what the offside rule was and my sons had to teach me.”
But an ignorance of the rules of the game would not make Ng unique among football club owners and is no more relevant to his suitability for Rangers than the real extent of his declared emotional attachment to them.
What matters is the depth of his wealth, which can be traced back to the Chinese clans who emigrated to Singapore in the 19th century and established themselves as business leaders, and his ability to manage his investment in Rangers to the club’s benefit.
Sanjay Nair, a sports reporter for the Straits Times in Singapore, believes the Rangers supporters would not be disappointed in what Ng brought to the table.
“I think they can have faith in this man,” said Nair. “I understand fans’ fears about another businessman who says he has always supported the club, but friends around him maintain he has had a lifelong passion for Rangers from the first game he saw, the 1972 Cup Winners Cup final.
“For him it’s not a case of if the Rangers bid doesn’t work he will look for another club to buy. It’s either Rangers or some other business venture for him.
“It’s not just a business investment, he has always maintained it’s been a childhood dream of his to take over such a big club and turn it around because he feels its current predicament is not worthy of a club of such stature.
“In the late Nineties and early 2000s he used to do stockbroking for two major banks here and around 2006-07 he set up his own private equity firm which now specialises in debt restructuring and business development, which is a reason he thinks he can make a difference at Rangers because it is really his day job.
“He insists that, from day one, his bid has been fully backed, it’s not borrowing on anything. It’s around £20million and he has already set aside an amount for the creditors.”
During his time in charge of Hougang United, whose name he changed from its previous monicker of Sengkang Punggol, the previously toiling club have reached the Singapore League Cup final. But even that achievement, in the 2011 season, was not enough for Ng who ruthlessly opted for a managerial change this year, appointing Croatian coach Nenad Bacina. In the interview with Today, Ng admitted he sees no merit in trying to be popular.
“The suspicion may be because I’m not very well liked – I’m difficult to work with because I’m a straight-talker probably due to my banking background and I demand a lot from those under me,” he said.
“I even check if the toilets are clean. I run the club like I would a financial institution, aimed at making the club self-sufficient and not dependent on the Football Association of Singapore.”
Hougang are currently seventh in the S-League, with just three wins from their first nine games, which is below pre-season expectations. But according to Nair, Ng’s methods are proving successful and he believes they could be transferred to Rangers.
“Before he took over Hougang United they were always last or second last, but since he took over they reached the Singapore League Cup final and that’s a big thing, and now they are a mid-table team,” added Nair.
“That’s a big thing because in Singapore players are on one or two-year deals so a chairman can’t come in and just pump money in to the transfer market. He invested through youth development, developed the reserve team, decreased the debt and he gave a former national team player his first chance at coaching and he led them to the League Cup final.
“Hougang are hard to compare to Rangers, they play in a stadium of only 3,000-4,000 and that’s the average in Singapore. But what he sees at Rangers is he wants to expand not just Singapore football, he wants to do an exchange programme at the same time.
“He also maintains he wants Scottish businessmen to be part of his board of directors. His chairmanship will also be Scottish. He doesn’t want to be a stereotypical new owner who goes in and changes everything from the ground up. Every time I speak to him he says he can’t wait for the day he can speak to Ally McCoist to discuss transfer signings.
“His previous coach said that Bill would sometimes call him in the middle of the night to talk about matters and he would give his input, but the coach would have the final say and he wouldn’t interfere in team matters or selection.”