Southeast Asia has a rich football history, with some big-name clubs intertwined with some notable, yet lesser-known outfits. In the latest edition of our tour through the region, FourFourTwo discovered an extraordinary story of match-fixing, phone taps and cheating death in Cambodia…
“My president told me that if I return to Cambodia, there’s a 20 per cent chance I’ll be killed.”
PHNOM PENH CROWN FC
FOUNDED 2001 as Samart United
Rithy Samnang The president of the club, who has overseen a period of sustained title success whilst also leading the fight against corruption and match fixing
Ly Heang General-Secretary of the club for the past three years and another who has held firm in the ongoing fight against match manipulation
Sam Schweingruber Swiss-born coach and general manager who led the team to back-to-back league titles over the past two seasons
COLOURS Red & White
MOST SUCCESSFUL COACH
Apihist Im Amphai/Sam Schweingruber – Both the Thai and Swiss coaches have delivered league titles to the club in recent years, the former in the 2008-09 & 2009-10 seasons and the latter in 2014 & 2015.
HOME GROUND RSN Stadium, Phnom Penh
When talking about the dramatic twists and turns in the life of Phnom Penh Crown coach Sam Schweingruber over the past six months, the old Bill Shankly quote about football being more serious than life and death takes on a whole new meaning.
Phnom Penh are the most successful club in the history of Cambodian football, a beacon for talented players, boasting their own stadium and possessing a dominant record that includes winning half of the league titles contested since 2002.
Perhaps just as importantly though they are a club with a genuine social conscience, having forged deep links with a range of Non-Government Organisations, including the outstanding SALT (Sports and Leadership Training) Academy and World Vision.
They’re also one of the few clubs in the Kingdom to have taken a very public stance in the fight against match fixing and corruption.
It was that stand, many believe, that almost resulted in their Swiss-born coach being killed late last year, barely two days after the club had celebrated winning the league title for the fourth time in the past six years.
A month prior to that triumph the club had been torn asunder as news broke that seven players and four staff had been suspended indefinitely for what their president and owner Rithy Samnang called “gross misconduct” involving “corruption and “match manipulation”.
As Samnang told the Phnom Penh Post in November, the 11 individuals were suspended for breaching their contracts “by way of match manipulation and the deliberate harming of Phnom Penh Crown’s reputation”.
“Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of professional football and we will not tolerate any activities relating to the manipulation of football matches and the influencing of match results,” he told the newspaper.
“Corruption and match manipulation are a poison in sport and we want football to be played in an atmosphere where supporters can trust the integrity of the players and the sincerity of the results.”
The suspensions arose as a result of voice recordings the club had obtained, with Schweingruber telling FourFourTwo he was shocked those at the club would deliberately try to alter results.
“Even though you know what is happening in general in football in Cambodia and what can happen it still came as a very big shock to me,” he said.
“I had a sense that people were giving me the right answers to my face, but then behind my back not doing things so well and then kind of by accident we got evidence and once you heard those voice recordings it was 100 per cent clear what was happening.”
What happened after that, though, is not so clear.
With those players, including several national team stars, removed the team was long odds to defeat Naga World in the two-legged championship final.