How to start a professional football club in Malaysia

If you have ever thought of starting your own football club in the M-League, you’re going to need more than just a ball and eleven players. Shazli Shaik, Head of Competition Department at the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), explains the tedious bits to us…

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How does the FAM League actually work?

This year, the FAM League has been divided into two groups to accommodate all 19 teams in the league. Both group winners will gain promotion to the Malaysian Premier League. On top of that, the two winners will compete with each other in a final match to determine the true champions of the league.

How does one join the FAM League?

They must be the champions or runners-up of their respective state leagues. For example, Johor Darul Ta’zim III, then known as the Royal Johor Military Force FC, joined from their state league after winning the Chief Minister of Johor Cup (BM: Piala Menteri Besar Johor) last year. Same goes with AirAsia Allstars, Megah Murni, Ipoh and the like. However, each state Football Association (FA) can also propose other clubs to compete in the FAM League, especially if some champions or runners-up do not have the sufficient funds to participate in it. Previously, we did qualifying playoffs among the teams that want to move up and play in the FAM League, but we are more open now.

Then, after receiving the nominations from the State FAs, the FAM’s Competition Committee will study the proposed teams and see if they comply with our rules and regulations. For instance, they must be registered with the Malaysia Sports Commissioner Office (BM: Pejabat Pesuruhjaya Sukan Malaysia), be affiliated to a state FA, and have at least RM500,000 in their bank account. They also have to prove that they have a playing venue, a training pitch, and are able to provide hotel accommodation for the home and away teams.

How long does it normally take for the FAM to finalise the teams participating in the FAM League?

Once a M-League season ends, we will have to decide within a month. The State FAs have to send us their nominees as soon as their state leagues finishes, which is usually in November. Then, we will study each team and send official letters to the confirmed participants.

How many players are needed in a team?

For state teams, they are only allowed to have 25 first-team players. However, due to their involvements in the President’s Cup (BM: Piala Presiden) and the Youth Cup (BM: Piala Belia), they can call up three young players each from both squads [which, in theory, gives them 31 players to choose from]. For club teams, they can have up to 30 players, but it is compulsory that five of their players must be aged 21 and below.

What will happen if teams withdraw from the M-League, such as in the case of UPBMyTeam, Selangor MPPJ, Cebagoo and Perak YBU?

They will usually return to their state leagues. As the Competition Committee has decided, any team can pull out from the FAM League as long as it is before we nominate them to play in the league. For instance, we nominate Real Mulia to play in the FAM League, but before the league starts, they request to pull out. When that happens, they will be punished – usually a heavy fine will be imposed and they will be banned from participating in the M-League for an ‘X’ amount of years. During the length of their suspension, they cannot be involved in any competition organised by the FAM including the state leagues, as the leagues are sanctioned by us as well. But like I said, they will not be punished if they withdraw before they are nominated by us.

Alistair Edwards is Technical Director at Real Mulia, one of the new teams in the FAM League this season

Will teams that have pulled out from the FAM League be allowed to re-join the league in the future?

Yes, unless they are serving a suspension as mentioned earlier. Let’s say if Cebagoo, who withdrew from the league at the beginning of the year, win Sabah’s state league this season, they can re-join the FAM League next season.

So, a newly-formed club have to start from the state leagues?

Yes. Some of the state leagues have three or four tiers. If you’re a new club, you will need to start from their lowest tier, so it might take you at least four years to get to the FAM League. It is important for newly-formed teams to experience the amateur league before joining our semi-professional league to prepare themselves adequately. Plus, the rules and regulations in the state leagues are less strict than the FAM League. However, newly-formed clubs can also go up immediately if they are nominated by their state FAs.

Perlis and Malacca do not have their own state leagues. Let’s say a club originated from either state want to play in the FAM League, how do they achieve it?

They have to join other nearby state leagues then.

As we have no fourth tier in the M-League, what will happen to teams that finish at the bottom?

In the past years, the bottom two would be relegated to their respective state leagues, but right now we want the league to be more competitive [so relegation is not definite].

Does the FAM provide any financial aids or incentives to teams participating in the FAM League?

At the moment, we don’t help them financially because they themselves need to prepare sufficiently to compete in the FAM League and play in the Premier League in the future. However, we do provide some sort of bonus or token to those who finish higher in the league standings.

As the privatisation for the M-League will kick off next year, do the FAM League clubs need to apply for club licenses?

Not necessarily. That requirement only applies to clubs playing in the competitions under the Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) – namely the Malaysian Super League, Malaysian Premier League, Malaysian FA Cup, Malaysia Cup and Charity Cup. However, the FAM League clubs are more than welcome to undergo the club licensing process ahead of their potential promotion to the Premier League, which, by the way, has already been done by Malacca United.

This feature was originally published in the June 2015 issue of FourFourTwo Malaysia/Singapore