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The Malaysian Football League System

Nigel is a football (soccer) fan since his childhood days. He also plays football as a left-back and is a long-time fan of Liverpool Fc.

The early days

The early days of structured football in Malaysia.

The early days of structured football in Malaysia.

Football was introduced to Malaysia (then known as Malaya) by the British. The game was quickly picked up by the natives, and it soon became the country's most popular sport. Football was one of the core foundations of most sports clubs in Malaya at the end of the 19th century. It was, however, unstructured. Even before the formation of the Selangor Amateur Football League in 1905 – which assured adequate governance – the competition was confined only to clubs in Kuala Lumpur, the nation's capital.

Official league football began on a national level in 1982, but it was still an amateur league between state football associations, rather than "club football," and it lasted until 1989, when a semi-professional era began, with teams representing their respective state FAs, the armed forces, the police force, and teams representing neighboring countries such as Singapore and Brunei allowed to compete, this lasted until 1994.

Initial League Structure

Sabah FA, one of the early teams in the Malaysian Premier League in 1994.

Sabah FA, one of the early teams in the Malaysian Premier League in 1994.

Professional league status (1994 - 2003)

In 1994, the Malaysian league was elevated to a professional league, and it was run by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), it was first known as the Malaysian Premier League, with an inaugural season featuring 16 teams, including 13 state FA teams, two international teams, and Kuala Lumpur. This concept, however, was short-lived, since the Malaysian Premier League was split into two divisions in 1998, MPL 1 and MPL 2.

Malaysian Premier League 1 was, without a doubt, the premier tier, with 12 teams, and Malaysian Premier League 2 was the second division, featuring eight teams. Semi-professional clubs were still allowed to play in the league at this time, with a maximum of 25 players, 12 of whom must have MPL 1 experience and 6 from MPL 2. This format went on until 2003 when the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) decided to privatize the leagues.

Super League Era (2004 - Present)

Following the privatization of the leagues, all clubs from the previous league were placed in a playoff event, with the victorious teams being promoted to the Super League (Division 1) and the losers to the Premier League (Division 2). These were the only professional leagues in Malaysia, until 2008.

Current Structure

Selangor FA, one of the top teams during the early Malaysian Super League era.

Selangor FA, one of the top teams during the early Malaysian Super League era.

Between 2008 - 2018

The FAM League was established in 2008 as the third division of the Malaysian football league. Professional teams (relegated from the Premier League) and semi-professional teams (funded to join the third tier) compete in this league.

While the restructuring was taking place, the Football Association of Malaysia introduced a new division with the goal of giving semi-professional and amateur teams a mathematical opportunity to enter the Malaysian league system. These are teams from 13 states and federal territories and it was then called States leagues.

Between 2018 - present

The FAM league was renamed the M3 League, while the states league was renamed the M4 League, as part of a reformation aimed at mathematically allowing any team in the country to compete in the Malaysian football league system.

Divisions in the new structure

The Malaysian Football League logo since the restructuring.

The Malaysian Football League logo since the restructuring.

While the Malaysian league system has only four official tiers, the first three divisions have a simpler structure, comparable to the English football league system, in which all teams compete on a national level between divisions 1 and 5.

First Division (Malaysian Super League)

Let's start with the Malaysian Super League (MSL), which consists of 12 professional clubs. The league's winners qualify for the AFC Champions League, while the runners-up qualify for the AFC Cup. The bottom two teams, on the other hand, are relegated to the second tier.

Second Division (Malaysian Premier League)

It is the second division of the Malaysian football league system which consists of 12 teams. The top two teams from each division will be promoted to the Super League, while the bottom two will be relegated to the third division.

Third Division (M3 League)

For the 2020 season, the league adopted a new format that separated the league's 20 teams into two groups of ten teams. While it appears simple at first glance, like the usual top two teams from each group advancing to the play-offs to choose two winners, things get a little more tricky here.

Teams will be evaluated based on their financial records prior to the start of the season, with the top 12 teams in good financial standing remaining in the M3 League for 2021 and the remaining 8 moving to the M4 League.

The goal of such a rule is to convert clubs from amateur to semi-professional status, giving them financial autonomy to govern the club. The 2021 M3 League season will be the first to include this unique yet early-stage format.

Aside from the league system's promotions and relegations, a club's financial stability is another aspect that determines whether or not they stay in this division. Two teams will be promoted via play-offs, and while there are currently no relegations, reorganization is still underway.

State Football League System (Division 4)

Selangor Champions League, one of the major state-level leagues in the Malaysian football league system.

Selangor Champions League, one of the major state-level leagues in the Malaysian football league system.

Just like in the English football league system, divisions 6 and below compete at a district level in their system. The same applies to the Malaysian football league system, which starts from divisions four and below that compete at a state level where all 13 states and 3 federal territories in Malaysia have their respective leagues.

Teams in the fourth division do not automatically achieve promotion to Malaysia's third division; however, if they have a satisfactory financial position, they can request to join when a team in the third division withdraws.

Fourth division teams instead, compete in their respective state leagues, which has another separate system of their own. Any league below the state leagues are divided into geographical districts within the state, which can consist of various other leagues and divisions.

Pahang vs JDT is a huge match in the Malaysian Super League, check it out!

Future of Malaysian Football League

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has an ongoing project to restructure the lower leagues in order to allow lower league teams to have a mathematical chance to compete within the whole pyramid itself. As of now, they are in the midst of restructuring division three, division four, and a potential division five in the future.

As an amateur footballer myself, this is a great opportunity for teams like the ones I represent, to continue developing ourselves professionally in the sport we love.

If you're interested in the Malaysian football scene, take this poll.

© 2021 Nigel Koay Talks Football

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