Southeast Asia Malaysia

Fighters to Drop Out of Malaysian Football

Liga Super Malaysia side FELDA United has dropped a bombshell on Monday, announcing that they will be leaving the Malaysian football pyramid in the upcoming 2021 season. Having underwent several tumultuous years due to financial issues, FELDA has decided that enough is enough and they will be withdrawing themselves from the Malaysian league next season.

Founded in 2007 as the footballing section of Malaysia’s Federal Land Development Authority, FELDA climbed their way up the Malaysian football pyramid from the third-tier FAM Cup and in 2008, just one year after their foundation, FELDA achieved promotion to the second-tier Liga Premier Malaysia. Then known as the Settlers, FELDA were promoted to the Liga Super Malaysia after winning the 2010 edition of the Liga Premier, spending 3 years in the top flight where they spent most of their time in the bottom half of the league table.

FELDA were relegated back into the Liga Premier in 2013, however this sparked a golden era for the club. Rebranding themselves from the Settlers to the Fighters, FELDA, underneath head coach Irfan Bakti, were promoted back to the Liga Super as 2014 Liga Premier runners-up, while on the same year they went all the way to the 2014 Malaysian FA Cup final where they were beaten by an 89th minute goal from Pahang FA. The good times continue for FELDA after that as they finished 5th in the 2015 Liga Super, the first time that FELDA had finished in the top half of the Liga Super table.

It was during this time that FELDA opened their very own stadium, the Tun Abdul Razak Stadium at the town of Jengka in the state of Pahang, with Jengka being FELDA’s largest settlement. With FELDA owning their own stadium, the Fighters would no longer have to hop between the KLFA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, both the Selayang Stadium and the Petaling Jaya Stadium in Selangor, and Melaka’s Hang Jebat Stadium for their home games.

FELDA’s ascendency then reached its zenith in 2016, their first year at the Tun Abdul Razak. The Fighters finished 2nd in the Liga Super table, having never dropped out of the top three throughout that season and even becoming league leaders for a number of times. However, they couldn’t stop Johor Darul Ta’zim from clinching the title and Irfan took responsibility for that failure, resigning from his post. Azmi Mohamed succeeded Irfan’s position in the FELDA hot seat, before being succeeded himself by B. Sathianathan.

The success of 2016 earned FELDA a ticket to the 2017 AFC Cup group stages, where they faced off against Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, Ceres-Negros from the Philippines, and Vietnam’s Hanoi FC. Due to the rather secluded location of the Tun Abdul Razak Stadium, FELDA were forced to play their home games at the Shah Alam Stadium in Selangor, however they’ve managed to convince the AFC to allow them to hold their final home game of the group stages in Jengka. The Fighters finished dead last in their group but they did gave eventual group winners Ceres a 3-0 beatdown at their own backyard in the Philippines.

2017 also saw the abrupt downfall of FELDA, with the Fighters being forcefully demoted back to the Liga Premier despite finishing 3rd on the Liga Super table, due to their failure of attaining a top flight license. However that wasn’t the end of FELDA’s golden era though, as head coach Sathianathan and a number of key players decided to stay in the FELDA ship, which allowed the Fighters to romp their way to the 2018 Liga Premier title – a swift promotion back into the top flight.

However, the end of the 2018 Liga Premier season saw the end of FELDA’s golden era, with allegations of unpaid wages and other financial issues being heard from the club. Sathianathan went to Selangor FA at the end of the 2018 season and FELDA’s quality players left for greener pastures, leaving Nidzam Jamil to pick up the reins as FELDA’s new head coach with a youthful and inexperienced squad at his disposal.

It was during this golden era that FELDA attracted a number of quality players, such as Shukor Adan, Christie Jayaseelan, Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Edward Junior Wilson, Zah Rahan Krangar, Francis Forkey Doe, S. Chanthuru, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Hadin Azman, Iain Ramsay, Thiago Augusto, Thiago Junio, and Gilberto Fortunato. Even FELDA’s potentially final squad in their 13 years of existence had some decent players, such as Danial Amier, Faiz Mazlan, Syahmi Zamri, Khairul Amri and Ryutaro Megumi. The Fighters had also qualified to four Malaysian Cup semifinals during their era of success.

Unfortunately, the financial issues that had plagued FELDA since 2018 was too much for the club to burden even further and following the laying-off of 16 club employees, FELDA announced their intention to leave Malaysian football.

“FELDA wishes to announce that FELDA United’s participation in football matches will be for the 2020 season only. For the 2021 season afterwards, FELDA United will no longer participate in the Liga Super and the Liga Premier,” said the official statement issued by FELDA on Monday.

11th placed FELDA will travel to Selangor for their final Liga Super match on Saturday, which potentially could be their last ever match as a football club. Prior to their announcement in leaving the Malaysian football pyramid, should FELDA gain three points from this match and other matches elsewhere go their way, the Fighters will secure a third consecutive year in the Liga Super.

Malaysian Football League (MFL) chief executive officer Datuk Abdul Ghani Hassan told the New Strait Times about the matter, “We are waiting for the official withdrawal of FELDA United and will take the necessary action, especially in determining what will happen in terms of relegation. Whatever it is, it’s a shame that this is happening. It’s a huge loss for the youth of FELDA and their football fans.”

FELDA, who were granted a top flight license and an AFC license shortly before announcing their intention to withdraw from Malaysian football, have vowed to continue supporting the development of Malaysian football through their FELDA Football Academy, which gave FELDA youths a shot in honing their skills in the beautiful game.

Should the MFL decide that two teams should be relegated from the Liga Super this season, 10th placed Sabah FA might risk going down should FELDA made their decision to pull out of the league final. Last placed PDRM FA had their relegation already confirmed on September.

Abdul Ghani confirmed that the MFL will hold a board meeting soon to discuss several matters, including the number of Malaysian league teams for the next season, with the MFL remaining hopeful that FELDA would reverse their decision soon before it’s too late.

Should FELDA decide to make their withdrawal decision final, they will join a number of other Malaysian clubs that have disappeared into the abyss for various reasons, such as Selangor MPPJ, Public Bank FC, UPB-MyTeam, TM Melaka FC, Kuantan FA, FELCRA FC, and Terengganu City FC.