Singapore out of Malaysian league, leaving LionsXII in limbo

LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud lifting the Malaysian FA Cup trophy as the team celebrated its victory over Kelantan in Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil National Stadium in May. Players have been left scrambling for fresh contracts after the FAM's decisio
LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud lifting the Malaysian FA Cup trophy as the team celebrated its victory over Kelantan in Kuala Lumpur's Bukit Jalil National Stadium in May. Players have been left scrambling for fresh contracts after the FAM's decision to end the LionsXII's four-year participation.ST FILE PHOTO

Malaysia's football body decides not to extend partnership, citing travel costs

For the second time in two decades, Singapore's top players have found themselves booted out of Malaysian football, again with hardly any warning.

In 1994, it was sparked by a spat over gate receipts and match- fixing. The Lions were shown the door soon after winning the Malaysian league and Cup double that year.

This time, travel costs have been cited as the reason, with Football Association of Malaysia deputy president Afandi Hamzah telling the Malay Mail newspaper that "it was not cheap travelling to and from Singapore and many teams found it difficult".

This news has come as a shock to the LionsXII, who won the Malaysian FA Cup in May and the Malaysia Super League (MSL) in 2013, one year after joining the fray.

Now, players from the team have been left scrambling for fresh contracts and their livelihoods, with the squad finding out about the FAM's decision to end the LionsXII's four-year participation via social media and frantic calls from family and friends.

They were barred from speaking to the media by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which said it was informed by FAM of the move only yesterday evening.

"Our immediate priority is to assist the LionsXII players and backroom staff and we will be meeting them over the next few days," the FAS said in a statement last night.

As recently as last week, senior football officials from both sides held talks to extend the partnership, which was signed in 2011 and due to end this year. It saw the LionsXII play in Malaysia and Malaysia's own developmental squad Harimau Muda feature in Singapore's S-League.

Sources said the FAS had believed a new deal would be signed.

"This is a wake-up call for FAS. It's clear we shouldn't be relying on our neighbours any more to improve our game," said one senior LionsXII player, who declined to be named.

National captain Hariss Harun, who played for the LionsXII from 2012 to 2013 before moving to Johor Darul Takzim, said: "FAS should have been upfront with the players and kept them updated along the way as their livelihoods are at stake.

"The timing of the announcement is bad too. You have to wonder how the boys are feeling now ahead of Saturday's second leg against Pahang."

The LionsXII lost the first leg of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final 4-1 to Pahang on Tuesday night.

Sources said FAS offered to foot the Malaysian teams' travel bill if their own expenses were covered by their opponents in away matches - even though it amounted to a net cost of around $100,000 a year to the Singapore association.

It is believed FAM also wanted to take over the LionsXII's TV rights, something its Singapore counterpart was unwilling to part with.

The first murmurings of discontent over the LionsXII's participation were heard in 2013, when the V. Sundramoorthy-led outfit won the top-tier MSL.

When they captured the Malaysian FA Cup earlier this year, opponents accused the Singaporeans of having an advantage by fielding a near-national team, despite not being allowed to register foreign players like their MSL rivals.

SEE SPORT

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore out of Malaysian league, leaving LionsXII in limbo'. Print Edition | Subscribe