As was common with many former colonies football was introduced to Cambodia by their French overlords. The precursor to the Football Federation of Cambodia being formed in 1933. FIFA were accepted the Kingdom’s entry upon independence in 1953, with their first international match being a 5-2 loss to what was then known as Malaya.
The early history of Football in Cambodia
Between 1954 and 1972 the Kingdom of Cambodia mainly played friendly matches as it sought to consolidate football in the country, whilst in the midst of a bitter civil war.
During this period Cambodia did not participate in either World Cup, or Asian Football Confederation qualification matches.
They did though ironically help play a part in he qualification of North Korea for the 1966 World Cup, which you can read about here.
Football in the Khmer Republic
In 1972 Lon Nol deposed Sihanouk and the Khmer Republic was proclaimed. Whilst having enormous political ramifications, it would also act as the catalyst for a golden period for football in Cambodia.
Cambodia managed to qualify for the 1972 AFC Asian Cup after beating Hong Kong. Their first and indeed only qualification for a major tournament. After winning one of their 3 groups matches, against Kuwait, the Khmer Republic qualified for the Semi-Finals, where they were beaten by Iran. The team eventually finished 4th after losing the 3rd place play-off to Thailand.
Football in the Khmer Rouge era
All vestiges of normal life were completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge as they emptied the cities in a warped experiment to fast-track the country into a socialist powerhouse within 4 years. The plan was called the “Super Great Leap Forward”.
You can read about the Super Great Leap Forward here
As such there were no forms of organized sport within the period when the country was known as Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979)
Football in the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea
Following liberation by a combined Cambodian and Vietnamese force the country transitioned from Democratic Kampuchea into the People’s Republic of Kampuchea
This resulted into the country moving more towards a Soviet model of governance, both politically and sportingly. In 1982 a national championship was created, which included various state run agencies, the first champions and powerhouse of the time being the Ministry of Communications.
Slightly perversely the international community still recognized the rebel Coalition Government of Kampuchea, meaning the clubs were banned from taking part in regional competitions. The national team was also not recognized and aside fro the odd game against Laos, or Vietnam it did not compete in sanctioned FIFA matches. .
Did the Khmer Rouge have a football team?
As the recognized government of he country and still in control of a rump state centered around Anlong Veng they could have theoretically fielded a team to compete as Cambodia internationally, but there are no records of them competing in any FIFA sanctioned matches.
Anlong Veng is in Oddar Meanchey, who now compete in the Hun Sen Cup, as do another former Khmer Rouge stronghold Pailin. Both of which are largely populated by decedents of the the last of the Khmer Rouge.
To read about Anlong Veng click here.
Cambodia Rejoins the International Football world
Following the relative success of the Paris Peace Accords, UNTAC and the 1993 elections Cambodia again took up its seat in FIFA and a new national team was arranged.
Their first tournament entered being the Tiger Cup, in which they finished last after losing all matches. This did though lead to them to eventually taking part in World Cup qualifying, which first occurred for 1998 tournament held in France.
The Beginning of the Professional Football era in Cambodia
Following in the footsteps of other countries in the region Cambodia decided to replace the existing championship, which was still largely amateur and dominated by state run entities into the semi-professional C-League.
During its 17 years the standard of play improved dramatically in Cambodia, with a number of professional clubs pulling in thousands of spectators per week, foreign stars being brought in and the national team largely improving. Although with that being said they have not managed to qualify for a major tournament during this period.
The new Cambodian Premier League era
In 2022 the whole footballing landscape of Cambodia was completely ripped apart, with a concerted effort towards professionalism, competitiveness and development through the formation of the Cambodian Premier League.
To read about the Cambodian Premier League click here.
The new setup saw the top tier, now known as the CPL reduced from to 8 clubs, but also most telling, the introduction of the Cambodian Second Division, or CPL 2, with 12 clubs.
The success of the new format has drawn both praise and criticism, with the the competitiveness of the top-tier proving popular, but the lack of financial support for second tier clubs, as well as football disappearing from TV screens being at least two of many areas of concern for both clubs and fans alike.
You can read about the Cambodian Premier League awards here.
List of National Champions of Cambodia
National Champions of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea
1982: Ministry of Commerce
1983: Ministry of Commerce
1984: Ministry of Commerce
1985: Ministry of Defense
1986: Ministry of Defense
1987: Ministry of Health
1988: Kampong Cham Province
1989: Ministry of Transports
National Champions of the State of Cambodia
In the 1989 The Peoples Republic of Kampuchea was renamed the State of Cambodia as part of the peace initiative with the Khmer Rouge and other rebel fores. The transitional state was to last until 1993 UNTAC sponsored elections in the country.
1990: Ministry of Transports
1991: Dept. of Municipal Constructions
1992: Dept. of Municipal Constructions
1993: Ministry of Defense
National Champions of the Kingdom of Cambodia
Following the restoration of the Kingdom of Cambodia and a return to a fully market economy new teams were to join the league and it was to attain semi-professional status. Quality and attendances remained low, as well as various allegations of corruption. During three seasons there was no completed competition and few teams from the time survived into the professional C-League era.
1994: Civil Aviation
1995: Civil Aviation
1996: Body Guards Club
1997: Body Guards Club
1998: Royal Dolphins
1999: Royal Dolphins
2000: Notional Police Commissary
2001: ”Not played”
2002: FC Smart United (later to be known as Phnom Penh Crown).
2003: ”Not played”
2004: ”Not played”
Following in the footsteps of other formerly Socialist Leagues the Football Federation of Cambodia formed the Cambodia League, or C-League as a professional/semi-professional competition. This was done to help improve the standard of both the domestic competition as well as the fortunes of the Cambodian national team. Both of which have had mixed results. Phnom Penh Crown, Tiffy Army and National Police are the main teams that managed to transition from state owned clubs into the professional era.
2007: Naga Corp (Nagaworld)
2008: Phnom Penh Empire (Phnom Penh Crown)
2009: Naga Corp (Nagaworld)
2010: Phnom Penh Crown
2011: Phnom Penh Crown
2012: Boeung Ket Rubber Field (Boeung Ket)
2013: Svay Rieng (Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng)
2014: Phnom Penh Crown
2015: Phnom Penh Crown
2016: Boeung Ket Angkor (Boeung Ket)
2017: Boeung Ket Angkor (Boeung Ket)
2019: Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng
2020: Boeung Ket
2021: Phnom Penh Crown
Cambodian Premier League
Photo by CPL
2022 saw the latest incarnation of professional football within the Kingdom via the introduction of not just the CPL, but also professional licenses being required for competing clubs.
After a campaign largely dominated by Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC, Phnom Penh Crown clinched the title on a nail biting last day to the season.
2022: Phnom Penh Crown
Due to Cambodia now aligning themselves with the schedules of both Europe and Thailand there will not be a 2023 CPL champion, with the season instead converting to a 2023-24 format.
The Cambodian National Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, designed by Vann Molyvann. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images
(As reported by Cambodia Sports Review)
This article is adapted from BPVE SPORT Cambodia, reported and edited from the great team – Cambodia Sports Review.