History of the Cambodian Football League

Cambodian Football League

With the advent of the Cambodian Premier League football within the Kingdom is fast becoming big business. Now as the SEA Games have finished and we head into our first ever internal calendar season, BPVE take a look at the history of the Cambodian football league system.

Early Cambodian Football

As a French colony football was initially introduced by the colonial overlords, from where it quickly gained popularity. Initially though there was no such official team as “Cambodia”, with the national falling under the French Indochina mantle.

This would change with independence though with the country playing its first international match post-independence in 1953 in which it lost 5-3 to what wa then known as Malaya (now Malaysia).

Following this football would largely take a back seat to the politics of the country as it slowly drifted into a more and more intense civil war. One exception to this was in 1966 when Cambodia played host to a certain North Korea team in playoff against Australia for a berth in the 1966 World Cup, which they not only won, but would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament itself. The best finish by any Asian team until South Korea reached the semi-finals in 2002.

To read about Cambodia helping North Korea get to the World Cup final click here.

Football in the Khmer Republic

After Sihanouk was overthrown by a CIA backed coup Cambodia was briefly known as the Khmer Republic. Now whilst most elements of this brief state are best forgotten there was a brief golden era of Cambodian football.

During this period Cambodia managed a 4th placed finish in the Asan Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, a feat it is unlikely to surpass in the near future.

Sadly after the fall of Phnom Penh and the the start of what was to be known as Democratic Kampuchea sport and indeed football ground to a halt as the nation descended into chaos, with many star players from the Khmer Republic era diying during this period.

To read about sport in Democratic Kampuchea click here.

The first Cambodian Football League

The Khmer Rouge were toppled in 1979 and Democratic Kampuchea was replaced by the USSR aligned Peoples Republic of Kampuchea. Despite literally starting. Country from scratch the new rulers were quick in returning some form of normality to the country and by 1982 there was a Cambodian national league.

The league followed the Soviet model of sports leagues and was filled with state run entities, as well as state bodies, such as the army and police vestiges of which can still be seen in modern Cambodian football.

This period would run through the 1980’s, with no real change in tact until the reformation of the Kingdom of Cambodia in 1993. During this period Ministry of Commerce won the title 3 times in a row, the first and currently only team to have ever achieved that in Cambodian football.

Peoples Republic of Kampuchea League Winners

  • 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 Thom

State of Cambodia League Winners

  • 1989 Ministry of Transports
  • 1990 Ministry of Transports
  • 1991 Dept. of Municipal Constructions
  • 1992 Dept. of Municipal Constructions
  • 1993: Ministry of Defense

Following the formation of the State of Cambodia and then the reformation of the Kingdom of Cambodia the league initially stayed mostly the same, dominated by state entities, and largely amateur in nature. It did though also see the formation of some new clubs, as well as a desire for more professionalism as the economy of the country started to slowly open up.

Towards the end of this incarnation of the league a number of seasons ere not completed as a period of restructuring began.

Cambodian League Champions 1994 – 2004

  • 1994 Civil Aviation
  • 1995  Civil Aviation
  • 1996 Body Guards Club
  • 1997 Body Guards Club
  • 1998 Royal Dolphins
  • 1999 Royal Dolphins
  • 2000 National Police
  • 2001  Not played
  • 2002 Smart United
  • 2003: Not played
  • 2004: Not played

Introduction of the C-League

In 2005 and following on from similar ventures in other Asian countries such as the J-League and S-League, Cambodia introduced the C-League, known under various times by the name of its sponsor, most recently the Metfone C-League.

This changed the Cambodian league system from a predominantly amateur one dominated by state run entities to one which at least aimed for professionalism, although in the early years at least it was more semi-professional. The league also continued to have state entities take part, such as the army, police and electric board, but they were no longer the dominant forces.

The league was slangily stable over this period, so the rise off giants such as Phnom Penh Crown and was not only the forerunner of the Cambodian Premier League, but some would argue a superior product at the end.

Winners of the C-League

  • 2005 Khemara Keila FC
  • 2006 Khemara Keila FC
  • 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 FC
  • 2013 PKR Svay Rieng
  • 2014 Phnom Penh Crown
  • 2015 Phnom Penh Crown
  • 2016 Boeung Ket FC
  • 2017 Boeung Ket FC
  • 2018 Nagaworld
  • 2019 PKR Svay Rieng
  • 2020 Boeung Ket FC
  • 2021 Phnom Penh Crown

The Cambodian Premier League

Replacing the C-League that was run by the Cambodian National Competitions Committee (CNCC), the Cambodian Premier League’s aim was to move Cambodia to a more professional era, as well as one technically at least independent from the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC), or as it is known the EPL model.

To read about the Cambodian Premier League click here.

Plans for the league were grandiose, such as raising $3 million ins sponsorship introducing club licensing as well as a second tier. Success has been mixed at best, with sponsorship not forthcoming and the second-tier on the brink of collapse.

Overall though the league has proved popular and from 2023-2024 will revert to an international football calendar season.

Winners of the Cambodian Premier League

  • 2022 Phnom Penh Crown

Most successful clubs in the Cambodian League

When calculating the most successful cubs within Cambodia we generally take things from the astral of the C-League in 2005, with only National Police having won titles beforehand.

This means that depending on how you count things no team, aside from Ministry of Communications (1982-84) have ever won 3 titles in row, something Phnom Penh Crown (PPC) could achieve in 2023-24.

PPC are also the most successful team using any metric in the Cambodian leagues having won the title a whopping 7 times, with the nearest challengers having managed 3.

What next for the Cambodian League?

As things stand we will see a 2023-24 Cambodian Premier League of 10 clubs kick-off in August. The big question though is fi there will be a Cambodian Second Division, or CPL 2, with a number of clubs having recently dropped out of contention.

Whatever doe happen though the Cambodian football league is not just an ever evolving beast, but one that is not only improving year on year, but seemingly doing so at a faster rate then the national team.

This article is adapted from BPVE, (https://bpve.com/) reported and edited from the great team – Cambodia Sports Review. (https://www.cambodiasportsreview.com/)
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