HISTORY OF ASEAN FOOTBALL FEDERATION
Every great story has a humble beginning and so it is with the history of the ASEAN Football Federation.
It started way back in 1982, in what was initially an informal meeting between several members of the ASEAN family, turned out to be the foundation of a Federation that is responsible for one of the biggest football championships in the world, the AFF Football championship.
The initial meeting in Bangkok was attended by Dato’ Seri Haji Hamzah Haji Abu Samah (Malaysia), Dato’ Peter Velappan (AFC), Mr. Hans Pendelaki (Indonesia), Mr. Fernando G. Alvarez (Philippine), Mr. Pisit Ngampanich (Thailand), Mr. Teo Chong Tee (Singapore) and Mr. Yap Boon Chuan (Singapore).
The original idea for the meeting, then held in between the meetings of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Executive Committee in Bangkok, was to look into the possibility of having a Champions’ Club Competition among ASEAN Member Associations.
It was felt that since there was a great disparity in football standard between nations the ASEAN nations i.e. between those who have and those who do not, this tournament would help close the gap between the countries.
By then, ASEAN was already a strong political entity which had already hosted the South East Asia Games for ASEAN member countries for more than two decades.
It was felt that a close cooperation at the football level would improve the quality of football across the region and would make it more competitive at the Asian and world level meets.
Five further meetings of the ASEAN National Associations were held the next year traversing between Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok before the AFF were formalised in Kuala Lumpur.
The very first meeting of the newly established ASEAN Football Federation or the AFF was held from 31 January 1984 to 1 February 1984 in Jakarta and was attended by members from Brunei DS, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand.
The six countries concerned were the founding members of the AFF.
The first office bearers were elected from the country chosen to host the very first ASEAN Club Championship.
The First Elected office bearers were:–
President : Mr. H. Kardono (Indonesia)
Vice-President : Pengiran Ibrahim Pengiran Damit (Brunei DS)
Honorary Secretary: Dr. Johnny J. L. M (Indonesia)
Honorary Treasurer: Mr. Gazfan S. Ali (Indonesia)
In line with the ideals of the political entity of ASEAN which was to strengthen ties between member countries, the AFF attempted to hold on to those ideals by organising four editions of the ASEAN Club Championship between 1984 and 1989.
The tournament was organised with the aim of deciding which team would represent ASEAN at the Asian Club Championships to go against the best clubs in Asia.
Called the First ASEAN Champions’ Cup, the inaugural meet in 1984 was won by Bangkok Bank of Thailand when they beat Yanita Utama of Indonesia 1-0 in the final at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in front of 80,000 fans.
With just four teams in 1985, Kuala Lumpur from Malaysia emerged winners ahead of Tiga Berlian from Indonesia, Tiong Bahru CSC from Singapore and Brunei’s Kota Rangers.
In 1988, the ASEAN Champions’ Cup was held again with Thai Air Force taking the top spot ahead of Pahang while a year later, Kuala Lumpur from Malaysia were the winners, pipping Pelita Jaya of Indonesia to the crown.
But with a change in format for the AFC-organised Asian Club Championship a year later, compounded with a lack of response from member associations, as well as financial constraints, the ASEAN Champions’ Cup fizzled out.
The AFF then went into hibernation with activities restricted to mostly development activities and were country based with participation from other ASEAN countries purely on invitation by the host country for a particular course or seminar.
With no controlling intermediary body to liaise between member countries, contact between Asean National Associations was minimal.
A New Beginning
Some half a decade later in 1994, the FA of Malaysia initiated a revival of the AFF with the aim of mutual assistance and streamlining the field of management and administration, coaching and refereeing.
Any thoughts of organising tournaments were not immediately viable as finance was an issue and the AFF did not have an executive body able to administer such an undertaking.
At the time, the AFF headquarters moved from one Member Association to another and it was only much later that the headquarters of the AFF found its permanent home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The first Congress of the ‘new era’ was held on 4 February 1994.
It was held to discuss beneficial assistance between member countries and to hand over the presidency of the AFF to the FA of Thailand.
The AFF Constitution was amended a year later at the 5th AFF Congress on 3 June 1996 in Kuala Lumpur with regards to the election of officer bearers – a move away from the initial rotational basis.
Instead of just one vice-president previously, there were two vice-presidents as well as the provision to now allow any member of Asean to be full members of the AFF.
The office bearers for the 1996/1998 session were also unveiled with H.E. Tengku Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ahmad Rithaudeen Al-Haj Bin Tengku Ismail from Malaysia taking over the helm as the president of the Federation.
The two vice presidents were Mr. Nabon Noor of Indonesia and Dato’ Vijit Getkaew of Thailand while Dato’ Paul Mony Samuel, the secretary/ treasurer of the Federation.
At the same Congress, Mr. H Kardono was made Honorary President and Dato’ T.P. Murugasu an Honorary Member in recognition of their earlier meritorious efforts.
Likewise, Mr Nabon Noor and Dato’ Vijit Getkaew were later on made the Honorary Vice Presidents of the Federation at the 7th Congress on 29 April 2000 and 14th Congress on 31 March 2007 respectively.
At the same time, the decision was made to invite Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to be full-fledged members of the AFF – making the Federation now ten countries strong.
The new logo of the AFF was also introduced the same year.
Dato’ Worawi Makudi, the then general secretary of the FA of Thailand and Dato’ Paul Mony Samuel, then general secretary of the FA of Malaysia, remembered those times well.
“We knew that we had to look for money for the AFF and we needed to have a competition which was marketable,” said Dato’ Worawi.
“So Dato’ Paul and I sat down to think of ways where we can make the AFF more attractive to sponsors and we thought that we need a competition which could provide not only the thrust to make the member countries of the AFF more competitive but also to give financial footing to the Federation for all its other intended activities.”
An open bid was held the same year with a marketing company from Bangkok winning the bid although the arrangement went into a snag until AFC Marketing Limited (AML), currently known as World Sport Group Pte Ltd (WSG), came forward.
Remodelled into the Tiger Cup, the competition was held for the very first time in 1996 for the ten member countries of the AFF and it involved the national teams instead of a competition between clubs.
The first tournament was held in Singapore and it fired up old rivalries and unearthed new talents in the region transfixed by the beautiful game.
At the same time, it gave the chance for several veterans to don the colours of their respective national teams for perhaps the very last time in their careers.
Overwhelming favourites Thailand lifted the trophy for the first time defeating Malaysia 1-0 in the final at the National Stadium – thus setting the foundation for what would be the biggest football extravaganza in the region.
In the same year that the Tiger Cup became a football brand associated with the AFF and football in the region, a permanent headquarters for the AFF was identified in Kuala Lumpur.
The move gave the AFF more semblance of a professionally run entity instead of a loose collaboration between a handful of member countries in ASEAN.
In his outgoing speech as president of the AFF in 1996 as he surrendered the presidency to H.E. Tengku Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ahmad Rithaudeen, Dato’ Vijit Getkaew said that he was glad to be part of the new face of the ASEAN Federation.
“In the last two years of my tenure, I am fortunate to witness the securing of the first sponsorship for the organisation of a tournament for national teams,” said Dato’ Vijit.
“I hope that through this tournament, the AFF will continue to grow in strength and become a region united and strong.”
The Tiger Cup has since grown from strength to strength with Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia joining Thailand as elite members of winners of the biennial championship.
A qualifying competition was organised immediately for the 1998 edition with six teams taking part to ensure quality and to ensure the lesser teams were not overwhelmed by the occasion.
Myanmar, Brunei and Laos were placed in Group A in Myanmar while Cambodia, Philippines and Singapore were in Group B playing in Singapore.
The qualifying round was later reformatted to follow a ranking system after each edition of the biennial championship and this has only made the tournament more competitive than ever.
Following the stance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on alcohol advertising, the Tiger Cup saw the exit of the brewery as the title sponsor and forced the Federation to organise the AFF Football Championship in early 2007 without a title sponsor.
But the tournament was still a resounding success for the AFF with the fans across the region still cheering for their favourite teams and the TV viewership reaching a broader spectrum of viewers.
At the last meet in 2010 – now known as the AFF Suzuki Cup following their decision to take over the title sponsorship from Tiger Beer in 2008 – a record 192 million viewers in key ASEAN markets tuned in to watch the tournament, a 32% increase from the 2008 edition.
The two final leg matches between Indonesia and Malaysia in particular sent ratings soaring. According to Nielsen, an average of 15 million Indonesians watched both games on RCTI, more than twice the number of the highest-rated FIFA World Cup 2010 match in the country.
With the AFF finally having a source of stable income from its marketing partner, now known as World Sport Group (WSG), the Federation was able to draw up programmes not only for seminars and courses for member associations but also development tournaments to encourage countries to have their own age-group programmes.
A series of seminars and courses were organised to improve the standard and increase the numbers of referees across the region while plans were already underway to organise competitions for different levels of the age-groups.
The AFF remains a pioneer in football development. The Federation has been recognized by FIFA as a pioneer in its FUTURO III Administration & Management Programme, particularly in the way the Federation has been promoting ‘the train the trainers’ concept’ to introduce regional instructors to this region.
An ASEAN Club Championship was also included in the overall planning as it was felt that it warrants continuity from the last edition in 1989.
Generally, ASEAN clubs needed help in as far as their level of professionalism was concerned and it was thought that having a competition between ASEAN members could allow the administration to improve.
There were also plans for ASEAN Under-15, Under-17 and also Under-19 competitions to allow member associations the opportunity to hone their teams in preparation for AFC qualifiers.
Elite level courses were also planned with an aim of producing instructors for Administration, Refereeing and Coaching subjects so that member association could have their own instructors to conduct courses on a much larger scale.
Other than the annual Tiger Cup, the AFF also started to organise the Futsal Championship in 2001 with Thailand taking the first title and then six more afterwards.
A year later in 2002, the AFF started the Under-20 Championship which was organised in Cambodia as well as Thailand.
Thailand won the title when they beat Myanmar in the final.
The Under-17 Championship was also organised (in Malaysia and Indonesia) with Myanmar this time taking the crown, edging out Laos to the runners-up spot.
In 2003, an Under-14 Championship was also organised in Bangkok while a year later, the AFF hosted its first Women’s Championship in Vietnam – underlining the Federation’s commitment to football development in the region.
The inaugural edition of the ASEAN Club Championship was organised in 2003 with twelve teams taking part and divided into four groups.
Invited team East Bengal of India emerged winners at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium when they beat BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand in the final.
Two years later, the tournament was held again, this time in Brunei with Tampines Rovers FC from Singapore taking the crown after beating Pahang of Malaysia in the final.
What was significant in the 2005 edition of the championship was the inclusion of Zebra FC from Timor Leste.
The Timorese who gained independence from Indonesia not too long ago was accepted as a FIFA member during the 2005 FIFA Congress in Marrakesh, Morocco.
As such, in November the same year at the 20th Council Meeting for the session 2002/2006 held on 13 November 2005, Timor Leste was accepted a full member of the AFF.
With the further expansion of the AFC Champions League and also the AFC Cup, the immense pressure created on the different domestic calendar forced the postponement of further organisation of the ASEAN Club Championship.
The same year too, at the 14th Congress for session 2007/2011, a further milestone was carved with the amendments to the constitution to change from two vice-presidents to four vice-presidents alongside the elected post of the president.
The four positions were filled by Pengiran Haji Matusin Matasan (Brunei DS), H.E. Ravy Khek (Cambodia), Juan Miguel G. Romualdez (Philippines) and Duong Vu Lam (Vietnam),
The AFF continued to organise the several age-groups and development tournaments to great success in these several years which seems to have closed the gap against teams in the Asian region.
Through the prosperity created through the founding of the AFF, an air of optimism has been created across the region where other than the anticipation of the bi-annual AFF Football Championship, new professional leagues have also been formed in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and the Philippines.
As countries look to be more competitive against their other ASEAN neighbours, it cannot be denied that the AFF has done its part well in acting as an intermediary to fostering better relations throughout the region.
Passing the baton…Tengku Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ahmad Rithauddeen (Right), the Third President of the AFF handing over to Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, the Fourth President of the AFF