23 January 2023

2019 SPL champions Brunei DPMM to return after 3-year hiatus

 After a three-year hiatus, two-time champions Brunei DPMM will make their much-anticipated return to the Singapore Premier League (SPL) in 2023.

The 2015 and 2019 league winners have sat out of the SPL in the last three campaigns because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

DPMM general manager Ali Haji Momin told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he has received confirmation from Football Association of Singapore that they will be competing in the upcoming season, which is expected to kick off in mid-February.

He said: “We look forward to making our return and our target is of course to be champions again. The quality in the SPL has gone up in the last few years and we hope to add to that quality this season.”

On Wednesday, DPMM announced their four foreign players for the 2023 SPL season on their website.

Heading the list is 2019 SPL top scorer and former Belarus international Andrei Varankou, who plundered 21 goals in 22 games for the title winners. Former Spanish youth international Angel Martinez, Uzbekistani goalkeeper Akmal Tursunbaev and Croat midfielder Josip Balic are the other three foreigners in the squad.

DPMM will host home matches at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Bandar Seri Begawan, said Ali, which will give SPL teams the full away experience for the first time in three years.

The team’s return will boost the quality of the league as they will come up against defending champions Albirex Niigata, 2021 champions Lion City Sailors, Hougang United and Tampines Rovers in the battle for the championship.

Hougang head coach Firdaus Kassim said: “Although the composition of the DPMM squad is unknown, over their past seasons in the SPL, they have traditionally competed for top spots.

“I am expecting the same in the upcoming season from them. Especially after they won the league in their last participation so I am very sure they are keen to (win) the league title.”

Tampines Rovers head coach Gavin Lee also welcomed DPMM’s return and previously told ST: “The travel over there is always a nice change for local teams, and most importantly DPMM are always a good side, and have good quality.”

The FAS has yet to officially announce DPMM’s return and details of the 2023 season have not been revealed. Last Thursday, the SPL’s official Facebook page uploaded a poster of the logos of all nine clubs for the 2023 season, including DPMM, only to take down the photo later. 

A provisional date of Feb 19 has been set for the Singapore Community Shield, the traditional curtain-raiser to the football season here, with the SPL to kick off on the 26th.

DPMM first joined Singapore’s domestic competition, known then as the S-League, in 2009. But, midway through that season, the team were expelled by Fifa for government interference in the affairs of the Brunei Football Association. However, they managed to win the League Cup before the suspension.

They returned to the S-League in 2012 after the ban was lifted and competed till 2020 as the club went on to win three more League Cups in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In March 2020, DPMM started their SPL title defence with a 2-0 win over Tampines – a result that was eventually voided as the club could not return to complete the season. 

ST has contacted the FAS for comment on DPMM’s return and details on the 2023 SPL season.