The city of Petaling Jaya will always be close to the Executive Chairman of the QI Group, Vijay Eswaran’s heart. It’s not just the place the Group has been headquartered for over two decades; it is in many ways a microcosm of modern Malaysia itself.
Developed by the British as a satellite town to Kuala Lumpur in the 1950s, Petaling Jaya – PJ as it is fondly called by Malaysians – was built to reduce the influence of Communists among the local population. The British forcibly ripped thousands of Malaysians, mainly of Chinese descent, from their jungle-bordering villages and moved them to PJ in order to stop them providing support and assistance to insurrectionists.
That fraught period in Malaysian history – known as the Emergency – is long over, and the decades since have seen PJ going from strength to strength, much like Malaysia itself. Declared a town in the 1970s, PJ mushroomed and was elevated to city status in 2006. Today, it is a thriving mini-metropolis housing world-class hospitals, some of the best schools in the country, five-star hotels, towering skyscrapers, multinational companies, fancy condominiums, gorgeous bungalows — and one very special football team.
Founded in 2014, the Malaysian Indian Football Association is a team that has seen a rise rarely enjoyed by any football club. Starting out in the Malaysia FAM League, the third division of Malaysian football, the team has stormed up the divisions and now rubs shoulders with the country’s elite clubs at the apex of local football, the Malaysia Super League.
The QI Group purchased the club at the beginning of 2019, but the company’s involvement with it really began a decade earlier, when Vijay Eswaran made a pledge. That promise, made when the club operated on a shoestring budget with players predominantly from low income and minority backgrounds and no money for a proper football kit, was that if the club made it to the Super League, Eswaran would support it full-time.
What the team lacked in resources, it made up for with passion, grit and a refusal to ever give up. From a coach who spent his own money to keep the team afloat, to players who stayed three to a room, who had only one jersey each and who often waited months for their paycheques, MIFA was a team forged in the crucible of hardship and adversity.
Eswaran’s purchase of the club made it the only privately-owned club in the Super League and brought with it two big changes. The first was a change in name. From its ethnic-focused original incarnation, MIFA was reborn as PJ City FC, a truly community-centric team reflecting the proud city of Petaling Jaya.
The second big change was in the vision of what the club would aspire to represent. For popular motivational speaker Eswaran, football is a force for good capable of uniting the country and letting its people forget differences in race, religion, creed and colour to rally behind a symbol of the Malaysian oneness. PJ City Football Club is largely made up of young men who have neither the opportunity nor the aptitude for higher education but who possess talent and skill that need to be channeled positively. Being able to take these young men, who would otherwise have no other opportunities to improve their lives, and turn them into champions with a passion for excellence, means being able to create role models for the 13 million football fans in Malaysia.
Eswaran doesn’t want to build up just the players. For fans, the aim is to create a new, exciting and immersive fan experience, and to build and engage the online community as well as passionate match-going fans. Members of the public will be able to buy memberships and participate in road-shows and other activities built around the team and its matches; PJ City FC will essentially be a fan club that inspires modern supporters to get involved in a unique and ambitious project.
But PJ City FC is just the beginning of Eswaran’s much larger vision for the future of football in Malaysia. Eswaran is personally committed to the success of this up-and-coming football club and hopes it inspires the next generation of fans, business leaders and entrepreneurs the same way the golden age of Malaysian football, in the 1970s, inspired him.