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Imagine waking up at 5am on your day off and walking one kilometer to tap rubber for an hour. In a month, you would have earned enough money to buy yourself a pair of football boots. 

That was life in Tenom for Peffderick Panait and three other Kalawon Tenom teammates. The 16-year-old said that before he could afford his own boots, he would be in his trusted RM6 rubber plantation boots, tearing it up at the makeshift field near his home. 

“Coming from a small town with little resources, I guess we are used to having to work and earn extra cash to help our families. It’s just what we do, and for me, it was necessary because playing football is what I love,” said Peffderick. 

“In Tenom, we play for space. Uneven surfaces, no grass, none of that matters. So to come to AJFC (Allianz Junior Football Camp) and be able to play competitively week in, week out is truly a privilege. It’s pure joy to be on the field with my team. We don’t mind travelling four hours to Kota Kinabalu because last time I only could afford to come here once a year,” added the defender. 

In seven days, it will be worth it as Kalawon Tenom will vie to be crowned the first ever AJFC Malaysia League 2017 East Malaysia Region champions. 

The team enjoyed a fairytale run during the four-week league, winning Group A with maximum points from eight league matches and a watertight defence that conceded only one goal. The team edged pass Group B runner’s up Simfield Academy FC 1-0 in the semi-final on 6 May 2017 and will face Group B winners SAFA Kota Belud on 20 May 2017 at Stadium Universiti Malaysia Sabah, near here.   

“They boys come from very different backgrounds yet they have really come together as one big family. Some of them come from very tough backgrounds, having to work at a young age to fund their football dreams. These life lessons aren’t taught in school and has made them who they are - tough, resilient and determined.  Throughout the competition, the boys have show tremendous team spirit.  Aside from winning the title, I would be happy knowing that at the end we were able to show Malaysia that rural boys can play football too,” said head coach Mohd Rafiz Zahari. 

The Allianz Junior Football Camp (AJFC) Malaysia League 2017 will take place between 18 March and 20 May 2017 at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi (Central region); Padang 10, Kompleks Sukan Hang Jebat, Malacca (South region); Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (North region); Padang Majlis Perbandaran Kuantan and Kolej Islam Pahang Kuantan (East Coast region) and Padang Sukma, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah (East Malaysia region). This year’s league format will remain an 11-sided affair played for 70 minutes.

The regional selection panel will then select the top 18 players from each region to form five regional teams that will compete in the Regional Finals at Stadium Universiti Putra Malaysia from 13-15 July 2017. Following three days of centralised training, the five teams will go head to head to determine the winner at the Grand Final on 15 July 2017. At the culmination of the Grand Finals, 13 players will be selected to attend the AJFC Asia in Bali, Indonesia. At AJFC Asia, the best three players will be selected to attend AJFC in Munich, Germany.

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