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The North Borneo Football Club(NBFC) changed its name to Sabah Amateur Football Association(SAFA) in 1977 prior to joining the Malaysia Football League. Past players include James Wong, Hassan Sani, Peter Rajah, and striker Matlan Marjan who scored a double against England 12th of June 1991
Sabah was a well known team during the Malaysian football semi-pro era as state team produced many quality players namely the trio of James Wong, Hassan Sani, and Peter Rajah. These players during their time led Sabah to become one of Malaysian football's most feared teams during the 80's.
One fine example was during the 1979 Malaysian League where Sabah started slowly. After a run of 8 matches, they stood with 3 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses but, during the later stages they stepped up a gear or five by winning all their remaining 8 matches with most of them by huge margins, including an incredible 8–0 thrashing of Sarawak, 7-0 hammering of Perak FA and the 6–1 beating of Terengganu FA. At the end of the season, Sabah finished as runners-up behind Singapore and became the highest scoring team with 49 goals in 12 games, which is an average of 3 goals per game.
When professional football was introduced by Football Association of Malaysia, Sabah also made a reputation of being one of the Malaysian League's most competitive teams. Quality professional players were produced from the ranks during the 1990s, most notably Matlan Marjan who helped Sabah finish as runners-up during 1993 and 1994 Malaysia FA Cup, and who at one time was appointed as the national team captain by the then Malaysian national team coach Claude LeRoy.
The positive results gained from the beginning of professional era however was cut short by the match fixing scandal that rocked Malaysian football in 1994. The scandal almost destroyed Sabah and Malaysian football in general. Sadly, Matlan was the one of several players found guilty for being involved in the scandal. As a punishment for their involvement in match fixing, he and the other players were banned for life by FIFA from being involved in football.
After the scandal, Sabah began its rebuilding process to regain their reputation in Malaysian football. Sabah won their first professional trophy, the Malaysia FA Cup in 1995. In the 1996 season, Sabah won their first league title and went through to the final of the Malaysia Cup for the first time but, unfortunately were beatened by Selangor FA through penalties.
The 2000 season could be considered as Sabah's worst since joining the Malaysian professional league. They were relegated to the second division and could not get past the group stages of the Malaysia Cup. However, Sabah quickly regained its performance in the 2001 season where they finished as runners-up behind Johor FC.
In the 2002 season, Sabah lining up players of calibre such as Zainizam Marjan, Khairul Azman Mohamed, and foreign striker Josiah Seton, finished third in the league and again managed to get through to the final of Malaysia Cup by beating Selangor Public Bank and Perak FA. Sabah however finished as runners-up yet again by losing to the same team that beat them in 1996 final, Selangor FA. This time, Sabah lost by 'golden goal' scored by Mohd Amri Yahyah.
In 2003, Sabah again finished third in Malaysia Premier League One. Sabah again reached the final of Malaysia Cup. Unfortunately again, this time they lost to club-side Selangor MPPJ by 3–0, with hattrick from Juan Manuel Arostegui.
When Malaysian Super League was introduced in 2004, Sabah struggled to be competitive against other teams in the top league. Sabah only managed to stay in Super League for two seasons as they were relegated to Malaysia Premier League for the 2005/06 season.
After the relegation to 2nd tier league, Sabah continued to struggle for promotion to get back into the top division. They lost to Pahang FA in the 2006/07 season play-off for a place in 2007/08 Malaysia Super League.
For the 2009 season, due to Football Association of Malaysia's new ruling of not allowing teams to hire foreign players, Sabah fielded an all-local team with home-grown talent and home-based players with two local imports to strengthen the squad and to compete in Malaysia Premier League, Malaysia FA Cup, and Malaysia Cup.
After 6 years playing in the 2nd tier Premier League, Sabah gained promotion to Super League and will play on the top division in 2011.