“League One club Fleetwood Town this week announced that they have bought West Bromwich Albion’s licence and will be taking their place in next season’s English Premier League. West Brom will now move to Leeds.”
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, but it’s exactly what happened last week when Udon Thani FC of Thailand’s Regional League Division 2 Northeastern purchased the licence of TPL club BEC Tero, thus taking Tero’s TPL place for 2017. Tero themselves are rumoured to be moving out of Bangkok to Khon Kaen.
Such is the crazy, unpredictable world of Thai football where situations like the relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes in 2003, which caused a massive stink in English football and whose aftershocks are still being felt, are simply par for the course and rarely raise an eyelid. We don’t have time to list all the examples of such shenanigans here, but let’s look at our own club, Port FC. Since I began supporting Port in the summer of 2014, the club has had four names (Singhtarua FC, Thai Port FC, Thai Port MTI FC, Port FC), four badges (a lion, an anchor, a horse for reasons far to bizarre to go into here, and back to a lion), three owners, and seven coaches. The fans have been banned from watching the team twice, we’ve been docked 9 points for crowd trouble, and two weeks prior to the 2016 season we still didn’t know which division we’d be playing in. All in the space of 2.5 years. And this is at one of Thailand’s more stable clubs.
Right now, with two months to go before the start of the new season, the exact lineup of the 2017 TPL remains unknown, with the Udon-BEC deal still not 100% confirmed, Pattaya Utd’s situation uncertain, and nomadic club Osotspa – currently going under the name Samut Sakhon City Power – still not sure if their latest move and name change has been approved.
To outsiders unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Thai football, it seems totally chaotic, but those of us who follow the Thai game generally just roll our eyes and mutter about how silly it all is, whilst being grateful that we have something to talk about during the dead weeks of the close season.
My theory – inspired one evening a couple of weeks ago, like much of the content on this site, by the magical elixir that is Leo beer – is that this chaos, uncertainty and flexibility vis a vis the rules is deliberately engineered into Thai football in order to give the authorities some wiggle room when wealthy, influential club owners for whom things aren’t going well on the pitch and who are used to getting their own way try to flex their muscles; matters can be resolved to hiso satisfaction without anyone – other than the game itself, in the eyes of fans used to more transparent footballing cultures – losing face.
So on those rare occasions when Thai footballing culture intersects with the outside world, comedy often ensues. In 2015, Reading FC’s Thai chairwoman Khunying Srivikorn wrote an official club song called ‘They Call Us the Royals‘, complete with cringeworthy rap interlude, to the visible bewilderment of those players corralled into appearing in the video, to the embarrassment of the club’s fans, and to the amusement of the rest of the footballing world.
And back in September, Leicester fans – including club legend Gary Lineker – were surprised to see the face of the club’s Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha beaming out at them from the cover of the programme for the club’s first ever Champions League game, rather than club manager Claudio Ranieri.
To those of us used to the caprices of Thai club owners, Reading’s song and Leicester’s programme weren’t in the least surprising. We shrugged and laughed, just as we shrugged and laughed at the ridiculous Udon-BEC Tero deal, just as we shrugged and laughed at the 2016 season ending with 3 games still left to play, just as we’ll shrug and laugh when the 2017 season is delayed when some rich club owner launches an appeal against something or other. It’s a kind of footballing Stockholm Syndrome, without which we wouldn’t be able to take the game seriously and continue showing up to watch our clubs every week. And, I suspect, without the chaos and confusion, Thai football might just be a little less fun.