It’s that Christmas morning feeling, when, in the early hours, you sneak a peak over the covers, as your Dad carefully places the bulging pillow-case at the foot of your bed;
It’s your first day at Primary School; brim-full with tears of fear and excitement, you reluctantly loose your grasp of mum’s comforting hand and launch yourself into the mayhem of the playground;
It’s your first big date with the school beauty (or bike), clutching a sagging bunch of daisies you’ve picked on the way to the Saturday morning matinee;
It’s your first day at work, scrubbed-up and ready to enter the adult world, your tie slightly askew and a sticky plaster covering that nervous shaving nick you managed to inflict on yourself;
It’s the first day of the new Thai Football League 1 Season and your beloved Thai Port are at home.
You have planned to have a lay-in to limit the number of conscious hours you have before kick-off, but, at 7.30 a.m. you get a cryptic text from Keith: ‘Match Day’. Just two words, but, fully understanding the depth of the emotion behind them, it could just as well be the Gettysburg Address.
You have organized a busy pre-match day to suck up the hours: a long lunch with a friend, a bit of shopping and a visit to a photography exhibition (yes, some culture), a phone call home to your sister, and the ritual of selecting a match day shirt, which will take longer than any of the former.
You open the shirt draw, revealing an orange and blue history of the last seven years (with a dash of black, blue and green). Which will it be? Will it be last year’s Sivakorn number 16, now that he has been officially endorsed by captain David Rochela as a VIP (Very Important Player); or the 2014 promotion, Ali Diarra number 7, with the great man’s autograph on the back? In the end, you plump for your favourite, broad stripe, Adidas FB Battery shirt from, I think, 2011, humming ‘Our batteries, are better than yours, our batteries are better than yours’, as you pull it on.
You walk to the local motor-si boys outside your apartment, who greet you with a rousing cheer of ‘Ta Rua’ and, in less than 5 minutes, you are outside the club shop. There is a large queue snaking around the pavement. You have no idea what it is for, but you are English, and instinctively join it, before you are informed it is a queue for the new shirt. The new shirt? In time for the new season? In your excited incredulity, you almost forget that your greatest need at this time, 90 minutes before kick-off, is for a beer. You can get a shirt later, and do.
However, you know that today, beers should not be sold for religious reasons. However, you reason that Thai Port FC is your religion and, for religious reasons, you need one! You are 99.9% certain that beers will somehow be sold on this day but, as this is Thai Port, and there is no certainty, you have brought your own.
You walk into the food and beer area. The place is heaving already, a riot of orange and blue. You are greeted by old friends of Port, both Thai and Farang, garnered over the years. Tutu, almost your first Thai contact, gives you a bear hug, shouting, ‘Teacher, jet pee lao!’ You gather on the Sandpit to catch up and speculate on the season ahead, planning possible away trips, now that the first half of the fixtures have been announced. Chiang Rai and Sisaket sound tempting.
There is still 20 minutes to go but you cannot delay the moment any longer – Zone B awaits. You put on your lucky hat and walk to your favoured spot: about 15 steps back behind the left hand goalpost and there is a flashback of all the goals you have seen crashing into that net; all, oddly enough, for Port. You have printed out the squad from Wikipedia and highlight the team selection as it comes over the Tannoy. The players emerge, the King’s anthem is played, the referee blows his whistle – another Port journey has begun. As always, it is sure to have unexpected twists and turns.
For now though, you are back on the terraces with your mates, a world in which you feel safe, comfortable and, somehow, confirmed. You exhibit a warm glow, like one of those candles in a jar. You know, also, there will ex Zone B-ites all over the world hanging on this result, wishing they were here with you. To your right, there is a chant of, ‘Think I’m gonna call me Nan’ – you smile knowingly at those who were at Nakhon Phathom last year. They smile, knowingly, back. You shout, you sing, you hoist your scarf. The game ebbs and flows. You savour every kick, even those by Ratchaburi, who you sportingly recognize as decent. The chats over the half-term beers support your view but you remain optimistic.
Ratchaburi score. You are sad but not devastated. Nothing is going to spoil this occasion and there will be many teams worse than them. But, the last ten minutes hold out hope. There is a disputed free-kick and a narrow miss. We are getting closer. Then comes the moment. Genki glances home and the roar that has been bubbling under for 5 months erupts, sustained for what seems like another 5 months. In the midst of your own full-throated celebrations, you turn and look at your fellow fans, in their moment of frenzy, all, reflected images of the bloke on the bridge in that painting by Munch. You feel another warm glow.
Football is back.