Port have not lost a home League game since July 2nd 2016, but will face a stern test when they lock horns with the Buri-rams this Saturday. Buriram? Who are yer? Particularly for those who are new to Thai football, their rise to fame is worth revisiting.
A leather-clad, Ducati riding ex-politician, with, allegedly, a hint of chicanery; a singing and dancing, cheerleading wife; a town that lost its team; a town that gained one; a footballing marriage of convenience; fairy tale success and a burgeoning, bitter rivalry. The Buriram story has all the intrigues of a classic TV drama; imagine The Borgias meets When Saturday Comes.
In 1970, The Provincial Electricity Authority FC was founded, playing mostly in the lower divisions of Thai football until, at the end of 2003/04 Season, they were promoted to the Thai Premier League. In 2008, after leading a fairly nomadic existence, with no ‘ohm’ to call their own, the team was switched to and nicknamed Faifa (Electric) Ayutthaya, where they generated a bigger fan base. That season, they charged to the Title, becoming one of the leading clubs in the Country. However, after a fairly static follow-up campaign, the club ran out of juice and finished in 9th place.
Enter Newin Chidchob, a highly influential Thai politician, with an impressive CV: MP for Buriram, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and a former close ally of Thaksin Shinawatra. His career in politics was, allegedly, not without controversy, surviving a suspended jail sentence, fines, and accusations of doubtful business practices, before eventually receiving a 5 year ban from politics in 2007 for his associations with the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party. With time on his hands and more than a bit of loose change in his pocket, he looked around for something to occupy his time; preferably a TPL team to buy.
In 2010, Newin took over Ayuthaya PEA and promptly moved them 350 kilometres to the Isan town of Buriram, who already had a football team, Buriram FC, which was also de-facto owned by Newin, who just as promptly put them in the hands of his wife, Karuna, whose main responsibility had been cheerleading the home fans. Getting confused? Back on the pitch, Buriram PEA came runners-up in the TPL, and more notably, runners-up in the League Cup Final to a team with a slightly longer history, by the name of Thai Port. The following year, Buriram PEA, won the domestic treble, in the process gaining revenge over Port in a repeat League Cup Final.
In 2012, with Buriram FC about to join their sister club in the Premier League, Newin and Karuna, allegedly following the rules of Thai football rather more closely than those of politics, joined the two clubs together to create Buriram Utd FC. The magnificent Thunder Castle stadium, finished in June 2011, had become their home, later expanded to hold 32,600 fans. Karuna continued to rouse the fans, Newin delivered the impassioned team talks, was rumoured to pick the team, and, no doubt, drove the supporters bus. What he undoubtedly had done was turn Buriram into a passionate football town with a team to be proud of.
In 6 seasons, between 2011 and 2016, Buriram in its two forms, won 13 out of the 18 domestic titles on offer, plus 4 Kor Royal Cups, going through the 2015 season unbeaten, with Brazilian forward Diogo breaking the Thai scoring record with 33 goals in 32 games.
The Port Connection
Apart from the two League Cup Finals, Port and Buriram share a mutual loathing of Muang Thong Utd, with whom Buriram also have a bitter rivalry, making them okay in my book. They also shared an epic recent match, the memory of which still sends a tingle down my spine. It was 2014, Port had been promoted the previous season and were, unbelievably, in the top three after only one defeat in 8 games. The gates were closed on PAT Stadium with a full house of 12,000 and then some more, most of whom were hanging off the floodlight pylons. A game of high intensity was settled by Kroekrit’s first time piledriver after a thrilling, jinking run by Saruta. Chanin re-tied his shoelaces before every goal kick in the final 15 minutes as Port held on for a famous victory against the reigning champions. More of the same on Saturday please!
Video highlights of that game below; the goal at 2:30:
Here’s a good read from 2015 on Buriram, which also visits the controversies surrounding the club which I have been too respectful to go into, given the fact that I will be having a few pre-match beers with their fans on Saturday! We have always been greeted with the warmest hospitality by Thai and Farang fans on our trips to the Thunder Castle – much appreciated!
The View from Buriram
Many thanks to Graham Dresser of Buriram Times for this preview:
“In good news for Port, the defence is constantly being changed and is looking extremely shaky to say the least. Thank goodness Siwarak (1) is playing as well as ever in goal.
Up front, Diogo (40) seems to be back to his best and, once again, looking the best player in the league. He has frightening pace and does things that not many other players could even attempt; his contribution to the third goal against Thai Honda, the perfect example. Another Brazilian, Coutinho (20) (no, not that one), joined in the close season and did well in the friendlies. He is quick and likes to run at defences. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury and has only just returned to the squad. Supachok (19) hit the headlines with an excellently-taken hat-trick at the weekend and I believe he is a young player with a big future. Korean Seul-Ki (7) has moved into Suchao’s holding midfield role and looks like he is born to it. Former Iceland international centre-back Ottesen (23) has been signed and is finding his feet in the Thai league.
Buriram are currently in third place , two points behind Muang Thong with Nakhon Ratachasima to come before our trip to our friends at Thai Port. They have made a solid start to the season and I’m sure it will be an entertaining game. I’m not expecting 0-0! (Neither are we, Graham!) May I wish Thai Port and their fans an enjoyable and successful season (after Saturday) and thank you for allowing me to contribute to your publication.”
I watched the highlights of the Rams’ game against Thai Honda and can only echo Graham’s words. Diogo combined at lightning speed with Coelho and Supachok to carve open the Honda defence at will. More on that later.
Predicted Port Lineup & Tactics
After that dismal performance against Thai Honda last night it is difficult to have confidence in any line-up against a rampant Buriram (4-0 winners v Nakhon Ratchasima) but I hope Jadet sticks mostly with last Saturday’s starting XI; keeping Meechok (20) in place of Nitipong (34) and Genki (18) in for Tana (99). Pakorn (9) just about keeps his place but I find his constant movement inside quite irritating; closing down others’ space to often lose the ball after the first one or two dribbles. I am a traditionalist, having grown up watching Ian Callaghan and Peter Thompson (Liverpool mid 60’s), and want to see my wingers go down the wing (see Saruta again). The key battles will be Dolah (4) and Rochela (22) trying to neutralize the deadly pairing of Diogo (40) and Coelho (50) (or Coutinho) and Siwakorn (16) tracking back on the excellent Supachok (19) (two future internationals?)
I won’t predict a score but logic tells me Buriram will win; I just hope the game is not out of reach before half-time. If it isn’t and we are kicking towards Zone B in the second half, logic could take a back seat.
Pertinent Form Guide
Thai Honda 1 Buriram 5
Thai Honda 5 Thai Port 1
As the Americans say; ‘You do the Math’.