Lions Roar Behind Enemy Lines: Muangthong Utd vs. Brisbane Roar

 

It’s the most natural of alliances. Two teams whose colours have historically been orange and blue, whose club crests feature roaring lions and who most importantly shared a common enemy on Wednesday.

 

 

Fans of the Twin Lions – Port and Brisbane – make the trip to the home of the Twin Qilins: Thai Champions and all-around baddies Muangthong United. Brisbane’s experience with Muangthong may only go as far back as a couple of months ago when the two sides drew 0-0 in their Asian Champions League (ACL) clash in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, but us Port fans have a longer and more complicated history with the second most decorated side in Thai football history.

Various scraps between the fans of Thailand’s greatest rivals have resulted in fines, points deductions and stadium bans, most recently when fans of both sides were banned for the final 5 games of 2016, as well as the clashes between the two sides in 2017. With this in mind, we didn’t expect to be visiting the SCG this season. Then came Port and Brisbane fans Costa and John. When we saw pictures of these two at the aforementioned ACL clash between Brisbane and Muangthong, we knew what we had to do!

 

Costa and John representing Klongtoey in The Lion’s Den

 

After last season’s ban-defying undercover mission to Nakhon Pathom, we had a taste for the subterfuge and excitement that comes with visiting an opposition stadium under false pretenses. What was to follow meandered from tense stand-offs with security to a chance meeting with a celebrity reader of The Sandpit, with lots of drinking and singing between!

But let’s start from the beginning. When I meet my fellow infiltrators Dom and Dave at Mo Chit, we compare our Port regalia. On one end of the spectrum, Dave has gone full-on brazen. His Klongtoey t-shirt is about as subtle as a brick, although to be fair he hasn’t put it on yet. I’ve played it a little safer, with a Port scarf tucked surreptitiously into my back pocket; visible but hopefully unidentifiable. Dom is in squeaky-clean stealth mode, with no identifiable Port items at all; the perfect cover.

Our first stop is Flann O’Brien’s in Impact Arena, where we’re scheduled to meet up with the Aussies, as well a fellow Port fans Eddie and Jesse. We’re warmly received and, after our first drink, pictures are soon being taken. My plan of not revealing my Port scarf until we’re safely ensconced in the away end goes straight out the window, but at least I’m not having my picture taken by one Muangthong fan, whilst being stood next to another. Ah, oops!

 

Fans of Port, Brisbane and Kung Fu Panda in Flann O’Brien’s

 

Next stop is the SCG, where large Leos are the order of the day. Within minutes, Dave has stripped off and put on his Klongtoey t-shirt, after which he nonchalantly cruises past a few hundred Muangthong fans on the way to the away end. A last-minute search for tickets proves successful, and we are sent up, beer in hand, to WW7 – a small area of the upper tier just above the normal away section. There’s a pretty impressive turn out from The Roar. Whereas Ulsan Hyundai turned up with 5 away fans, there are a few dozen there supporting Brisbane, including a group of fans who have made the long trek from Eastern Australia, complete with purpose-made caps to mark the occasion. Good effort, lads!

There’s a good view from our outpost, and soon enough the game is underway. Brisbane have apparently put out a combination of youth team and squad players, whereas Muangthong are at full strength. It shows straight away as Muangthong seize the initiative and lay siege to the Brisbane goal. Muangthong look composed and threatening, whereas Brisbane look panicky. Brisbane manage to create a couple of chances, but just as it looks as if they’re poised to start asserting themselves on the game, Muangthong take the lead. A pinpoint cross from Thai national team wing-back  Tristan Do (19) is met by Spanish striker Xisco (9), who finds the corner of the net with a powerful header. Brisbane make it to half time a single goal in arrears, but they’ve got it all to do in the second half.

The same could be said for us away fans, who filter out to stock up on beer and snacks oblivious to the shower of shit the mad-cap SCG stewards have in store for us. Dave gets an early taste, when a security guard notices his Klongtoey shirt and decides to start sticking to him like a limpet. I’m the first to try my luck re-entering the stadium with a large beer, just as I had before the game. The stewards smugly inform me that – as of now – only small beers are allowed inside. Just as I’m pointing out the absurdity of making up a new rule halfway through the game, a Muangthong fan walks past me with two small beers grinning like a Cheshire cat. Cheeky git. I try to explain the irony of allowing two full small beers in, while rejecting a half-full large beer. It falls on deaf ears. Admitting defeat, I find myself a small cup, inform the rest of the fans outside what’s going on and head up for the second half.

If only that was the end of the story. By the time the rest of the Brisbane fans try to make they way up the rules have changed again. Now it’s only a very specific kind of cup with a certain logo on it that’s allowed in. Unfortunately for the stewards, Dom falls victim to the latest rule change, and he’s less forgiving than I am. Seeing the opportunity for a lively discussion, Dom decides against watching the rest of the game and spends the next 20 minutes informing the stewards in minute detail exactly how deficient they are. I didn’t see this first hand, but have full confidence that Dom didn’t leave out the words “useless” and “cretins”. Whilst I’m light-heartedly poking fun at the absurdity of the situation, the bone-headedness of denying entry to fans who have traveled over 7,000 km to be there just because of the size of cup they’re carrying is seriously wrong, and further evidence – as if it were needed – that the SCG is a world-class joke of a stadium.

It wasn’t just the fans who came away appalled by the SCG, though. As The Courier Mail reported, Brisbane ‘keeper Jamie Young was injured by a damaged net hook and had to be substituted then taken to hospital (pictures here), where he had 26 stitches in his arm. Brisbane Director of Football Craig Moore commented “The goalposts cannot be of danger to any player and clearly they were.” Stay Classy, Muangthong.

“I’m not holding that scarf, mate!” says Brisbane Roar legend and Bangkok Glass captain Matt Smith

Meanwhile, the second half is in full-swing, with play mostly following the same pattern as the first half. I look around for a distraction from the depressing inevitability of a Muangthong win, and spot Brisbane Roar legend and current Bangkok Glass captain Matt Smith. After I introduce myself, talk soon turns to The Sandpit. Matt tells me he knows all about the website and is a regular reader. Good stuff, Matt! After I finish blushing, I castigate him for being injured for Port’s clash with The Glass Rabbits a couple of weeks ago, as I talked up the importance of the clash between him and Josimar in my preview. Matt tells me that despite my abjectly inadequate research he enjoyed reading the article, and will try his best to be fit next time!

Meanwhile, Brisbane struggle on, creating chances but not looking composed enough to take advantage of them. Then, in the 83rd minute, superstar playmaker Chanathip (18) makes them pay by scoring a goal befitting a player of his outrageous talent. Chanathip takes it past 2 defenders before selling the goalkeeper a dummy and walking the ball in to an empty net. Five minutes later Thai national team captain Teerasil (10) seals the win for Muangthong by adding a third goal, sliding in to apply the finishing touch to Peerapat’s (2) inviting cross-cum-shot.

Brisbane didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory in terms of their performance, but for a young group of players up against half of the Thai national team, it was always going to be a struggle. The traveling fans knew what to expect, and stayed out to applaud their players after the final whistle, but in a quite shocking display of what could generously be described as inexperience, all they got in return was a halfhearted clap from a handful of players, whilst the rest turned around to start warming down. At least a gesture to the loyal fans who had flown the 9 hours out to Bangkok to watch a weakened team get schooled and unceremoniously dumped out of the ACL would have been nice.

With the game over and Dom now back from his discussion with security, attention turns to a mysterious set of Klongtoey stickers, which have appeared from nowhere and distributed themselves around the stadium. How did that happen?! Regardless, we all take the opportunity to snap some choice pictures, before heading back down past the beer police and outside.

More beers are ordered, and Dave’s friend the security guard starts asking personal questions. “You have car? Or you go taxi?” Unsure of whether the security guard is angling for a phone number or just wants to get rid of him, Dave plays it cool and tries to wait him out. Unmoved, the security guard stands within a meter of him at all times. His body language says he’s going nowhere. His worst suspicions are confirmed when a Muangthong fan asks to see my scarf, which isn’t buried quite deep enough in my back pocket. I try my best to politely decline, but he’s straight in the ear of the security guard, and after photos start being taken and the walkie-talkie comes out, it seems like drastic measures are definitely in order. The scarf is stashed in Dom’s bag, and shortly after we scarper in the direction of Flann O’Brien’s, and part ways with our new friends, the Brisbane Roar fans.

These guys are a top bunch, and we hope to see them again before long, either if The Roar get drawn with another Thai team in the ACL, or if they fancy a trip to PAT Stadium. Despite the result, and the inevitable hardships any visitors to the SCG endure, this was a night where two sets of fans came together to watch football, have a few beers, share stories and enjoy themselves. In that respect, our mission behind enemy lines was most definitely a rip-roaring success!

 

Police On My Back: Port FC vs. Police Tero, 30 April 2017

 

Port welcome Police Tero to PAT Stadium on Sunday in a clash between two of this season’s surprise packages. Neither side were expected to be in the top 6 after 10 games, but that’s where they both find themselves. With Tero on 18 points in 5th place, and Port on 17 points in 6th, expect a close and hard-fought game, with home advantage probably making Port slight favourites.

 

Police Tero

Players to Watch

 

Cheeky rascal that I am, I was intent on doing two separate ‘Players to Watch’ lists. One for players acquired from Muangthong since 2016, and one for Tero’s other players. By presenting these lists as such, I thought, I would subtly undermine the reliance of The Fire Dragons on Muangthong cast-offs, reducing them to the status of a mere feeder team without stooping to the level of direct criticism. Unfortunately, in my sweet naiveté, I hadn’t bargained on just how many of the bastards there would be, and so with my dreams of an indirect yet stinging criticism in tatters, I thought “Sod that. Let’s just get stuck in!”

So, first on the list of former Muangscum is former national team captain Datsakorn Thonglao (7). Probably one of the top 5 most talented Thai players of all time, the 33 year old central midfielder has enjoyed stints in Germany with Kaiserslautern Reserves, and Vietnam with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai. After realizing that his best days were behind him, Muangthong put him out to pasture at Tero where he will likely score some spectacular free-kicks, pick up a boatload of cards and generally saunter about the place exhibiting the gratuitous hot-headed arrogance he could only really get away with while he was still good.

Mario Abrante (6) is the second over-the-hill former Muangscummer on the list. The Spaniard has one hell of a resume, littered with spells at a few La Liga teams, as well as representing Spain at all youth levels. Last season most fans at the SCG were impressed by his strong but calm leadership at the back, although management didn’t think highly enough of him to keep him on in 2017. Think of him as an older, less talented and less good-looking Rochela.

Michael N’Dri (9) makes the third thirty plus on my list, but this Muangthong failure still seems to be somewhere near the peak of his powers. Unfortunately for him, it’s not a particularly high peak. Brought in to challenge Cleiton Silva for a starting berth at the SCG, N’Dri never came close to making the Brazilian sweat. 8 goals in 27 games are the kind of numbers that will see you shipped straight off to Tero, and so it went. However, since becoming a Fire Dragon, N’Dri has racked up 6 goals in 9 games, indicating that perhaps he has found his level in a top-half but not title-challenging side. N’Dri is quick, skillful and good in the air, but seems to need an awful lot of chances to score.

Stop the press. It’ a miracle! I’ve found a Tero player who isn’t a former Muangscummer. After wading through Datsakorn (7), Mario (6) and N’Dri (9) I then encountered goalkeeper Witsanusak (1), defenders Suporn (3) and Weerawut (11), and midfielders Kasidech (24), Seksit (17) and Atit (8), who you may remember from his loan spell at Port last season. But I’ve finally found one who, against the odds, has never played for Muangthong. He’s hard to miss, to be fair. Kalifa Cisse (20) is a beast of a central midfielder who at his peak represented Reading 75 times in the Premier League. Moves to the MLS and then the Championship preceded the 6 foot 2 Malian’s move to Bangkok, where he has played for United, Glass and now Tero. On his game he’s practically unplayable, dominating the midfield with Vieira-like strides and Keane-like strength. OK, so maybe I’m giving him a little too much credit, although the comparison to the former destroyers stands up more on the disciplinary side. 3 yellows and a red card so far this season for Cisse indicate that he likes to get stuck in a little too much. With Siwakorn (16) fresh back from suspension, expect a foul-off in midfield. Maybe if he and Adisorn (13) go for one leg each, they might be able to bring him down!

 

Datsakorn Thonglao, Mario Abrante, Michael N’Dri and Kalifa Cisse

 

Form

 

Tero have a lot of quality in their squad, and uniquely with so many new arrivals they have gelled quickly largely based on the fact that they’ve almost all played together at the SCG. It’s not a complete surprise to see them in 5th place in the league table, although most would have had them a few places further down.

This is probably mostly because they’ve had a relatively easy time to date, facing just 2 teams in the top 9, and 8 teams in the bottom 9. Port, by contrast, are just a point and a place behind Tero, but have played 5 of the top 9, and 5 of the bottom 9.

In more potentially positive news for Port, Tero are poor on the road, having managed just a solitary victory away at Super Power so far in 2017. In terms of their recent form, The Fire Dragons are unbeaten in April, with wins against Bangkok United and Honda and draws with Navy and Suphanburi.

 

Port

Starting XI

 

The only change since Sunday’s away win at Sukhothai is the return of midfield maestro Siwakorn (16) from suspension. In an unexpected tactical maneuver, Jadet chose to replace Siwakorn by shifting Genki (18) to central midfield, with Tana (99) coming into the side on the left wing. Whilst Port got the 3 points, it’s unlikely that this system will be employed against The Fire Dragons, although it is possible that Tana will be preferred to Genki on the left after impressing in the second half against Bangkok Glass and having a hand in 2 of Port’s 3 goals against Sukhothai.

I expect to see the same XI who have performed so well in recent weeks with the possibility of Tana being given a start in place of Genki.

 

Predicted Lineup

 

 

Potential Suspensions

 

I’m not going to lie; this is getting scary. Currently on 3 yellow cards – one away from suspension – are Rochela (22), Dolah (4), Nitipong (34), Adisorn (13), Suarez (5) and Tana (99). Whilst these suspensions will inevitably happen at some point, Port are in the precarious position of 3 of the back 4 potentially being ruled out simultaneously. Don’t all get booked at once, chaps! With a tricky away trip to Chonburi on the horizon, we’ll need our defence as intact as possible.

 

Key Battle

 

 

The midfield is set to be the key battleground on Sunday. Kalifa Cisse (20) will be tasked with doing the dirty work for Tero, whilst Datsakorn (7) will – if selected – take up the creative burden. Interestingly, Datsakorn was on the bench for The Fire Dragon’s 3-2 win against Honda, although it seems more likely that the veteran was being rested rather than dropped.

For Port, Adisorn (13) will try to use his high-energy pressing to make life difficult for Datsakorn, whilst Siwakorn (16) will attempt to move the ball through midfield and start Port attacks. Whether or not the skinny wizard will be able to do that could depend on how much help he gets from Sergio Suarez (5). The more robust Spaniard will have to harry and disrupt Cisse to give Siwakorn a chance, as the Malian man-mountain will simply dominate the tiny Thai if they are left to slug it out one on one.

Teamwork is the name of the game for Port. They will need to stick together and fight for every ball in midfield if they are going to overcome their stronger and more experienced opponents.

 

The match will be shown live on True Sport 6 at 18:00 on Sunday 30 April, 2017

 

Fire Bats Extinguished: Sukhothai 2-3 Port FC

 

The Trip

I should preface this little adventure with a disclaimer… Most of my expat Bangkok acquaintances  seem to be retired amateur beer sommeliers or slightly dodgy teachers; frankly a somewhat lo-so crowd. Which is how I like it.

However, there are one or two exceptions. Up-market folk who own a motorbike or 2 pairs of shoes. It was with one of the latter I journeyed to Sunday’s game – flying up to Phitsanulok, just the 2 of us in his plane. In Sukhothai things got even better. In search of dinner we followed some twinkling lights into a lovely family restaurant that seemed to be having a birthday party BBQ. After the familiar ‘Blimey, it’s a farang!’ stares we were told to help ourselves to anything. A dozen prawns and a couple of crabs  later we  asked for the bill, only to be told  it was free as we’d hardly eaten anything.

 

The Stadium

Now, to the stadium. The Thung Thalay Luang stadium is a neat 8,000 all-seater job, but the location is like nothing I’ve ever seen. The nearest building must be over 3 miles away and it sits beside a lake. On arrival, I realized I’d left my specs in the hotel, so everything was a bit blurry. And that was before the Chang.

 

The Game

Port’s relationship with Brazilian strikers seems to be characterized by blind faith over reality. When I first saw Port it was the tail end of Leandro’s reign.I remember him showboating with the ball at his feet doing the Grobbelar Wobbly knees routine to the delight of those around. The problem was there were 10 minutes to go and we were 1-3 down. In that moment I realized the Thai league was not like home, where such a display would ensure you’d played your last game.

Then last season we were all  aghast at Thiago Cunha – a man who appeared to have bet on himself to get the quickest red card  in history. I remember what I think was his last appearance, when he seemed to be having some kind of mental breakdown on the pitch. It was clear to all (except the coach) where things were heading, so much so that Madame had to leave her seat and pull him off herself (so to speak).

Now its Josimar (30). Already derided by some as lacking skill, speed, heart etc. but showing a talent for being in the right place and applying the vital touch. It took him 10 minutes to put Port 1-0 up, heading in an inch-perfect cross from Pakorn (9), who turned smartly on the right hand side and showed impressive accuracy with his weaker foot to curl the ball in to the corridor of uncertainty where Josimar was lurking. Then our tactics became unfathomable, and the Brazilian was left stranded up field as we elected to run the clock down, relying heavily on the Fire Bats incompetence and Worawut’s (36) excellence. About half an hour into the game Port had a free kick on the halfway line, and we kept 6 (honestly – 6) players behind the ball.

In the second half Josimar struck again, pouncing on a mistake from the keeper, who failed to gather Tana’s (99) cross from the left hand side. Josimar applied the simplest of finishes, but he was outshone just minutes later by Sukhothai defender Hiromichi Katano (4) who spectacularly smashed the ball in to the back of his own net in a way Josimar could only have dreamed of. 3-0! Time to relax & have fun… well not quite . 2 goals in 2 minutes got the home fans cheering and our time wasting tactics came to the fore again. We survived. Just about!

There’s nothing better than seeing 2 coach loads of Port fans pull into the car park, making more noise than the home crowd having set off from PAT at 08:30. What a great bunch – my men of the match!

 

The Sandpit’s Port FC Man of the Match

 

Josimar’s goals may have both come from inside the 6 yard box, but that’s where you want your striker! Josimar found space to nod in a simple header from Pakorn’s cross in the first half, then smartly followed in Tana’s cross and capitalized on the keeper’s error in the second half.

An honourable mention must also go to goalkeeper Worawut, who preserved Port’s lead with some outstanding reaction saves. What a man to have as second choice ‘keeper!

 

Hotboxing: The Port Futsal Experience

 

As my motorcycle taxi pulls in to the warehouse compound, I look back over my shoulder at PAT Stadium. It strikes me for a second how peculiar it is experiencing the tingling feeling of anticipation that only game-day brings practically a stones-throw away from a deserted PAT Stadium. As he parks, the noise from the action inside filters out. A distinctly recognizable but strangely muffled smorgasbord of drums and cheering accompany a screeching tropical bird. How did that get in there?

I peer through the open but inaccessible door at the back of some bleachers, and a security guard points me round the corner. As I approach another door the sound crescendos, and as I pass it falls again to a muted rumble. More doors, more bleachers, more security guards.

I eventually make it around to the front where a few fellow latecomers are still filtering in. I say late, but really its five past two in the afternoon, and it bloody feels like it. After paying my 100 baht and getting the usual ticket and stamp I walk inside and the hot-box effect doesn’t waste any time. As boiling as it was outside, it’s somehow even more intense inside. Out of the grill into the oven.

It takes me a moment to process the large open space that I’m walking in to, and then it clicks. I’ve just walked past where the big screen was the only time I’d been here before. On that occasion the Port faithful were banned from PAT Stadium, and some resourceful fans decided to put up a big screen and some industrial speakers in the open part of the warehouse. A few hundred fans turned up that evening to witness Port secure a crucial win against promotion rivals Ubon. As I walk through the now empty space I vividly recall the deafening rave-style music, flashing lights and wild celebrations that followed each of Port’s three goals. Good times!

Just as I make my way around the bleachers and the playing surface comes in to view, the tropical bird seems to be having a fit. Rapid-fire squeaks punctuate the vociferous cheers of the crowd, and two players tumble in to a heap about five feet away from me on the nearest corner of the court. Ahhh. It’s the shoes that squeak! As the players pick themselves up, the area where they fell is quickly mopped up, and play continues.

 

Zone B

 

I find a gap in the bleachers and clamber up to a free space near the top. I’m behind the goal that Port are defending in the first half and there’s a small group of ultras down at the bottom of the stand. Let’s call it Zone B. To my left near the halfway line I see another slightly larger group of very vocal Port fans with the conspicuous figure of Spiderming hanging over the railings. That must be Zone C. Half of the opposite end is for the dozen or so Bangkok City away fans, and the area next to theirs is nearly empty. Zone D. To my right there are no bleachers, only benches for the players, and a VIP stage for some suited dignitaries. Prawn sandwiches on the house in Zone A, I reckon.

 

Spiderming Holds Court in Zone C

 

Just as I smile to myself at the symmetry of the place, I realize why there was an open space where I was. There are a few fans (the other kind of fans, I mean) down at the bottom of the stand, and whilst they do their best to move the dead air around, I’m too far away from them. Relocation is a must. Then a roar recaptures my attention. Port are on the break, and within what can only have been a couple of seconds a square ball in to the middle finds a Port teammate, and the ball is smashed in to the back of the net. Noppadol (13) erupts in to celebration, and the warehouse follows his lead. He punches the air, then runs towards Zone B where he hugs a woman through the netting. “I scored, mum! Did you see?” After the excitement of my first live futsal goal dies down, I make my way down to search for cooler climes.

As I make my way along Zone B I see some familiar faces. Jim and John have also positioned themselves in the upper reaches, and as I scan the lower sections of the bleachers I realize that the wily regulars have completely colonized the fan-cooled areas. It’s going to be heat or nothing for me. At least I will be suffering in solidarity.

As I take a seat between my fellow football fans, they are eager to get me caught up. John tells me that Port are 4th out of 14 in the Thai Futsal League, but they finished 2nd last season. Today’s opponents – Bangkok City – are 7th. Jim points out two small towers adorned with illuminated numbers from 1 to 6. Port are on 3, with Bangkok City on 1. Noting my confused look, Jim tells me that this is the foul count. Similar to basketball, when the team has accumulated a certain number of fouls, they are penalized. In the case of futsal, once the sixth foul has been committed the offending team can no longer use a defensive wall for free-kicks, and all free-kicks for the opposition are direct. Those further than 12 meters out can be taken from the second penalty spot and those closer can either be taken from the place of the infringement, or from that second penalty spot. Pretending to understand, I keep watching and quietly hope there will be enough fouls for me to see this rule in action!

Substitutions from both sides are flowing thick and fast, not even waiting for play to stop. The outgoing player grabs an orange bib from the incoming player then sits down on the bench. Quick and easy, fast and furious. After Bangkok City bring the score level at 1-1, it becomes clear that Port have a plan. The best 5 players are generally played together for a few minutes of high-intensity attacking action, and when they get tired, the best of the rest are given a run-out to try and keep the scores level and maybe nick a goal on the break. Port’s first 5 consist of goalkeeper Prakit (2), defender and national team star Lertchai (6), flair Brazilian and Leandro doppelganger Marcos (10) and Watchara (3) in midfield with goalscorer and mummy’s boy Noppadol (13) up front. Positionally it’s seriously fluid stuff though, and these guys are all fantastic technical players capable of playing all positions when necessary.

My favourite moment of the first half features the quickest and most bizarre substitution I’ve ever seen. Brazilian trickster Marcos plays the ball square to Lertchai, then immediately – with the ball still in play – turns to the bench and subs himself off. Lertchai puts his foot on the ball, and the opposition stand statuesque. Marcos kneels down and hurriedly ties a shoelace, while the player he has subbed himself off for loiters just inside the court. With time standing still, Marcos finishes tying and subs himself back, immediately receiving the ball back from Lertchai and starting an attack.

What just happened?!

With the first twenty minute half coming to a close, Port are precariously perched on 5 fouls with shouts from the crowd of Jai Yen aimed at powerhouse defender Lertchai, who has been fouling his way through the match in what can only be described as a Siwakornesque fashion. Nevertheless, Port push on with their first 5 determined to make a late impact. Their fresh legs find the breakthrough just a minute before half time when Noppadol pings an inch-perfect shot off the post and in from range. Pick that out! Not content with putting Port back in the lead, Noppadol once again goes above and beyond with his celebrations. In a moment reminiscent of former Newcastle madman Temuri Ketsbaia, Noppadol puts his boot in to the advertising hoardings a couple of times. Pick that out!

 

Noppadol Loves His Celebrations!

 

As the half time whistle blows, I start to pick myself up and head for the exit. It doesn’t take me long to realize that I’m absolutely dripping with sweat. Getting outside, I revel in the cooler air. You don’t say that every day in Thailand! I notice the posters that adorn the front wall of the warehouse, which display the larger-than-life Port players in their futsal kits, as well as a smaller poster of each logo in the 14-team Thai Futsal League. Scarves are for sale at the ticket counter for 300 baht a pop, but replica shirts are nowhere to be seen.

 

Tickets and Scarves

 

A bottle of water gets drained in record time just before I head in for the second half, and the action, comedy and breathtaking skill continue at break-neck pace. Twice in quick succession the referee makes a decision, before overturning it at the request of one of the players. He overturned one for each team though, and as rule one of the Thai refereeing handbook clearly states: ‘Two wrongs do make a right.’

Five minutes into the second half, two quick-fire goals bring the game to life. City equalize with a well-worked corner routine, then the ref gives a free-kick to Port right on the edge of the box. Marcos and Lertchai stand over it menacingly. The wall are on their toes, ready to charge as soon as the ball is touched, while Noppadol stands to the side of the goal. What’s he doing there? Lertchai puts his foot on the ball, but doesn’t release, teasing the defenders by rolling it back and forth. The wall look confused, not knowing whether to stay or go. When he does eventually roll the ball to Marcos, they’re all over the shop. Marcos fires the ball in towards the far post where Noppadol hugs the far post as if it’s his mum. The ball bounces of his legs and in to the goal. So that’s what he was doing there. Genius!

The City players don’t agree. Their two foreign players Jackson (5) and Tota (88) are livid, and make sure the officials know as such. This time the ref stands firm, though. The goal stands. Tota gets substituted, and proceeds to tell everyone who will listen on his bench that you’re definitely not allowed to do that ball-rolling trick from a dead ball. As a futsal novice I have no idea, but who cares? Port are 3-2 to the good, and the clock is ticking down!

Even though the clock stops when the ball goes out of play, there still seem to be histrionics on the part of the Port players. Maybe they’re trying to slow the game down to stay fresh? The closer the clock gets to full time, the slower time passes. A minute on the clock seems to take five minutes to play. Time outs are called, and after Bangkok City use theirs, they resort to some radical tactics. Their sub keeper is less of a keeper, more of an outfield player wearing a keeper’s shirt. When City have the ball he joins the attack, making it five outfield players on four, and when they lose the ball he pegs it over to the sideline to be subbed off for the real keeper. Surely something has to give?

Or not, as it turns out. Port fail to find their way to the empty net, and City fail to make the extra attacker count. Final Score: Port Futsal Club 3-2 Bangkok City Futsal Club. Phew!

My afternoon out at the futsal is complete when I make my way over to Zone C to get a closer look at the team who, as we’re used to seeing at the football, line up to be applauded by the fans. With the closer proximity of the fans to the court, the players all come right in for high-fives and hand-shakes. I have a little fan-girl moment with Marcos where I tell him he’s bloody brilliant.

 

Marcos Thanks The Crowd

 

When I reconnect with Jim and John, I’m told in no uncertain terms that the experience rates as a 7.5 out of 10. Points are gained for the atmosphere, the non-stop action, the skill-level and most of all Noppadol’s celebrations, but the sweat factor takes its’ toll, and the refereeing is a whole different species of bad. Will I be back? Without a doubt! Whilst I can’t see myself making a routine of it, when the stars align and one game leads conveniently to the other, I will definitely brave the hotbox again to cheer on Port’s high-flying futsal stars. It’s a back-to-basics Thai sporting experience not to be missed!

 

A Journey into Fire Bat Country : Sukhothai vs. Port FC, 23 April 2017

 

Port travel to Sukhothai – “The Fire Bats” – this Sunday looking to bounce back after the 3-0 thrashing by Bangkok Glass. On Tuesday I was ready to write about a poor Sukhothai with 4 points and not many prospects. Unfortunately for Port, Sukhothai managed a 1-0 win away at Thai Honda. When you know Honda had a player sent off in the 45th minute, the win against 10 men is slightly less impressive. Still we can all remember how we got on at Honda, no wait I don’t want to remember that. So the Bats will be lifted by their second win of the season.

 

Sukhothai

In 2016 Sukhothai were guided through a great season by Somchai Chuayboonchum “Naa Chuai”, an Ex-Port Player (1976–1983) and briefly Port Manager (November 2014–April 2015). In the 2016 season they managed to finish 7th and technically win the F.A. Cup. Sukhothai made it to the semi finals of the F.A. Cup, but the competition was abandoned due to the death of King Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej. So the winner was decided by the drawing of lots and Sukhothai were the lucky ones. In the F.A. Cup quarter finals Sukhothai dispatched a Port team 4-0 at the Thung Thalay Luang Stadium. However, this result was against a team made up of 50% first team and 50% reserve players. After this result Port went on the beat Ubon UMT and secure promotion. 4-0 is a bitter pill to swallow, but it did help us win promotion.

After their great showing last year Sukhothai sacked “Naa Chuai” for no discernible reason. And following this unfair sacking they have imploded this year, 6 losses in the first 7 games is a terminal start to any season. With a draw and a win in the last two matches have Sukhothai now turned the corner? Let’s hope not. They have creative midfielder J. Rakotonomenjanahary or “Baggio” (10) for short, and he is quite short! He came to Port as a trialist before the 2015 season and I was one of the people who said he was too small to make it, and having a midget as a foreign player is a waste. He has proved me wrong, being the creative heart of a decent Sukhothai side in 2016. Sukhothai’s two foreign strikers have both knocked in 2 goals this year. Ivory coast forward Bireme Diouf (27) started the last game on the left wing with Admir Adrović (9) playing as a target man, so we are likely to be looking at two scary foreign strikers on Sunday. With only 4 goals between them, hopefully they won’t prove too scary.

 

Port’s Prospects

So is this a possible banana skin for Port? Yes, but not just because Sukhothai have some confidence now. The official Thai League website (90% reliable) says Siwakorn (16) picked up his fourth yellow card on Wednesday. So Port will be away from home and without Siwakorn. Siwakorn isn’t just a sublime passing genius, he works hard every game and plugs any gaps that need to be filled. He has a phenomenal love of yellow cards, he had a collection of at least 12 last year. Early in his career he had a habit of diving in for silly challenges just because he’d lost possession, now he’s calmed down a bit. He’s channeled this anger into a defensive strategy. If a dangerous player is free or looking likely to cause Port a problem Siwakorn will tackle with all the aggression of a young Graham Souness. Port get a respite from the attack, Siwakorn gets a yellow. Hence his large card collection.

 

So Port without Siwakorn(16) is the big talking point of the weekend. I think Jadet will bring in Piyachat (88) and he will attempt to play him in similar role to Siwakorn. Port’s line up is fairly settled now. Jadet did play around with the line up at Honda away, the last time we had two matches close together, but we all know what happened then. I hope we’ll see a similar set of players to Wednesday night and they’ll get a chance to regain some form.

 

Likely Line Up

 

 

 

Key Match ups

 

Baggio vs. Everyone else

Baggio (10)  is a great little player and if he’s given the freedom to play the ball around he can really cause Port some problems. If Port close him down they can close Sukhothai down. He is Sukhothai’s one creative driving force. Port’s midfield need to single him out, having one person man marking him and other players looking to close down his options.

He should start on Sunday, but away against Thai Honda he was brought on as a sub. Could be a new way to use Baggio, or it could be he was subbed on because it was a more defensive set up for an away match.

 

Diouf vs. Meechok

Mechook (20) has proved himself a quality right back, but if Sukhothai put Diouf (27) on the left wing the 32 year old wily striker will be another top level test for the 19 year old right back. Mechook is ready for it, but I think it will be a long day for the young man.

 

Key match up for Port vs.  BEC Tero

 

Dolah (4), Suarez (5), Nitipong (34) vs. The Ref.

Dolah(4), Suarez(5), and Nitipong (34) all find themselves on 3 yellow cards. Another entry in the book will see them miss a tough game next week. Next weekend Port face a half decent BEC Tero side currently sitting in 5th place.

 

Precious Points

We really need to take 6 points off the bottom teams this year. Sukhothai, Sisaket and Samut Prakan should be among those teams. Port have a habit of under-performing against lower league opposition, I just hope this trend stops on Sunday.

 

My Prediction

3-1 win for Port.

“Sukhotired: A View from Sukhothai” by Henry Musa

Where to begin, the season started with 6 losses out of 7, changing coaches twice and going from finishing 7th last year to now being in the relegation zone. It’s an understatement to say it’s been a disappointing start to the season for Sukhothai fans. After finally ending our 5 game winless streak on Wednesday, thanks to a 1-0 win over Thai Honda and being only 1 point away from safety, Sukhothai will definitely be hungry for the 3 points this Sunday. It’s unlikely that Coach Bae will change his starting 11 from Wednesday’s match. Whilst Sukhothai has slightly improved in both defence and midfield since the beginning of Coach Bae’s reign, 2 weeks ago, the team is still lacking the firepower and creativity we saw last season. Thankfully our goalkeeper, “Art” Pairote Eiam-mak (35) is in good form and has been keeping out the goals (most of them) and both Baggio (10) and Diouf (27) are also starting to pick up their game. Baggio seems to be the only play-maker on the pitch this season but Diouf does have his occasional spurts of brilliance. Thankfully Baggio walked away unscathed by that dangerous high tackle on him on Wednesday. Our two new foreign players, Anton Zemlianukhin (20) and Admir Adrović (9) also look hungry to prove themselves and have steadily been adjusting themselves to fit in with Coach Bae’s style of play. Sunday definitely looks to be an exciting match which everybody in the Sukhothai camp is looking forward to. It’s probably safe to say that Sunday’s match will most likely be a lot more competitive than Sukhothai’s last encounter with Port.

My prediction is a 2-1 win to Sukhothai.

For any Port fans travelling to Sukhothai, I wish you all a very pleasant stay in the nation’s historical first capital. For those of you who haven’t visited the ruins, it’s definitely a must see. Our two clubs have a very strong relationship and you can look forward to being greeted with hospitality at Talae Luang Stadium.”

Henry Musa is a long time Sukhothai fan now based in Rayong. He runs and regularly updates the Sukhothai English Facebook page, “Sukhothai F.C. English Fanzone”. While chatting to Henry, he told me he has a Thai Port connection. As a nipper Henry would come along to games at PAT stadium with his Dad and the Sandpit’s very own Peter Hockley A.K.A. “Hockers”. Henry sends his regards Hockers. 

 

The match will be shown live on True Sport 7 at 18:00 on Sunday 23rd April, 2017

 

Port Shafted by Rampant Rabbits: Port FC 0-3 Bangkok Glass FC

 

The start of the game saw Port lining up in an orthodox 4-4-2. It was a relatively bright start for Port with Pakorn (9) enjoying a lot of space down the right side of the pitch in the early knockings. The first chance fell to Port after Pakorn whipped a ball into the box and the Glass defence failed to clear effectively. Genki was the eventual recipient, narrowly curling the ball over the top right corner.

A few minutes later came more joy on the right, with an overhit cross finding the head of Genki at the back post but he couldn’t keep his header down. It was clear that the Port objective was to get as many balls into the box as possible and pray that one will eventually land on the head of Josimar. Big J showed early on that he would be a threat in the air, winning the majority of aerial battles from goal kicks when targeted.

 

Pre-match optimism was sadly short-lived (Tim Russell)

 

There was an exciting period of play just after the half hour mark with Port advancing methodically up the pitch, accumulating in a divine chipped through ball into the box. It was just a same the recipient, Meechok (20), got caught in a Theresa May-style condundrum (don’t mention that woman’s name on this site! Ed), unsure of whether to elect to shoot or cross… after changing his mind what appeared to be exactly 72 times in the 1 second he had to react, he decided to gently knock the ball into the willing arms of the Glass keeper. The Glass keeper then launched the ball forward to an open Glass striker who had half of the pitch and the Port keeper between him and the goal. Worawut produced an inspired save after narrowing down the angle quickly.

From the resulting corner we got a preview of how Glass would break the deadlock after multiple Port clearances failed to get out of their own box. It took the experienced, calm head of the ever-present Rochela to finally clear the ball away.

A few minutes later Rochela put in a last ditch challenge to prevent a possible Glass scoring opportunity. The corner that followed can only be described as comical.. truly comical. No word of a lie…I think every Port player touched the ball at some point in a pinball-like sequence which eventually lead to an opportunistic Glass attacker volleying home in emphatic fashion. An inability to clear the ball was once again Port’s downfall. #IfInDangerDoALongRanger

Just before the break Port had a free kick about 25 yards out to the left hand side of the goal. The ball was struck well with a solid technique, swirling up and over the wall and just evading the bottom left post.

HT – Beer, Popcorn, Meat on a Stick (can’t be specific on what meat…so we will leave it at meat.)

Josi’s new striking partner (Joe Kheng)

The second half started with pure drama, waking the crowd up from their half time food comas. A dog invaded the pitch, and started a Benny Hill-style scene of calamitous security work, who failed to stop this evasive dog. It’s a shame the Port strikers didn’t have the same agility when making their forward runs this evening.

Back to the game…

Just after the hour mark Port were presented with a golden opportunity to level the score. After some nifty work by Tana (99) on the left wing, the ball was drilled low and hard across the face of goal. The whole of the A stand gasped in amazement when Suarez (5) managed to make contact with the cross but not direct it goalwards, with his effort fizzing out for a throw in. Chances like this have to be converted in the future if Port want to continue their bid for survival. This would have completely changed the complexion of the game, as Port really were on top at this point.

Glass then shamefully started with the common Thai timewasting tactics. A Glass player went down clasping his head after a collision with his own teammate and it took the magic sponge, spray, cold compress and a ride on a stretcher before he was finally able to stand up. Thankfully the injury gods were kind to him and he managed to play the rest of the game seemingly unharmed. Hallelujah. A fantastic tribute to Jesus this close to Easter, majestically rising from what looked like certain death.

Big J Unit then started getting into the game a bit more, first finding space in the box and heading wide. Then latching onto the end of a chipped through ball, powering his way between the Glass centre backs, who just did enough to put him off as his shot was toed into the grateful arms of the keeper. Either side of him and with a bit more power and it would have been a goal…but I guess that logic could apply to any shot!

 

The sun sets on Port’s hopes of a win (Tim Russell)

 

From here Port continued to pour men forward and persisted with filling the box with crosses. This looked like it would eventually pay dividends, but unfortunately in the 75th minute the game was out of reach. Glass executed the perfect RCA (Rapid Counter Attack) and Rochela was left wrong footed, bamboozled by a dazzling Ronaldo chop, before the Glass striker stroked the ball into the bottom left corner passed the outstretched arm of the keeper.

There wasn’t to be a Plan B for Port and balls continued to fly into the box with the hope of being met by J Unit’s head. It isn’t the worst idea in the world, but the crosses lacked quality and accuracy, often easily cleared or collected by the keeper.

Glass scored again. I will be completely honest, I didn’t see the goal. But I’m pretty confident in saying it was from a counter attack.

 

Tim’s Man of the Match

Not too many contenders for the MOTM award this week. Siwakorn was his usual all-action self, including the usual booking (which rules him out of Sunday’s trip to Sukhothai); and Josimar worked hard up front but was left feeding off scraps most of the time. The dog put in a fine second half cameo performance but lacked the stamina to have a significant impact on the game.

 

Port’s DOTM enjoying a post-match treat (Tim Russell)

 

So this week’s MOTM award goes to supersub Tana, a player of whom I am not normally a fan, who came on around the hour mark and almost changed the game by bringing a welcome burst of energy and creativity down Port’s left. Had Suarez made more of an effort to get to his excellent 65th minute cross, it would have been 1-1 with the momentum in Port’s favour. When we met Josimar on Monday he told us that Tana sees himself more of a left-winger, and whilst we scoffed, last night’s performance suggested he may have a future there after all.

 

Go Josi Go! The Sandpit Meets Josimar Rodrigues

 

“What are all these guys doing in Chiang Rai? We lost our first two away games 6-2 and 5-1, why are they still supporting us?” Josimar Rodrigues laughs and shakes his head as he starts to get to grips with the loyalty and devotion of the fans of his new club, Port FC. After a season playing – and scoring regularly – in front of small and dwindling crowds at Army Utd, the Brazilian striker is still coming to terms with the passion – and pressure – of leading the line for Thailand’s most fervently supported club, and you get the impression that he’s quickly getting a taste for it.

Signed right on the February transfer deadline, Josi (as his friends – including best mates ‘Genk’ and Maranhao – call him) has fought his way past a considerable amount of striking talent at Port, including Kaludjerovic, Maranhao, Asdrubal, Tana and the already forgotten Manucharyan, to become the club’s first-choice striker, and after a quietly impressive but goal-free start he finally got off the mark with the winning goal against Ubon UMT, following that up with another in the shock 3-1 win at Chiang Rai, tapping in a Pakorn shot on the line (“I had to!” he laughs. “I waited and waited, but then the defender came in so I touched it. Look…” and he takes out his phone to show us a photo of a Chiang Rai defender’s boot about to clear the ball, by way of justification). After scoring 16 goals in 2016 for a poor Army Utd side, Josimar might just be the high-scoring striker Port fans have been waiting for since the departure of Leandro in 2014.

After spending six years in Japan (where he played alongside Port’s Japanese dynamo Genki) and a year in Saudi Arabia, Josi is now happily settled in Thailand and enjoying life in Bangkok, and we sat down for a couple of hours with him to chat about his Port FC colleagues, how exactly Port managed to beat Chiang Rai, football in Brazil and Japan, and how he got his name – and it’s not quite as straightforward as you might think…

 


 

Early Days at Port

I knew about the players, I came, started training, but didn’t play in first 3 games, so I thought, will I play or not? They have Maranhao, Asdru, many players. But I believed in myself, then I play my first game, I was good I think. Now I’m so happy because I start to score and the team starts to improve. Everything is good for me – my family is happy here, my daughter is 5 and she is so happy.

The Army Years

Last season at Army, we had some good players but many players were young, from lower divisions. At Army, everyone is a soldier, not a football player! Port has many players who’ve played at Muangthong, Buriram, Bangkok Glass, but Army had soldiers, and other teams didn’t respect us so much. When you play with Tana and Tana has the ball, no one tries to take the ball from him, they respect him!

The Khlong Thoey Army

The Port fans are crazy, like Brazilian fans. They feel with the heart, not the head. I play with my back to the goal, I can’t dribble past 3-4 defenders, I take the ball and I pass to my teammates, but I think the fans want me to run and score. When I stop the ball and pass, I think I did a good job, but the fans are like, BOOOOO, hahaha! But I love playing in front of fans like this, it motivates me. At Army, season by season the crowds were going down, last season was bad and this year they’re struggling and the fans aren’t coming any more.

Farang Fans in the Tunnel at Chiang Rai

Hahaha! I thought, what’s this? It was so funny! Where did these guys come from? But it was good for us. We were surprised so many fans came to see us at Chiang Rai so we had to play well for them. 12 or 13 hours in the bus, this is really special, so we had to win for them.

 

 

Brazil, Japan…and Thailand

In Brazil football is very slow, you have time to control the ball and pass. Coming to Thailand, they’re very fast, it’s like ping-pong – it’s counterattack, counterattack, counterattack, sometimes we try to keep the ball and pass-pass-pass but at home especially there is too much pressure from the fans to attack attack attack!. In Japan you learn to play quicker, and they are very strong too.

It’s different style here, and my style has changed too. When I was young in Brazil I take the ball and try to run and score every time, but this is no good for the team. When I came to play in Japan, it is very tactical, too much, and I started to help my team more. Now at Port I have so many good players – Pakorn, Tana, Siwakhorn, Suarez – I just need to win the ball and pass. I don’t need to try to score every time.

Port’s Finest

I agree with Rochela, our most important player is Siwakhorn. He runs a lot, helps out in defence, never gets tired – I don’t know what he eats! The most talented is Pakorn. He never stops trying, even when he loses the ball. Good shot, good pass, strong, good pace, great crosser. For me he’s the most talented player at Port.

The strongest? Wanchalerm. He is stronger than me. When it’s man-on-man he’s too strong. Every day after training he stays in the gym. And the fittest? Maybe Adisorn. After training, I go to the gym, I shower, I go home, he’s still there. The lights are off, he’s still running! I say “My friend, go home!” And Nittipong, every morning he goes to the gym before training. These two they run so much, they work so hard and you can see how they play this season. Many players in this club stay back after training to improve more for the next game. I like this. They all think about helping the team.

Maranhao

When I start to talk to Port, the most important thing is that Rochela & Maranhao would stay. Rochela because, he is Rochela! And Maranhao because every time he takes the ball he tries to make things happen. Then I see the news about Suarez, Asdru & Kalu, and think, no Maranhao? He is my friend. He talked to Navy & Korat, many clubs, but he’s still here, and for me, he’s a good player, he’s my friend, and it would be great for us to play together. He can dribble, then pass to me, and I can score! But I wish the best for him, if he can play for Port, great. If he cannot play here, I wish the best for him. He’s young, he needs to play.

His Famous Name

Yes, I am named after Josimar! He played for Botafogo. My father is crazy about Botafogo. When Botafogo win, he cries. When Botafogo lose, he cries. When Botafogo draw….he cries! Josimar was very good in the 1986 World Cup, and I was born the next year. But after 4 or 5 years, 92-93, Josimar started to use drugs, so my father went to the office and said “I want to change my son’s name!” And the guy said “What are you doing? You can’t change the name like that!” So I am still Josimar!

 

 

Brazilian Idols

The first was Romario. 1994 World Cup, Romario was at Barcelona, and before the World Cup he said “If we don’t win, it’s my fault, not the other players”. And he won the World Cup, not alone, but 70 or 80%! And then it was Ronaldo. He’s 18, he goes to PSV, 30 games he scores 40 goals. Then Barcelona, 39 games he scores 41 goals. I tried to play like this guy, but I cannot! But I like these two players, they’re my heroes.

Nowadays? Neymar. In Brazil many fans said he’s not a good player, but come on, he plays for Barcelona every week. If Neymar isn’t a good player, what am I?!

Goals

I want to make it same as 2016, or more. I already have two, but it’s not easy. Last year I scored 16, so this year when I get the ball I have 3 or 4 defenders around me, they all know me now. I talked with Maranhao yesterday about this, and he said I need to train harder than last year. Training in the afternoon, training in the gym, because if I don’t I can’t be better. I have some pace, I am strong, and I help the team, and if I can get fitter, I can help the team more in the second half when other players get tired, so I can do more for the team.

Breaking his Duck

Playing as striker for Port and not scoring, god, it’s so much pressure – from the fans, my family, my agent, everywhere! When I scored that goal, I cannot see anything! What do I do now, I don’t know…I think I lost 5-6 kilos after this goal I ran so much. At training the next day Niran Hansson said to me “What is this celebration? You need to improve your celebration!” I said “OK you play as striker for Port, play 3 games and not score, and then you come and tell me how to celebrate!” But we were so happy, many players come to celebrate with me, they know what I feel.

The Miracle of Chiang Rai

You know where this came from? The three friendlies we played. We drew with Bangkok Utd, but our first XI won 2-0; we went to Pattaya and won 3-1; then we play a smaller team (Samut Songkhram) and we think it is going to be easy, but we only draw. So I say to the players, look, when we play a smaller team we relax too much, but when we play a bigger team we work hard and we fight. So we need to go into every game thinking we are the smaller team. And that is how we beat Chiang Rai. It is all psychological. It’s like David & Goliath. When we are David, we do our best, we run, we fight. When we are Goliath, I don’t know why, we cannot do anything.

Ambitions for 2017

Coming from T2, the first thing is not to go back to T2. That is the most important, we cannot do that. We start good, we are improving, but we are still thinking about getting enough points to avoid the bottom three. If we can continue to win or draw games, we can go higher, maybe 5, 6, 7, then next year think about winning or getting to the Champions League. But we are still thinking about the bottom 3. But like Leicester last season, maybe we start by avoiding relegation, but then we win win win, so why not?

Rod Pellegrino

He’s good, he’s Brazilian so I can speak to him easily. He’s very serious when we’re training. Normally he smiles, he’s funny, but when we start training (pulls scary face)…Sometimes football players like to mess around, relax a bit, but he wants us to try our best and improve every day so we can play our best. This is good but sometimes…in the morning…we don’t always like it!

Goalkeepers

I’ve never seen this at any club. We have 3 good keepers. Last season I played against Weera and he was really good, and I thought yeah, this guy will be good for us. But the first game it was Rattanai, and I thought he was too young, but he was fantastic, he saved everything! So then he went away to the U23 and we had Worawut, and Maranhao said to me watch this guy, he is amazing, and he was great too! So goalkeepers, it’s not something I have to worry about.

Songs

(Tim & Dom sing him the Genki Nagasato song)

Hahaha! That is great. I don’t have a song yet. In Japan the fans had a song for me, Josi B Goode, like Johnny B Goode, you know – “Go! Go Josi go go go!” (plays recording of Japanese fans on his phone) so maybe you sing that!

 


 

Thanks to Josimar for giving up 2 hours on his morning off to talk to us, and we wish him luck for the rest of the season!

 

Interview by Tim Russell, Tom Earls & Dominick Cartwright. Additional questions from Nig Dammusig. Photos by Tim Russell. Thanks to The Sportsman for hosting us.

 

Breaking Glass: Port FC vs. Bangkok Glass, 19 April 2017

 

Port will aim to continue their unbeaten run at home when they entertain Bangkok Glass on Wednesday. With Port flying high after a hard-fought draw with Buriram, a solid win against Ubon and then last week’s astonishing away victory at table-topping Chiang Rai, Port Coach Jadet will likely be trying to manage expectations both from his players and the fans. In-form striker Josimar told The Sandpit (interview coming later in the week!) that he and his teammates thrive when they are the David to their opponent’s Goliath, so despite the positive results and the surprising points total, expect a battling underdog’s performance from Port. It’s worked pretty well in the last few games, so let’s hope for more of the same!

 

Bangkok Glass

Players to Watch

 

There are only a handful of defenders as good as Port captain Rochela (22) in T1, and one of them is 34 year old Bangkok Glass captain Matt Smith (4). He’s strong, good in the air, reads the game well and never shuts up. Constantly organizing his back four and driving his team on, Smith is an invaluable asset to the Glass Rabbits. In what is set to be a key match-up, he will be tasked with keeping Josimar (30) quiet on Wednesday. With Josimar having scored 2 in this last 2 outings, Smith will need to use all of his experience to stop the Brazilian.

Ariel Rodriguez (7) is a speedy forward who has scored 22 goals in 31 games since signing for Glass in 2016. The diminutive forward won’t be winning much in the air, but his darting runs in behind will stretch the Port defence, who will have to be constantly vigilant in order to keep track of him. Ominously, the Costa Rican international has 4 goals to his name already this season. Port will have to be on top of their game to contain him.

Sarawut Masuk (14) may have been preferred to Jakkapan Pornsai (10) lately in Thai National Team squads, but I think Jakkapan is an absolute nightmare to deal with when he’s on his game. When he played for Suphanburi in 2015 he scored 13 goals and provided 14 assists, putting him in the TPL team of the season. He possesses a cultured right foot and has the ability to pass, cross or shoot with real quality from anywhere in the final third. Think of him as the opposition’s Pakorn, only a bit more consistent!

 

Matt Smith, Ariel Rodriguez and Jakkapan Pornsai

 

Form

The Glass Rabbits have been hopping all over the place so far this season as far as their form is concerned. A crushing 0-4 home defeat against Muangthong on the opening day of the season was followed up by a disappointing 0-0 away draw at Super Power, who picked up their only point so far this season against Glass. Glass finally got off the mark at home in their third game, and made up for lost time by putting 6 past an admittedly awful Sisaket side. Impressive 3-2 home wins against Ratchaburi and Bangkok Utd sandwiched a 1-1 way draw at Suphanburi, after which Glass claimed an incredible third 3-2 win in four games to take all three points away at Navy. Just as they looked to be building up a head of steam at Leo Stadium, Glass suffered probably their worst result of the season so far, slumping to a 0-1 defeat at home to Thai Honda last week.

All I can say about Glass’ form is that it’s unpredictable! They’re unbeaten away from home, although they have played three teams in the bottom half, and they’ve had a huge win, a huge loss and a few dramatic 3-2s at home. Compared to the legitimately scary mob from up North who Port turned over last week, there’s certainly less to fear from Glass, although they are still a quality side who will be expected to be in the top 5 or 6 come the business end of the season.

 

Port FC

Starting XI – Getting Predictable

 

Jadet seems to have found a formula he likes, and the Port lineups are getting quite a bit easier to predict!

In goal will be Worawut (36) who – if he keeps up the heroic penalty-saving goalkeeping performances – could well make it difficult for Rattanai (17) to come back in to the team once he returns to fitness. A nice problem to have!

At the back there could well be a change, but only because of injury concerns. Panpanpong (19) picked up a knock and had to be substituted after the poor challenge that gifted Chiang Rai the penalty last week, and Jadet chose to bring on Meechok (20) at right back, shifting Nitipong (34) over to the left. If Panpanpong is fit I expect him to start, but if not then we will probably see Meechok and Nitipong again.

Rochela (22) and Dolah (4) seem set to continue at the back, although if Todsapol (6) has returned to full fitness, he could well be preferred to Dolah. Against a team who likes to play the ball on the floor and utilize the pace and trickery of Rodriguez up front, it may be wise to choose pace over power, but again it all depends on Todsapol’s fitness.

Midfield and attack now look to be very settled. After I called for Pakorn (9) to either be given a good talking to or dropped last week, he stepped up and won our Man of the Match award for a vastly improved display against Chiang Rai. It seems almost certain that Genki (18), Adisorn (13), Siwakorn (16), and Suarez (5) will join him in midfield, with a confident Josimar (30) leading the line after scoring twice in his last two games.

 

Predicted Lineup

 

 

Key Battle

Josimar vs. Matt Smith

 

 

I expect a lot of important duels to be going on all over the pitch between two quite well-matched sides, but the most intriguing one for me is Josimar vs. Smith. At 34 years old Smith, despite his experience, isn’t at the peak of his powers, whereas in-form Josimar looks like a real handful. Can Josimar make it three goal-scoring games in a row or will Smith keep the Brazilian under wraps?

 

The match will be shown live on True Sport HD 3 at 18:00 on Wednesday 19 April, 2017

 

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A Hard Day’s Night for the Beetles: Chiang Rai Utd 1-3 Port FC

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in” – Robert Frost
 
Away, with words.

 

An away day is a very singular experience. Fanatics, diehards and extremists peel out from the fabric of society and make their way inexorably to a football stadium hundreds of kilometres from home. They go in pairs, they go in packs and they go it alone, ultimately converging where they need to be. They need this. For some reason they need to be here. Like the plot of some piss-poor espionage novel our protagonists emerge from planes, boats, bikes, bathrooms and bad marriages for one more mission. All Clark Kent like, they proceed to remove outer layers revealing their true colours underneath. Blue and Orange. Guerillas in the midst of Thai football. And so it was yesterday in Chiang Rai.
 
The hundred or so away fans who made the 1000 km trip up were not expecting much. If much is defined purely by a scoreline on the pitch. “We never win away”. Indeed. So why then come to watch? Watch league leaders curve a cross into the penalty area, right in front of you, in their shiny stadium, in the fifteenth minute, into the path of the unmarked Brazilian Azevedo, into the back of the bloody net. Car crash reality. The most likely thing had occurred. And yet we watched on, hoping to defy reality. A controversial penalty decision followed in favour of the league leading leaders. We felt far away from home. And then a most unlikely thing happened. Worawut correctly predicted the penalty going to his bottom right corner and pushed it onto the post and out towards the jubilant gone awray fans in the noisy corner. “Justice” burst loose. Is this what they came for?
 
The faraway journey into the surreal continued as Genki managed to beat the keeper with a mere two attempts. Surely this was what they came for? The away fanatic astride the fence in the Spiderman costume beckoned the noisy corner into a singular voice. They answered. The game was now carried along with the excitement that only comes with unpredictability.
 
Suarez made it 2-1 to Port in the 43rd minute with a cool finish from a well taken position and all bets were off. The dark night had come down over Chiang Rai and their Orange Knight stayed firmly seated.
 
Being away from somewhere denotes you have a home. Being home means there exists somewhere away. You cannot define one without the other. Ultimately you must define both.
 
Even the moths were watching in their thousands under floodlights as the second half kicked off. The game continued to be extraordinary for its lack of a dominant team. Worawut proved his worth with a number of saves belying his second choice status at Port. You make your own luck.
 
From here on in it seemed the result was always in doubt until a breakaway move in the 78th minute. It gave Pakorn the chance to deftly dance around the last defender and then audaciously, (my kindest adverb here), take on the long odds through the keepers legs. It was a night where the odds behaved oddly and it oddly worked out. Josimar doubled down with inches to spare. The safest bet of the night.
 
Is this why they go away? For victories? For the sum total of sweet success surpassing the sum total of sour failure? Of course not. It just doesn’t add up. They go away because it distills down what they value into shouts, jokes, grins and grimaces. A chance for reality to manifest itself right in front of you. When this is why you go, you always win away.
 
 

Tim’s Man of the Match: Pakorn

As one would expect from such an impressive result there was a host of MOTM contenders. Genki ran himself into the ground as usual and contributed a goal and an assist; Suarez also had a goal and assist in his best performance for the club so far; Worawut ably deputised for the injured Rattanai with an impressive performance including THAT penalty save; and Rochela was, well, Rochela.

 

But for me, the oft-maligned Pakorn gets the nod this week, thanks to a performance that saw the tricky no9 at his very best and running Chiang Rai’s defenders ragged. He’s very much a confidence player and when he’s not in the mood – see last week’s game vs Ubon – he’s infuriating. But when he’s up for it he’s unstoppable, and Chiang Rai just couldn’t handle him. His performance should’ve been rewarded with a goal in the 78th minute but Josimar somewhat cheekily claimed it (though he may justifiably argue that, if he hadn’t, the last defender might’ve cleared it so we’ll let him off); but even so, it was the mercurial winger’s best performance of the season and it was his skill and invention that proved the difference between the teams.

 

 

 

Ticket to Rai – Port Head North to Face Beetles: Chiang Rai vs. Port FC, 9 April 2017

 

Port travel to Chiang Rai on the back of two clean sheets and fantastic performances against Buriram and Ubon. It really seems as if Port can compete with the very best in the league at PAT Stadium, but unfortunately the same can’t be said when they travel. Port have only played twice away from home in 2017, deservedly losing 6-2 against Bangkok Utd and 5-1 at Thai Honda. If Port are to hold on to their place in the top half of the table, they will need to stop the rot away from home. Unbeaten Chiang Rai would be a good place to start!

Chiang Rai

Players to Watch

 

I’ve never quite believed the hype about the ‘Thai Busquets’ Tanaboon Kesarat (17), but the fact is that he is a national team regular and the highest paid Thai player in the league. Reportedly earning an eye-watering B700,000 a month after being signed from Muangthong, Tanaboon plays at defensive midfield for Chiang Rai, although he has been used almost exclusively as a centre back for Thailand. Personally, I have always thought that he is too weak to be a centre half and not skillful enough to play in midfield, but the majority of the Thai football community seems to disagree with me, so… Yeah, I guess he must be pretty decent.

Thitipan Puangchan (8) is another former Muangthong player who has thrived at Chiang Rai. Often picked as captain of what is thought of as the golden generation of Thai players at under 23 level, Thitipan’s career stalled at Muangthong where he couldn’t find his way in to the First XI regularly. He has had a new lease of life at Chiang Rai though, where he has started to fulfil his early promise as a box-to-box midfielder who offers something going forwards and defending. He even scored a hattrick against Super Power on the opening week of the season.

The Brazilians. It must be said I don’t know much about this lot, but they look pretty damn good. Rafael Coelho (9) is joint top scorer in the league with 6 goals, and with 2 of Vander Souza (10), Felipe Azevedo (11) and dual-nationality Brazilian-Australian Henrique Silva (15) contributing to the attack, the Port defence will have plenty to think about. Then at the back there is Everton Saturnino (28) who seems fairly solid alongside Thai national team player Prathum Chuthong (5), although if Chiang Rai do have a weakness, it is likely to be in defence.

 

Tanaboon (17), Thitipan (8) and Rafael Coelho (9)

 

Form

19 points from a possible 21 with a +15 goal difference tells you all you need to know! Chiang Rai have been on fire so far in 2017, with their only draw coming away at Ratchaburi. They were very fortunate to come away with a win at Navy before the international break – going two goals down and scoring three (all from set-pieces) in the second half – but bounced back with a comfortable 3-0 win away at Thai Honda last week. I’m trying my hardest to be positive here, but with their home form flawless, and our away form what it is, you would have to be pretty mental to predict a Port win here!

Port FC

Starting XI – Dropping the Dead Wood

 

Things have changed a lot with regards to Port’s best XI since the beginning of the season.

Our excellent young goalkeeper Rattanai (17) has picked up a serious injury on international duty and is expected to be out of action for a month and a half. Whilst in normal circumstances this would not be a big problem as second choice Worawut (36) would step in and get a run in the team, there are reports that Worawut himself may have picked up a knock and is now doubtful for Saturday’s game. Whilst most Port fans would be quite happy to see Worawut between the sticks – particularly after his encouraging (if slightly too punchy) performance against Ubon – third choice ‘keeper Weera (1) is a walking disaster. He showed a staggering level of ineptitude in his only appearance of the season, and quite frankly I wouldn’t trust him to clean Rattanai’s boots without dropping them, let alone keep goal for the First XI. Please be fit, Worawut. Please!

In defence, Dolah (4) – despite a couple of quality performances – has not adapted to T1 as quickly as we might have hoped, meaning that Todsapol (6) could well come in to the starting XI when fit. However, as Todsapol did not even make the bench at Ubon, it seems likely that Dolah will continue to partner captain Rochela (22) against Chiang Rai. After excellent performances against Navy and Ubon, Dolah needs to keep up the good form if he is going to keep his place.

Panpanpong (19) has been looking more and more a T1 left back with every passing game, proving to those who didn’t think he would make the grade at Port that he is indeed a player who can attack as well as defend. As one of his pre-season doubters, I’m happy to be proven wrong!

Nitipong (34) has been a revelation at right back, usurping the younger Meechok (20) with some fabulous displays. A goal and two assists for a right back is quite something after just 7 games, although he has also picked up 3 yellow cards, which points to the fact that he can struggle defensively against the better teams in the league.

Defensive midfield has been the most contentious spot in the team, and to my surprise erstwhile utility man Adisorn (13) has come in and really put a claim on the spot. His displays against Buriram and Ubon have been top-notch, exhibiting an exemplary work rate and tenacious tackling. As an advocate for the ridiculously under-used Tatchanon (39) in midfield, I still believe the youngster is the right man in the long term, although I will no longer feel worried seeing Adisorn’s name on the team sheet. As long as he’s playing well, the spot should be his.

Adisorn will of course partner The Sandpit’s Player of the Month for March Siwakorn (16), whose place in the side is as assured as his consistent performances. Suarez (5) will very likely continue in attacking midfield, despite arguably failing to live up to the promise he showed in pre-season. I believe improved performances from the skillful Spaniard will come, as he undoubtedly has the ability to thrive in T1.

Up top, Josimar (30) still divides opinion despite getting off the mark by scoring the winner against Ubon. Personally, I think the Brazilian brings a lot to the team with his aerial challenges and his hold-up play, and if the goals continue to come now that Josimar has got the ball rolling, he could be the striker Port have been after for years.

After two seriously lackluster performances in the last two home games, Port’s weakest link at the moment has to be right-winger Pakorn (9). With the ability he has we should never be talking about dropping Pakorn, but if he doesn’t step up and put in 100% every week, something has to be done. The rest of the team can’t prop up lazy players in T1, so unless Pakorn can carry his own weight the bench should be doing it for him. Against top of the table Chiang Rai, I would play Nitipong (34) in his more natural position at right wing, and bring Meechok (20) in at right back, with Suarez (5) taking over set-piece duties. Whether or not this is the best permanent solution, it will serve as a wake-up call for Pakorn. Go hard or go home!

At left wing once again will be Pakorn’s polar opposite. Genki (18) works as hard as any player in the league, and when he was replaced by Tana (99) on Monday, Port really missed their Japanese terrier. Whilst Tana is always a goal threat, he belongs at centre forward not out on the left wing where he is too far away to utilize his goal-poaching prowess. Genki does an important job for the team, and in one of Port’s toughest away fixtures of the season his hard work will be more important than ever.

 

Predicted Lineup

 

 

Key Battle

Rochela vs. Rafael Coelho

 

 

 

With 6 goals to his name in 2017, Rafael is going to take some stopping. Fortunately, Port have El Capitan David Rochela at the back. If anyone can keep the Brazilian and his teammates shackled, it’s Rochela. Lest you doubt the raw ability of either player, Rafael has represented Brazil at under 18 level, whilst Rochela was an under 17 World Cup runner up with Spain. Let battle commence!

 

The match will be shown live on True Sports 6 at 18:00 on Sunday 9 April, 2017.