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!
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!
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.
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!