“The shark does not love. It feels no empathy. It trusts nothing. It lives in perfect harmony with its environment because it has no aspirations or desires. And no pity. A shark feels no sorrow, no remorse, hopes for nothing, dreams of nothing, has no illusions about itself or anything beyond itself.” (Rick Yancey)
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat. I mean van”. So we told Keith when upwards of 15 people signed up for the Sandpit’s Wednesday shark hunt to Chonburi. Eventually 12 of us – still a good turnout for a Wednesday evening game outside Bangkok – arrive at Pattana decked in the blue & orange, and board the buses for a short and fairly uneventful hop down the coast, which Strunk fails to enliven by playing Supertramp on his phone.
On arrival at the stadium, our first task is to get hold of tickets. Remarkably (actually, not remarkably at all – this is Thai football) despite the presence of only 30-odd Port fans, they’ve already run out of away tickets and we have to wait whilst someone runs off to fetch more. Who would’ve thought that Port fans might turn up to an away game AND have the temerity to actually go in and watch the game eh?
Tickets duly purchased, beer & food are next on the agenda (for some of us – both Keith and myself are untypically on the wagon), and whilst the former is easy to locate, finding some decent nosh other than rather chewy battered quail eggs proves more difficult. But eventually we find a Muslim lady who is selling fried chicken of such extraordinary succulence it’s almost enough to make me grab the nearest Koran, work out the direction of Mecca, and drop to my knees shouting “ALLAHU AKBAR”. An early leader in the 2017 Sandpit T1 Football Ground Food Awards.
Fed & watered, we make our way into the stadium to find that, for a club of Chonburi’s stature, it’s surprisingly shit – the usual Thai running track affair with decent stands on either side and the away fans shoved behind one of the goals, with the Hubble Telescope required to be able to get a decent view of the pitch. Note to the Thai FA – if clubs will persist in playing in stadiums not designed for football, make it a legal requirement that the away fans get an area on the side of the pitch rather than behind the goal, especially if you’re charging 200BHT a ticket.
Anyway rant over, and it’s time for kickoff…
With Rochela & Tana suspended, Anisong (15), aka John Denver (“Annie’s Song” – thanks Dom) and Genki (18) come into the team; otherwise it’s the same lineup who pulled out their truncheons and gave Police six of the best, trousers down on Sunday night.
Port, as is their habit these days, kick off at a furious pace and dominate the first 20 minutes or so, with Dolah (4), Suarez (5) and Genki all spurning good opportunities to take the lead. On 21 minutes the ball falls to Suarez – who otherwise had a bit of a stinker – on the halfway line, and seeing Chonburi’s keeper off his line, he attempts an outrageous lob which just clears the crossbar. Had it gone in, we would’ve handed out the Sandpit Goal of the Season award there & then.
Unfortunately Port can’t make their pressure tell and are punished on 23 minutes when John Denver clumsily challenges a Chonburi player in the area and concedes yet another Port penalty, though in his defence it was a challenge that had to be made. Up steps Chonburi’s SFS Renan Marques who buries the penalty to give the Sharks a somewhat undeserved – at this stage – lead.
The large Port following continue to sing, as we did throughout the entire game, regardless, and our loyalty is rewarded on the half hour mark when Genki beautifully chips the ball over a defender Gazza-style and then sidefoots the ball to Suarez, and just when you’re thinking it’s a bad pass, in comes Pakorn (9) to smash it into the Chonburi net, sparking ecstatic scenes in the away end.
Chonburi spend the remaining 15 minutes of the half laying siege to the Port goal but thanks to some solid defending from the increasingly impressive Dolah and the solid John Denver, the score remains 1-1 at half time.
The second half begins in comedy fashion with the first tumble of the night, as Mike Strunk (to be known henceforth as Mike’s Drunk) gets into an argument with a carelessly placed megaphone. The megaphone, not having spent the previous four hours knocking back cans of Leo, predictably wins, and the big American ends up sprawling over two rows of seats. One of my Sandpit colleagues will later top this by falling into a pond, but more on that later.
On 47 minutes Suarez sends Pakorn free down the right but as he so often does, the mercurial winger sends his shot into row Z, should such a thing exist in the Chonburi home end. From that point it becomes increasingly clear that Jadet, on his old stomping ground, has told his players that a draw will suffice, and Port sit back and do their best to soak up wave after wave of Shark attacks. Dolah and Adisorn (13) are on particularly fine and defiant form, throwing themselves into blocks and tackles with gusto, whilst keeper Worawut (36) even manages to catch a few crosses rather than punching them.
On the hour mark a notable event occurs, as John Denver leaves (not on a jet plane, but with Rochela’s suspension over, we don’t know when he’ll be back again. But we’re happy to tell him that, whilst we’ll smile at him, and wait for him, no way are we kissing him) to be replaced by young Niran Hansson (33), at last making his Port debut alongside fellow Thai-Swede Dolah in the heart of the Port defence. Niran puts in a good solid half hour and looks well at home, and certainly helps his cause.
Despite their negative approach, on 78 minutes it looks briefly as if Port have snatched a possible winner. Pakorn crosses into the box, Josimar (30) nods it goalwards, and Genki turns it into the back of the net, only for the linesman – erroneously, as video will later show – to flag for either offside or a foul on the keeper. And 11 minutes later the inevitable happens as Port are punished for their lack of ambition. Chonburi swing a free kick into the box, Worawut comes out waving to his mother, as Big Ron once so memorably put it, a Chonburi boot sends it back goalwards and Pinkong manages to block it, but the ball loops into the air and unfortunately lands on the head of sexy MF Prince who bundles it into the Port net and then parties like it’s 1999.
Port have one more opportunity in the 93rd minute when Suarez find Josimar on the edge of the Chonburi area, but under pressure from a defender the big Brazilian’s shot flies over the bar, to the despair of the Port fans (and Josi’s army of tech-savvy fans in Brazil) and to the relief of the pitifully small home crowd.
2-1 it finishes then, and given Port’s lack of adventure in the second half, it’s probably no more than we deserved. Chonburi had clearly done their homework on Port and realised that, if you stifle the midfield engine room of Siwakorn, Adisorn and Suarez, you stop Port doing what they’ve done to so many top half teams this season. The midfield battle was often brutal and attritional but always compelling, and unfortunately Chonburi won it and thus the game, with Josimar starved of service.
But hey, you can’t win ’em all and Port will play worse than this and win before the season is over. With the team lying 7th in the table, and with 4 of our remaining 5 games before the break against teams in the bottom 6, things are still looking bright for Jadet’s men. Time to forget this defeat, move on, and take it out on Pattaya on Saturday. Dolphins are, after all, gentler creatures than sharks.
As for we Sandpitters, after the game we split into two groups, with the sober, mature, responsible members of the group taking the early bus home, where we discuss such varied and pertinent issues as midfield formations, the Thai education system and urban poverty in Khlong Thoey; whilst the alcoholic degenerates hang around the stadium consuming the Devil’s brew and, in my esteemed colleague Dominick Cartwright’s case, apparently falling into ponds. Unfortunately, as Arsene Wenger would put it, I did not see ze incident.
Man of the Match – Elias Dolah
MOTM performances were pretty thin on the ground tonight, with the usual contenders – Siwakorn, Suarez, Josi – well marshalled by an organised Chonburi side, and keeper Worawut having a Weera Duckworth moment for the second Chonburi goal.
But in the absence of David Rochela, young Dolah stepped up and put in another energetic, inspirational and defiant performance, showing just how he’s grown in stature and confidence since his nervy early performances for Port. If he continues playing like this, Port will have arguably the best centre-back pairing in T1 and future Rochela absences will not be quite as feared.
Photos by Tim & Linny Russell. Big thanks as ever to Keith Wright for organising the vans, and to the Chonburi fans, thin on the ground though they were, for a warm welcome.