“There are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics” (origin unknown, attributed to many).
This particular statistic, 0-0, does, indeed, not lie. A more depressing, turgid exhibition of vacuous nothingness it would be hard to find outside of a Jose Mourinho press conference.
At least, for most of us, it had been a welcome chance to visit a new ground. The stadium, built for the late King’s 80th birthday anniversary, was completed in 2007 and, along with the surrounding sports complex, was used to host the South-East Asian Games that same year. Situated just outside the main city, it has a fairly pleasant aspect, impressive floodlights and the inevitable running track, although the elevated view, for one of at least eagle vision, is not a significant drawback.
On a quiet Sunday though there was little gastronomic fare to appease the appetites of the decent away crowd. I did manage to pick up a reasonably acceptable Pork laap with rice, only to find that my fellow farang travellers were munching on pop-corn on the stadium steps. Popcorn?! Popcorn?! FFS lads – this is a football match, not a bleeding Pixar movie! Hang your collective heads in Bovril soaked shame. Just try asking for a bag at Wigan Athletic!
Once inside the mostly uncovered, all-seater ground, with an official capacity of 24,641, we were disappointed to see the sparse home crowd dotted like a scatter graph of rainfall in the Sahara Desert. This is a club who, only a few years ago, were one of the best and most passionately supported clubs in the country, boasting the highest ever home attendance in the Premier League when they hosted Buriram in July 2015. The crowd that day was a rib-breaking 34,689 (official capacity 24,641). More on this and other Thai grounds in the Sandpit next month.
As implied, the view was unimpaired and the pattern of play fairly easy to follow, even if, with my gradually deteriorating eyesight, individual players could not. I can confidently say that both teams started with eleven men; one lot were dressed in black shirts (who must have been Port because I was wearing one as well) and the other in orange. Some Port players were instantly recognizable by their size and stature: Dolah is tall and Tana is not; Siwakorn is skinny but talented whilst Pakorn…
The numbers on their backs also gave somewhat of a clue, their linear form being just discernibly visible from a distance of 150 metres, and provoked memories from days ill-spent in local Bingo halls: Piyachat 88 (two fat ladies); Rochela 22 (two little ducks) were the most distinctive, while Josimar 30 (Burlington Bertie), quickly established his particular identity with a couple of ballooned shots over the bar.
At one time we had, so I believed, an assortment of players whose names ended in Pong. What we would have given for one of our ill-directed shots to have Pinged off a Pong and into the net. Not only would it have had a certain rhythmic assonance, but the victory that would have surely ensued would have lightened up the four hour journey home. I’m not quite sure what the real collective name is for a group of Pongs – probably a ‘Putridity’ given their overall performance.
The journey up had had its moments of light relief. John had cunningly adapted Dominic’s legendary Chiang Rai ditty, ‘A win away, a win away’, adding a few words of his own and proceeded to sing it in a voice suggestive of John Denver on nitrous oxide. Linny had tried to drag us out of the culinary gutter (I had started the day with a full English) by diverting the bus to a posh restaurant and winery on the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park. Whilst nobody had a ‘Sideways’ moment and swigged down a whole bottle of Pinot Noir, it did add a certain touch of class to the journey, although, back where I come from, the only wine regularly enjoyed by the locals has an ‘h’ in it. The restaurant certainly seemed to be encouraging a bit of drunkenness; even the menu was leathered.
Oh, before I forget, there was a football match. I knew we had gone there for something. However, there were really few incidents of note to report. The Port Lions started promisingly, getting their claws into the Swat Cats, who seemed to be suffering from a night on the tiles, but the home team gradually started feline their way into the game, slinging in a few airballs to test Worawut’s (36) handling and the pattern of play was set. Port scratched around for a few chances without finding the purrfect rhythm to upset their hosts.
At times, Port played the ball neatly out to the wings, only to cross it into the nearest defender, the stand (no mean feat), the long jump pit or a stray popcorn bag. There were a few goalmouth scrambles at both ends, Tana (99) missed another 6 yarder, Worawut dropped the ball with alarming regularity and Siwakorn (16) collected his obligatory yellow card, thereby, once again, curbing his enthusiasm for decisive tackling later on. No-one loves Siwakorn more as a player than me (or Keith) but his recklessness is damaging not only to him but the team. Most of his tackles are in the opponent’s half where any danger is minimal. Personally, I would haul him off after the next inevitable yellow as a warning – he is not a teenager any more.
Genki (18) ‘ran abaht a bit’, Tana and Pakorn (9) didn’t; Josimar (30) looked like he was running through treacle (although to be fair, the playing surface was sodden and challenging, to say the least); only Dolah (4) and Captain Fantastic (22) came out with any real credit – Dolah, my MOM.
I think the whole game was summed up when the Swat Cat right back sent the ball ballooning towards the corner flag to his right with an attempted cross to the left. One didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Did we have a great time, though? Yes, we bloody well did! See you all in Sisaket!