Today’s Bangkok Post features an excellent article on the stop-start nature of the 2017 T1 season. Following a 3-week break in June so the Thai national team could play a pointless friendly in Uzbekistan, followed by a World Cup dead rubber against UAE, the season resumed last Saturday…for 3 weeks. During which time Port will play 7 games. Then – are you following this? – there’s another 3-week break whilst Muangthong – oops I meant the Thai national team – take on the might of Belarus, North Korea & Burkina Faso in the King’s Cup tournament (rumours that next year’s tournament will feature Saudi Arabia, the Death Star and the Planet Mongo have yet to be confirmed). The season then resumes again on 30 July for 2 games, followed by an absurd 5-week break for two more World Cup dead rubbers. Effectively this means Port will have 1 home league game – vs Chiang Rai on 30 July – in 10 weeks, during what should be the middle of the season. Somehow, some way, the FA also have to squeeze in FA and League Cup games during the brief periods of footballing activity.
We’re told that the reason for all these breaks is to benefit the national team, as if helping the national team is the sole purpose of the Thai League. So to help a Thailand team composed of players drawn mainly from 3-4 clubs, the rest of the league have to sit around twiddling their thumbs for weeks on end, whilst players lose match fitness, teams lose momentum, and, most importantly, fans lose interest. The crowd at Suphanburi last Saturday for the first game of the 2nd leg of the season was surprisingly sparse, as was the crowd at high-flying Chonburi a few weeks ago, but with such a badly organised schedule, is it really any wonder?
As for the theory that these breaks benefit the national team, Thailand’s position in their World Cup qualifying group doesn’t exactly bear this out, and successful teams like Germany and Spain have done alright in recent years without asking their entire league to shut down for several weeks to give them more prep time for internationals. Not that I give a toss about the national team anyway, given that the racist ticketing policy means that, as a farang, I’m not allowed to buy tickets. But I do care – hard though it often is – about watching Port.
Additionally, think of the clubs’ cashflow. Is it reasonable to expect clubs to go 3 weeks, followed by another 5 weeks, without any gate receipts, during which time they still have to pay their players’ wages in full whilst those same players don’t play a single second of football? Fine for the richer clubs, but a big deal to the smaller ones.
In the next couple of years, the problem is likely to get worse rather than better, with the top division being reduced to 16 teams by the 2019 season, to enable the national team to have even more preparation time. That means even fewer games for fans, and less revenue for the clubs. Factor in the tighter foreign player limit in 2018, and you have a product even less attractive than it is now.
So as we fans find other ways to spend our weekends whilst the league takes a break so that Burkina Faso can take on Belarus, the Thai FA shouldn’t be too surprised if some of us decide not to bother coming back. Seriously, Thai fans – especially the passionately loyal ones at Port – deserve a lot, lot better.