I have followed Thai football on a regular basis since 2010, and I have always struggled with Thai names, making my ability to comment in football conversations on different players I have seen rather troublesome. This often results in me sounding like a first time attendee by describing a player with such uninformed-sounding, cumbersome descriptions as the lanky No 4 or the squat spiteful No 27. It’s like I hear the names, and then within seconds they are gone from my mind never to be recalled again, without maybe the extensive use of intrusive hypnotherapy, and no one wants to have fiddle with opening that bag of sick. So to try and solve my brain-fart attempts at remembering players; I have kept a record of all the games I have attended and noted down the players’ names, in an attempt to remember them, in the hope that by writing them they remain rooted in my psyche. So they can be effortlessly recalled in a conversation with a fellow fan about that centre forward Chiang Rai had in the 2013 season. Sadly it hasn’t worked quite as well as I hoped if I’m honest.
So, when in 2011 it was revealed that a company (ironically I can’t remember their name) was going to make every true train-spotter-esque football fan ecstatically happy by selling official Thai Premier League Football stickers (YESSSSSSS!) the dream had come true. I was sure it would be just like collecting stickers as a kid in the 1980s. (My first was the 84-5 season, seeing that cover to the album still almost makes me want to cry; could be Mark Falco and Kevin Moran on the front). So the possibility of collecting stickers for Thai football was exciting in the extreme. To recapture that pure, unadulterated joy and anticipation of opening a pack of stickers to see what awaited inside. This has probably never been matched by any experience I have had in adulthood so far. To feel again the tingle down your spine as you gently ease the stickers from foiled prison to release their mesmerizing magic on the world. Waiting on tenterhooks to see if you could utter that long desired word of; “need” or if instead you would experience that punch to the gut feeling of having to painfully mouth the word; “got” to yourself. That’s the very definition of pleasure.
Back to 2011, the price was hardly prohibitive, clearly designed for the budget of Thai schoolkids. 9 Baht for a pack of 5 stickers, 45 Baht for the album and the staggeringly generous gift of three packs and a sheet of 6 stickers to get you started. It meant that I, being a grown man with a now relatively decent standard of income, could justify such an expense to anyone quizzing me as to why I felt that these stickers weren’t a waste of money. I could, if I felt really flash (and if I’m honest I did once or twice), buy a whole box of packs of stickers, at the princely sum of 900 baht. Has there ever been a purer way of blowing nearly a grand ever invented? I can’t think of one.
This brings me back to the stickers themselves. During my time collecting them, I obviously really wanted to complete the Thai Port team first, of course, and I didn’t mind getting Port players as swaps as I could childishly stick them places to decorate drabs spaces of nothingness. But other swaps were more annoying. Most soul shreddingly annoying were two players in particular; Therdsak Chaiman and Narit Taweekul who I really, really grew to hate. I seemed to get a ridiculously disproportioned number of swaps of these two players. Therdsak was a Thai international and Chonburi midfield maestro but (not meaning to be unfair) had a rather rabbit-toothed baldie face, which seemed capable of provoking such anger within me it scared me a touch. Narit was a goalkeeper for Pattaya United (since moved to Glass) whose face unfortunately made me think of (and again not wanting to be disrespectful) a small time criminal specializing in stealing motorcycles. I sure he is a lovely man but the regularity with which I saw his little face peeping out the pack, only created negative connotations with him. There were many other players I saw more often than I really wanted to but these two poor men were the unreasonable target of my uncontrolled ire.
The other issue with swaps was being a 34 year old foreign man who collected (basically) Thai children’s stickers; it was hard to find people to swap my doubles, trebles, and quadruples with. There were the other Thai Port fans who were also as addicted as me like meth-heads to the stickers but it seemed a shallow pool in which to trade with. Finding students at the school I taught in was slim pickings as most of my students (being unnaturally spoilt) had little interest in Thai football and kind of looked mockingly at me when I mentioned it – this was 2011 and 2012, times have changed. Maybe. Also hanging around groups of kids offering stickers is not necessarily a wise move these days. There was talk amongst the meth-heads of websites and swapping communities on-line but it all seemed out of spirit with the innocent childish sticker collecting experience. I did complete both years’ albums (too much pride I’ll admit) but I did have to use that alluring (but to some impure) form at the back of every sticker album that allows you to send off for any missing stickers you may need when you get to within 25 or so missing stickers. I realize to chagrin of some that is cheating, but I have a beautifully competed “The Starry Night”-esque album and they have a slightly uncompleted “Girl with a Pearl Earring”-esque album, so with all that time, money and energy having been spent, at the end of the day who was the real winner?
Possibly, you are concluding: none of us!