Sharks Circle Hapless Zico: Port FC vs. Chonburi FC, 20 September 2017

 

Well what a season this has been and it has led to me being disillusioned and disinterested in Thai football for the first time in six years since my first trip to the PAT. The constant stop-start bullshit to facilitate the national team is doing my head in. We don’t even have any players in the national team! The King’s Cup? Do me a favour! Milovan Rajevac, the national team coach, is even dismayed and said “It does not happen or would not happen in any other league in the world” His words not mine: we live in the same condominium.

As for our form, it is nothing short of shocking, although I predict a win on Wednesday, which will save Zico’s job if you listen to the media and the fan groups. One win in nine? Poor Frank De Boer would have been delighted with this display of patience. I didn’t get to the Police Tero game, but read a lot of opinion from my Sandpit colleagues and social media, and the general consensus was really negative even amongst the most optimistic Port fans I know.

Paddy Power, the well-known Irish bookmaker, has us at 6/5 to beat Chonburi, who by the standards set last year are not living up to expectations although they outclassed us on our last duel.

They have in their squad an old friend of ours, Thiago Cunha! Since he left us he has turned his attentions to starting street brawls that Belfast city centre would be proud of on a Saturday night, only he likes to have them on the pitch. Whilst playing for Mumbai United against Atletico Kolkata in the Indian Super League semi-final he kicked a player up the arse and proceeded to break the Indian half marathon record whilst getting chased around the pitch by Atletico players and officials. Click here, you won’t regret it. Then he returned to Thailand to his old club Chonburi and as they say about old leopards… again our friend got himself in an old altercation, although this time he got properly dealt with and ended up looking like a butcher’s apron, this time at the hands of a Ratchaburi steward.

Definitely not a game to miss for sure, and hopefully we can turn our recent form around and register a much-needed confidence-boosting victory.

 

Tom’s Players to Watch

 

Remember that little guy who turned Port’s defenders inside out when Sukhothai came to town a couple of weeks ago? Well, John Baggio hasn’t morphed from a Fire Bat in to a Shark, but a very similar player – 2 inches taller in fact, at an imposing 5”4 – Nurul Sriyankem (31) will likely be giving Port’s fullbacks another serious examination on Wednesday. The speedy little winger’s form – 15 goals and 8 assists in all competitions – has seen him called up to the National Team consistently under Rajevac. He’s quick, he’s tricky and Port will have to concentrate really, really hard on not kicking him in the penalty area. Or body-checking him. Please, Adisorn!

Step forward, SFS. Yes, Renan Marques (14) is Chonburi’s Scary Foreign Striker. With 24 goals in 27 matches in 2017, perhaps we should call him a VSFS. He’s big, strong and deadly in front of goal, although he makes up for it by matching teammate Thiago Cunha for attitude. The sultry Brazilian is as likely to channel Lindsey Lohan from Mean Girls as he is to score, which isn’t to say he’s unlikely to find the onion bag, rather that he’s extremely unlikely to make it through 90 minutes without either throwing or inspiring some kind of hissy fit. He found the back of the net from the spot against Port in the first half of the season, an outcome precisely no one would be surprised to see repeated on Wednesday.

 

Nurul Sriyakem and Renan Marques

 

32 year old Ivorian Fode Diakite (18) must really like Chonburi. He has joined The Sharks no fewer than 3 times, and even had a spell at Regional League team Phantong FC last year, who are based in… yep, you guessed it – Chonburi. Diakite is the main physical presence in the Chonburi rear guard, equally at home at the back or in defensive midfield. His job will be to match Josimar and Suarez for height and strength, although to be honest, even if he was 4 foot tall with a sponge for a head he would probably still be able to stop Port’s forward line doing any damage in the air.

Not all ‘Players to Watch’ have to be any good, right? Well, Chanin Sae-Ear (35) is a funny one. Thai football’s resident hipster enjoyed an impressive spell at Port, before making his way to Chonburi via Chainat, becoming Thailand’s third choice goalkeeper along the way. He’s so not-mainstream he wore the number 9 shirt whilst at Chainat. Dude, man… At his best, Chanin has lightning reflexes, and comes off his line in a flash to help sweep up behind his defenders. At his worst, he makes Neville Southall look nimble, and in true hipster fashion can often be found so far outside the box, he doesn’t even know what the box is. I can’t possibly say which Chanin is going to turn up at PAT Stadium on Wedneday, but he almost certainly won’t be boring to watch.

 

Fode Diakite and Chanin Sae-Ear

 

Tom’s Player Not to Watch

 

Why exactly did we send one of our best young players to Chonburi again? Oh yeah, that’s right, so he could make four appearances. On the bench. Zero minutes on the pitch. Whilst it won’t be ex-Port player Tatchanon Nakarawong (39) who comes back to PAT Stadium with a bang on Wednesday, this other fella just might…

 

Here’s hoping for a swing and a miss this time…

 

Shark’s Dale

 

Thanks to Dale Farrington from the Chonburi FC website for providing us with this week’s opposition perspective. Here are his thoughts on the big game…

I must admit, that the thought of driving up to Bangkok, straight from work, for a meaningless end of season midweek fixture, was somewhat less than appealing. However, the news that Zico has promised to resign if Port lose has added a much needed bit of spice to the occasion.

The ex-national team coach hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts during his return to club management, but surely after only a dozen or so games in charge, he deserves better than this. As I’m only looking in from the outside, I don’t know all the details, but such action surely hints at much deeper problems for the Klong Toey club, and further reinforces the fact that football has gone completely mad.

Kiatisuk – to give him his Sunday name – had a brief spell in charge of Chonburi back in 2009. During this time, when he was still learning his trade, he showed signs that he would go on to bigger and better things. Reports from the training sessions were positive and performances on the field yielded results. Unfortunately, the senior management – and, it has to be said, a section of the crowd – weren’t convinced, and he moved on after just one full season at the helm.

Personally, I felt he was unfairly treated and deserved more time to build on the foundations he had put in place. That year we won the Kor Royal Cup (his first competitve match in charge), finished second in the league (taking it right up to the penultimate weekend) and reached the last eight of the AFC Cup. Zico also ended the campaign with a 2.07 points per game average, which is still the best return of any of our coaches. Therefore, whatever happens after tomorrow night’s game, I wish him well. I’m certain that someone will come in for him and give the opportunity to prove himself.

As for the game itself, I’m not really expecting much, and suspect most of the entertainment will be provided by what happens off the field. From a Chonburi perspective, this season can’t end soon enough. It really has been a rotten 2017 and I can’t wait to see the back of it.

We have assembled the worst squad in sixteen years, set a number of unwanted records and seen home and away crowds plummet. The only real bright spots have been provided by the emergence of a couple of academy graduates – Panudech in particular being one to watch – and the return to form of Nurul. Other than that, it’s been one to forget. Roll on the 19th of November!

 

The match will be shown live on True4U at 17:45 on Wednesday 20 September, 2017. For those who can’t make it to the stadium, The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13 will be showing the match on a big screen with sound.

 

Port Haunted Again By Late Horror Show: Police Tero 2-1 Port FC

 

Groundhog Day: A situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.

 

Bull Murray reacts to Pakorn’s ‘clearance’

 

I had jokingly remarked to Dominick in The Sportsman prior to this game that, as I feared I may not have much time to write a report on Sunday owing to social commitments, I could just pen it beforehand, knowing full well what the outcome might be and then fill in the details later. Sadly, how right I was.

I had also remarked in my preview that Port’s propensity to shoot themselves in the foot (Latin: sagittam dirigens se in pedes) would pose a greater danger than any opponent and, once again, my words were unfortunately prophetic. Except that this was more than just a shooting; it was pedocide of the most violent kind. The nails were extracted by a rusty pair of pliers; the skin flayed with a blunt razor, the tarsals and phalanges reduced to a pulp by an industrial grinding machine, then the remains blended into a paste to be spread, with boot-clogging effect, over the sodden ground of Boonyachinda stadium.

 

Zico unveiling his tactical master-plan

 

Feet, particularly those of Pakorn’s (9), were to play a dramatic part in the opening half of this encounter, with results ranging from farce to tragedy.  The footballing monk spent most of the half falling over before he was called to the touchline for a quick change of boots; the replacement pair mismatched and perhaps not just in colour, as his other most significant contribution to the half was to sweep a harmless cross into his own net with no one around to challenge for the ball. Given the position of his body in relation to the goal and the trajectory of the cross, it was no mean feat and one that he would be hard pressed to intentionally repeat at the other end of the pitch. As the English translation of the incident on the official Port website so eloquently reported, “Pakorn will kick the ball at the second pillar. But badly into the door.”

Quite what he was doing in the right-back position at the time was colourfully debated by the Sandpit in the stands; perhaps he was covering for another fruitless Nitipong (34) raid, but he had also ended up there last Sunday, so one has to ask whether it was another bewildering Zico ‘tactic’. Meditate on that, Brother. Aside from Pakorn’s ‘foot-feats’, Port had played a neat, tidy game, prompted by an excellent, disciplined performance by Siwakorn (16), without really threatening to turn spells of dominance into goals. Suarez, set free in the box by an intelligent lob from Piyachat (88), took just one step too many and was soon crowded out; a first time effort might have paid dividends. In another attack, Josimar (30)  leapt, salmon-like, to meet a cross from the right but the ball’s arrival unfortunately coincided with his descent and another chance was squandered.

 

 

Just as we were debating at the start of the second half where a goal might come from, it did; Rochela (22) gleefully headed home a Pakorn corner via the post. This goal thoroughly revitalized Port who subsequently dominated large swathes of the half, working the ball in neat triangles, and making good use of the wings, but without delivering that telling final cross or top corner screamer. In probably the most wasteful moment, Josi again failed to connect accurately with a header with the goal at his mercy. He really is an enigma; he climbs well, although not always in sync with the ball, can make vital defensive headers and knock-ons but, for a ‘big man’, his headed cross conversion rate is poor.

With about fifteen minutes left there was some debate in the stands about whether, at this stage of the game, we would take a draw, and the general opinion was, NO, this was a game at our mercy; Police, even BEC Tero, were there for the taking. Which was true, but this is Port, and I would have been happy for the game to have ended there and then, given Port’s uncanny ability to suck you in and fill you with hope and dreams and then shatter your illusions, like finding Santa Claus in bed with your mum on Christmas morning.

Just as Tim’s last minute analysis, “Looks like Port are settling for a draw”, had fallen from his lips, the ball broke free from a slapstick collision between Nitipong and Dolah, sparking a rare Fire Dragons attack. Substitute Wichan Nantasri, who scored Police’s only goal at PAT Stadium, took the resulting loose ball around a flailing Worawut and calmly plonked it in the net. I really don’t know why we bothered to play the previous 93 minutes; they should have just set up that goal at the start and then we could all have got stuck into the ale. As always, the Port faithful remained loyal to the end, cheering their team, in spite of what seemed like a betrayal, and sportingly acclaiming the largely undeserving victors. What we would have given to have heard Tommy Duncan’s respectfully restrained appraisal of affairs right at that moment!

So what can you say? We have had our Groundhog Days all before, felt it all before, cursed about it all before, hoped it would change, all before. But, and this is the point: it probably won’t and we will be back on Wednesday night, a little bit more chastened, but ultimately forgiving. Because, for us die-hard Thai and Farang (foolish you might say) regulars, we still love it and we will keep coming back. It defies all logic but football has a logic all of its own; our devotion in inverse proportion to our suffering.  See you in the Sandpit.

 

The Forgiving

 

Man of the Match: Siwakorn; Men of the Match: The Port fans, as always.

 

The Chequered History Men: Police Tero vs Port FC Match Preview

 

Following Sunday’s disastrous déjà vu moments, so eloquently lambasted by Tim’s scathing, but fully-earned, reportage, Port will try to restore some sense of pride in another Bangkok nearly-local-derby.

Our opponents, BEC Police Tero, have a somewhat colourful history, featuring footballing characters who, some might say (although not me), have often operated on the fringes of legality and, sometimes, decency. They were formed in 1992 as the Sasana Witthaya School FC by none other than Thailand’s own Sepp Blatter, the mercurial Worawi Mukadi, otherwise known as Bung Dee. Now, a logical, bi-lingual translation would reveal ‘bung’ being English for a bribe and ‘dee’ meaning good, but I certainly hope no-one would be scurrilous enough to put the two together in Mr Makudi’s case, particularly as, allegedly, Mr Makudi’s favourite pastime, apart from allegedly making lots of money from the FIFA gravy train, is suing people.  So, in my opinion, he is a VERY GOOD MAN.

In 1996 Sasana allied with BEC Tero Entertainment to become BEC Tero Sasana FC. They enjoyed much success in the new millennium, winning the first division of the Thai League in 2000 and 2001 and then, in 2003, narrowly missed out on the Asian Football Championship, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Ain FC of the United Arab Emirates. One of their top players and captain at this time was the much celebrated, Therdsak Chaiman, of Chonburi fame.

In more recent history, BEC Tero grabbed global attention when chairman, Brian Marcar, managed to persuade Suave Swede Sven (Goran Eriksson), to take over the role of Technical Director in the latter stages of the 2012 season. Or, maybe he didn’t need much persuasion; he may have ventured out here to fulfill a personal dream, as revealed to Didi Hamann, which the ex-Liverpool midfielder describes in his book, ‘The Didi Man’.

‘Recalling a (Man City) pre-season trip to Thailand, Hamann writes: “One morning when I was on a sun lounger by the pool, he (Sven) walked towards me with a bottle of champagne and two glasses on it. It was still only 10 in the morning. I looked up and said, ‘Boss, what are we celebrating?’ expecting him to make the triumphant announcement he was staying. 

“He turned to me and smiled that gentle smile of his and took the air of a Buddhist philosopher, as he said, ‘Life, Kaiser. We are celebrating life’. With a glass of champagne in hand he stood and looked out towards the horizon, then spoke in that higgledy-piggledy Swedish accent: ‘You know Kaiser, I like this place. I think I will manage for another five years and come back here and live with two women. Yes. I think I need two beautiful women.’

 

Sven has a selection dilemma at BEC Tero – one or two up top

 

Port played BEC Tero soon after Sven was appointed and, in one of our best performances in the failed fight against relegation, beat them 2-0 at the National Stadium. With my hand on my heart, I swear that I saw Sven leaving with two, beautiful Thai women. Dream fulfilled or what? Or maybe it wasn’t; the next season saw him with Guangzhou FC in China.

For a team with a successful history and ambitions to be a top-top team, Tero have led rather a nomadic existence, never really establishing a solid, loyal fan-base. They have had four changes of Stadium in the past 8 years, moving between Nong Chok, Thephasadin (my favourite), the much-loathed 72nd Anniversary Stadium and now, Boonyachinda, in the Laksi district. We last visited Boonyachinda in the 2013 promotion season when Leandro’s spectacular, overhead left-foot volley set us on the way to a 5-1 victory against the then occupants, and equally nomadic, Thai Tobacco Monopoly. Like most of Tero’s previous stadiums, it is ‘end-less’ but we do have a decent side-view and will no doubt take up much of its 3,550 capacity.

 

Boonyachinda Stadium

 

There still, however, seems to be some confusion over the club’s name, with many football sites listing them as BEC Tero FC, although everyone seems to be aware of their recent amalgamation with Police Utd, albeit in rather confusing circumstances. Any Tero fans out there like to clarify: ‘Who Are Yer?’

They are currently managed by English born, Mike Mulvey, whose biggest triumphs have been in the Australian ‘A’ League with Brisbane Roar, achieving a record three successive titles between 2012-14. Mulvey has come under just a little pressure before the game; Chairman Brian basically telling him, “Lose and you’re out!”. He seems like quite a decent chap, so we might almost wish for a draw. More than that and the best he can hope for is a sympathy card from Frank De Boer.

 

Michael N’dri

 

On the playing side, little will have changed since our home fixture when Tom highlighted key players Michael N’dri (14 goals to date) and former UK Championship player Kalifa Cisse; Port winning on that occasion 2-1, with goals from Josimar and Siwakorn. Port fans, though, were keen to assess the performance of our rejected Thai/Swedish defender Niran Hansson who, despite catching the eye and the ears of the Sandpit, never really had the chance to shine at PAT. With seven performances in a Tero shirt behind him, it would have been interesting to see if he was pitted against Josimar, on whom much of goal-scoring hopes will rest but, alas, Tom informs me that he is unlikely to play. However, the speculation on that fact has used up the best part of a paragraph so I’ve left it in, in case he does!

 

Niran Hansson

 

Of the other Port players, fans are hoping that Suarez and footballing monk, Pakorn, continue their recent revival. I have never been a big fan of Pakorn, watching him running the ball too often into dead-ends, but will be happy to eat my words should he continue to improve. Aside from that, Rochella and Dolah will be fairly rock-like, unless faced with a Duracell bunny like John Baggio; Siwakorn will run abaht a bit and get himself booked, while Tana’s or Wuttichai’s introduction at any point will elicit anguished groans. Now, add to these, Siwapong. Personally, I would keep the same team that started Sunday, with Yossawat replacing Panpanpong and no subs till we’re 10-0 ahead.

Sunday was, in fact, the third time this season that Port have thrown away a two-goal lead, and on every single one of those occasion we have irresponsibly conceded an injury time-penalty for the equalizer. Sadly, I was at all three games and it does my head in. To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “To give away one penalty in the last minute, Mr Zico, may be regarded as a misfortune; to give away three looks like carelessness.” Sorry, Lady B, it’s shockingly abysmal, that’s what it is. Jetjinn and Adisorn had watched Baggio skinning people all afternoon in tight situations but they still got hopelessly done. I would have them both put in some stocks specially erected in the Sandpit before the next home game, and arm the crowd with some rotten durians. They won’t be that bothered, because if our aim is like most of our forwards, we’ll miss.

So, rather than highlight a duel with any opponent, our biggest threat is ourselves, our biggest shooting danger – in the foot: needless, mindless substitutions and late, inexcusable penalties. Rant spent.

For Mr Mulvey’s sake; I predict a 1-1 draw.

 

The match will be shown live on True Sport 2 at 17:45 on Saturday 16 September, 2017. For those who can’t make it to the stadium, The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13 will be showing the match on a big screen with sound. The Sandpit will be enjoying some pre-match beers there from2.30pm before heading out to the stadium.

 

Around The PAT In 80 Days: Judging Zico So Far

 

Since Zico took over the top job at PAT Stadium from previous incumbent Jadet, things have not gone quite to plan. Whilst Port are sat comfortably in mid-table with very little chance that they will get sucked in to a relegation scrap, results have certainly taken a downward turn. Additionally, optimism generated by some promising performances has had to be checked, as Zico’s curious managerial decisions have undone some of the good work that has been done on the training pitch.

 

 

As I have cast myself in the role of Jose Mourinho in one of my previous articles, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch that I now name myself Supreme Sandpit Justice, with absolutely no authority over all things Port. Under consideration today is the case of Zico’s tenure to date. It’s been 80 days. Well, US Presidents are arbitrarily judged after 100 days, so why can’t Port managers be judged after 80? Everything is smaller in Thailand. After some extended post-match drowning-of-sorrows on Sunday, I’m still only operating at about 80 percent, anyway. Not the full baht, that’s for sure. Three aspects shall be up for consideration in today’s trial: transfers, youth policy and tactics.

 

Transfers

Zico became Port manager with just a few days to turn around Port’s already shambolic transfer window. Under cover of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the appointment of Zico, the club then quietly announced the departure of fan favourite Maranhao, which not only cost Port one of their best players, but handicapped the new boss by ruling out any more changes of his foreign contingent.

Once the smoke cleared, transfer rumours about Zico’s former Natonal Team charges inevitably began to materialize. Stories about Kroekrit Thaweekarn and Mongkol Tossakrai were particularly widely reported. With both players known to be Zico favourites, there seemed to be reason to expect that deals would be done. Kroekrit has been rumoured to be on the way out of Chonburi for what seems like forever, and Mongkol was surplus to Muangthong requirements after the arrivals of Leandro Assumpcao and Siroch Chatthong. With time running out, Mongkol was reported to have finally made the switch – to audible sighs of relief from PAT Stadium – but at the last minute he changed his mind and chose Pattaya United. The deal for Kroekrit also never materialized, while late moves for Buriram striker Supachai Jaidet and Ratchaburi winger Rungrath Poomchantuek also fell through. Deadline day then saw Port let promising youngsters Tatchanon and Pinyo leave the club on loan. More about these youngsters to follow.

So, how should Zico be judged on the transfer window? He shouldn’t. He came in late on and did his best with some ambitious last-minute bids in trying circumstances. Those fell through, but blame for Port’s shambolic transfer failings can hardly lie with Zico, nor even his predecessor Jadet. Port’s managers have very little say when it comes to transfers, with the decisions being made ‘higher up.’ The High Ups, therefore, are where the blame should rightly be apportioned.

Verdict: Not Guilty

 

Youth Policy

After his successful spell in charge of the Thai National Team in which Zico was known for bringing through a young, exciting generation of players, Port fans could be forgiven for being hopeful that Zico would continue this policy at Port.

Those hopes were soon dashed, as youngsters continued to have their path to the first team cut off. As mentioned earlier, excellent youngster Tatchanon, who was criminally overlooked under previous manager Jadet, continued to be frozen out before being offloaded on deadline day. Not only was Tatchanon let go, he was loaned to Chonburi, where the chances of him actually getting any game time are extremely slim. Additionally, Pinyo – a former under 23 National Team player – was loaned out just as he finally returned to fitness, after a long spell on the sidelines.

Exciting new left back Yossawat, Port’s sole source for optimism in the transfer window, has looked the most likely to break through, but has ultimately managed just 90 minutes since his arrival. This has been partly due to a family tragedy that Yossawat suffered shortly after his arrival, but also partly due to an older, more experienced but much worse alternative Panpanpong being consistently preferred. In the one game Yossawat started, Port kept a clean sheet.

Meechok – who broke in to the first team as a teenager in 2015 – has not even been making it on to the bench with regularity in 2017. Taking his place on the bench has been Pakasit – a player so poor he looks out of his depth in friendlies against lower league sides. Meechok’s form may have dipped a little – largely as a result of vastly reduced game time – but he’s not that bad!

The question of who is at fault for the clear bias against younger players is an interesting one. Both Jadet and Zico have a history of developing younger players with some success, but during their tenures at Port, there has been no indication from their team selection and substitutions that young players have a path to the first team. In order to absolve Jadet and Zico of blame, therefore, one has to say that the manager does not have the final say on picking the team or making substitutions. With the aforementioned High Ups regularly sitting on bench, it’s not a wild stretch of the imagination that this could be the case. If I had to guess exactly what was going on, I would attribute certain out-of-place team selections to the High Ups, but say that Zico does most likely have full authority over substitutions.

So, what’s the verdict on Zico and youth policy? Well, it’s impossible to say with any certainty. If the decisions being made are all his, then the blame is also his. If not, then the High Ups are again doing their best to kneecap their own chances of success.

Verdict: Jury Still Deliberating, verdict expected by the start of next season.

 

Tactics

It must be said, the substitutions made on Sunday are the main reason I am writing this piece. They really were awful. Firstly, Siwapong was brought in for Suarez. Suarez was one of Port’s better players against Sukhothai, but was withdrawn with Port 3-1 up, and replaced by a journeyman midfielder who has played just 45 minutes for Port all season. They came in the 5-1 defeat against relegation candidates Honda. Siwapong once again showed that it’s possible for just about anyone to be a professional footballer, regardless of how utterly useless they are at football. The void in attacking midfield meant that Port’s ability to attack was blunted, and Port were facing one way traffic from then on. The game finished 3-3. At fault for the third goal were Zico’s other two substitutes. Jetjinn got skinned, then Adisorn gave away a penalty with a ridiculous body-check. I even saw Pakorn playing right back for a period in the second half. What’s that about?!

It wasn’t the first time Zico has made some bizarre substitutions, either. Suarez and Genki, two of Port’s best players against Chiang Rai, were replaced by habitually ineffective forwards Kaludjerovic and Tana, as Port again surrendered the initiative in a game they were dominating and snatched defeat from the jaws of a draw.

So, what is my verdict? Well, the team have been playing OK on the whole, but results have not yet materialized, and there must be a reason for that. Promising performances against Chiang Rai and Bangkok Glass in particular showed that Zico was starting to develop a decent system, but it doesn’t really count if you then undo that good work with silly substitutions. Jadet managed more with the same squad, and he was hardly a master tactician. Sorry, Zico.

Verdict: Guilty

Sentence: Suspended Sentence. Will be remanded in to Sandpit custody for a good talking to over a couple of bottles of Leo in the case of Wuttichai or Siwapong getting further game time.

 

I’m firmly in the camp of giving managers time to put their ideas and philosophy in to practice, particularly in a situation like this where there is so much redundant infrastructure built up around the manager that he has to dismantle to operate with any sort of autonomy. My judgment, then, is that Zico needs much more time, which will with any luck be spent creating a system through which he has control of as many aspects of team management as possible. If Zico is able to do that, then transfers and youth policy will surely take a turn in the right direction. Let’s hope the early indications on his tactics – particularly substitutions – are not as bad as they look. Once he has had the opportunity to bring in some of his own players, we will know more.

 

Say Hello to the Angels: Port to Face Bangkok Utd in FA Cup

 

The draw for round 3 of the 2017 Chang FA Cup was made just a few minutes ago, with Port being handed a very tough test – away at high flying Bangkok Utd. Tough for the fans, facing a midweek trek out to Rangsit to endure one of the worst views in Thai football; and tough on the players, facing opponents who have already handed out two spankings this season, scoring 9 goals in the process.

That said, with Port’s T1 season limping to a fairly miserable conclusion, coach Zico seems to be taking the cups seriously as his only chance of glory this campaign, and with BUFC’s recent stellar winning run having come to an end at Pattaya over the weekend, a cheeky win isn’t entirely out of the question. With Port also still in the League Cup, there are still a few reasons for excitement in what remains of this stop-start season.

The game will be played on Wednesday 27 September, KO time 18:00. To whet your appetite for what should be a pulsating Bangkok derby, check out my interview with BUFC coach Mano Polking from earlier this season.

Here are the other fixtures, with Glass v Buriram standing out…

 

 

 

 

Appetite for Self-Destruction: Port FC 3-3 Sukhothai FC

 

Is there any point writing these match reports any more? Once Port went 3-1 up the outcome of this game was so predictable it could have been written by Barbara Cartland. I may as well simply copy & paste any one of half a dozen match reports from this season. Anyway, to sum up, in what was undoubtedly an entertaining game for the neutrals (of whom there were plenty in Zone B – a night at the PAT seems to have become a leading Bangkok tourist attraction) Port drew 3-3 with struggling Sukhothai after being 3-1 up with 10 minutes to play, conceded a late penalty, blah blah fucking blah.


Zico made one change from the 0-0 draw at Bangkok Glass, a result that was celebrated at the time as if Port had won the League, the FA Cup and the Nobel Prize for Physics all in one evening, bringing in Panpanpong (19) for Yossawat (28). I can only assume Yossa was injured or otherwise unavailable as the change made no footballing sense, and seasoned Panpanpong watchers were not in the least surprised when, in the 4th minute, he fluffed a defensive header which went straight to former Port star Maranhao who, with a sublime backheel, set the miniature Madagascan John Baggio free down the right to cross right onto the head of an unmarked Boonma to put the visitors a goal up. Simply appalling defending from Port who have now conceded 48 goals in 26 games – the worst record of any team outside the bottom 3.

 

Chompoo & set (piece)

 

Port thankfully weren’t behind for long, and in the 9th minute a superb cross from Genki (18) landed right in the path of Suarez (5), and the Spaniard buried his volley in the bottom corner to put the home side back on terms. And it got better 4 minutes later when the Sukhothai defence failed to properly clear a corner, Nitipong (34) being first to the ball on the edge of the box and firing home through a crowd of players to put Port 2-1 up.

The early rush of goals led to a thoroughly absorbing first half with both sides going all out. Suarez hit the bar for Port, whilst Sukhothai’s front two of Maranhao and Baggio were causing all manner of problems for Port’s creaky defence. The former was clearly fired up on his return to the PAT and his skill, pace and guile, contrasted with Port’s moribund front line, sent out a clear message to the Port hierarchy and stung Worawut’s palms on several occasions; whilst Baggio, a man so small he makes Saruta look like Peter Crouch, was a continual irritant, as well as finding himself on the receiving end of some rough stuff from the likes of Pakorn and Nitipong, who were both clearly delighted to finally have someone smaller than them to pick on. Nevertheless Port were overall the better side and Sukhothai would’ve gone in at half time fully relieved to only be a goal down.

 

 

Their relief lasted just 13 minutes into the second half. Pakorn (9) broke into the box and was unceremoniously scythed down by a defender for the clearest penalty you’ll see all season, with El Capitan Rochela (22) dispatching the spot kick with his usual aplomb. 3-1 to Port, and with the home side largely on top, all those neutrals in the crowd were no doubt thinking it was game over. But those of us who follow the team week in week out know that Port are the last team you’d trust to walk your dog because…(drum roll)…THEY’RE INCAPABLE OF HOLDING ONTO A LEAD!!! I thang yew. And it was with a mounting sense of dread that we watched the inevitable disaster unfold, beginning with possibly the most inexplicable substitution I have ever seen at the PAT. Now I think it’s well known that I’m no fan of Sergio Suarez; however Port do look a much better side with him in it, he gives Josimar (30) someone to play off, and he was having one of his occasional good games, so why Zico chose to take him off is a mystery, and why he replaced him with the utterly dreadful Siwapong (97) is one for Mulder & Scully. It was the turning point of the game: it left Port toothless in attack and limp in midfield, and Sukhothai would’ve been delighted to see the Spaniard leave the field. The later removal of Pummared (41) for Adisorn (13) further weakened Port’s midfield and would ultimately have disastrous consequences.

True to the usual script, Port began to unravel in the 81st minute, Maranhao (again) feeding a winger down the right who popped a cross into the edge of the six yard box. Dolah (4) failed to track Baggio’s run into the area and the wee fella stuck it into the back of the net to make it 3-2. And seven minutes later, the prophecy was fulfilled. Baggio skinned substitute Jetjinn (51) on the edge of the box, only to be clumsily body-checked by Adisorn, and yet again Port had given away a late penalty. Maranhao grabbed the ball – clearly noone else was ever going to take this one – and buried it past Worawut to put Sukhothai level, celebrating joyously with the away fans as well he might.

So yet another late cave-in by Port against inferior opposition. It’s very fortunate that the team amassed so many points in the first half of the season because right now they’re playing like relegation contenders, with little creativity up front and a defence that is leaking goals and giving away penalties with alarming regularity. A win at Police Tero next Saturday is needed to calm the nerves, with tough games against Chonburi and red-hot form side Pattaya to follow, and one hopes Yossawat will return to the side. I’d also think about freshening up central defence by giving Dolah a rest and bringing in Tossapol or Pravinwat to partner Rochela, or even switching to a fashionable back 3, because with the amount of goals Port are leaking, something has to change. Whatever happens, the jury is still out on the Zico Revolution and I don’t think anyone can honestly claim that we’d be doing any worse under Jadet.

 

Man of the Match – Rodrigo Maranhao

Yes, I know this is supposed to be a Port player but fuck it, Mazza should still BE a Port player. Whilst there were some good performances in the home ranks – Nitipong, Suarez, Genki and Pakorn all deserve honourable mentions – this was Maranhao’s game. The young Brazilian had a hand in all 3 of Sukhothai’s goals and was a lively and creative presence throughout, the kind of player that Port’s attack has been missing all season. Whilst I was gutted at the late equaliser, I also enjoyed the sight of Maranhao giving the middle finger – metaphorically at least – to the watching Port management and once again reminding us how utterly clueless our club’s recruitment strategy is.

 

 

Release the Bats! Port FC vs Sukhothai FC Match Preview

 

When I signed up to write this preview, the plan was simple. With months to go, I’d have an excuse to re-watch the Batman movies, pick out a few lines that could be used to vaguely reference football, Port or Sukhothai to quote, and get the juices flowing on the bat/batman puns front. Throw in a bit of “You don’t know how lucky you are not spending months away from Thai football!” Job done.  So, with less 72 hours ‘til I get on a plane to Bangkok, I’ve not watched a minute of any Batman film. There’s a moan about Thai football coming and the small matter of some Brazilian fella who used to make the odd appearance for Port back when we were a second-tier team, who recently blagged a gig at Sukhothai (aka the Fire Bats) in their battle to avoid the drop.

Firstly, the moan.  If you spend any time reading about Thai football online, as with most things in Thailand, it isn’t too hard to find a foreigner complaining about how much better it is back where they came from or just that it simply isn’t very good in Thailand. Since I started following Port in 2015 the knockers have collectively covered… well, I think I’ve now seen pretty much every facet of Thai football criticized. Everyone has the right to an opinion, and Thai football gets a lot of things wrong, but it’s not a European league and never will be. Expecting it to live up to that standard is setting yourself up for disappointment. Nor personally do I have any desire for it to mirror the overpriced, over policed, corporate anti-fun day out that attending sport in England has become.  That said, on Sunday football returns for the first round of league games in 5 weeks (6 weeks for a Port home game) which is a just plain rubbish. In the 10 weeks prior, there have been just 5 league matches and a single round played in each of the cups. Again, not good enough. You don’t have to go too much further back and you hit the mid-season break on top of that.

Now that its back, the football comes thick and fast. There are 10 weeks of the season left, and in that time Port will play 9 league matches and at least 2 cup matches (potentially 8 were we to make both finals). Great, but the flow of the season has been destroyed. How fit are players? Where have they been? Have we had a mini preseason? Whilst I expect it will have little effect on the level of attendance at the PAT, for other teams in a similar ‘nothing to play for’ situation, will the fans bother to come back? It makes maintaining interest from the public you’ve got hard, let alone building on it. And the reason for these gaps? A friendly international cup which hardly captured the imagination, and would have been better served if it or the mid-season break were moved to occur simultaneously. All the latest month off taught us was that the Thai national teams are a bit too good for the rest of South East Asia and not quite good enough for the big boys on the continent. I think we all knew that already. Hopefully someone organizing the league realizes this and from next season we can have a real singular season rather than several mini ones. It also makes it hard to sell you a tale of woe at not having seen a Port game in months when half the people reading this need a map to find their way back to the stadium after so long without a home game. So, with that out the way…

 

Sukhothai FC

Port welcome Sukhothai to the PAT on Sunday evening. A relatively young team, even by Thai standards Sukhothai were only formed in 2009, taking up a position in the Northern regional league, they spent the first 6 years of their existence in the lower league as the kind of club that goes unnoticed till drawn in a cup fixture, at which point they tick all the boxes of interesting cup away day. Based in a location worthy of a trip away (ancient Buddhist kingdom in this case) with an oddball badge, kit and nickname. 2014 saw them win their league and fun away day was elevated to potential banana skin as they entered the second tier, however they didn’t hang round at that level and in their first season were promoted to the top league. At which point they set about making some major waves. They finished a more-than-respectable 7th and with the season ending before the FA Cup semi-finals could be played they were deemed joint winners. Which meant they were entered in a draw against Chainat and Ratchaburi for the play-off spot in the AFC Champions League. Their luck was in, and they were rewarded with a fixture against the champions of Myanmar Yadanarbon, who were dispatched 5-0. Which meant that just 3 seasons after playing third tier football they were off to face the mega stars of Shanghai SIPG, managed by former Chelsea and Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas and featuring Oscar, Hulk and a host of others assembled with little regard for the price tag.  The fire bats had visa troubles which meant the team didn’t arrive together, and the weather didn’t favour them much either. The chances of anything but a heavily defeat looked slim, yet they came away with pride intact despite a 3-0 defeat that saw Oscar bag his first goal following his move from Chelsea to China.

That looks like the high point of the season, as their domestic campaign started poorly maybe due to second season syndrome (they also decided to sack former Port player and 2015 managerial merry go round rider Somchai Chuayboonchum, who led them last season). A poor start saw them settle in 16th for the majority of the first half of the season, climbing one spot to the safety of 15th with a solid mid-season run, which has given them a 7 points cushion over Sisaket in 16th.   With a relatively tough run-in they’ll be hoping for 3 points on Sunday to increase their hopes of staying up. Whilst 3 points for Port would put them 9 points clear of Sukhothai and realistically 13 clear of Sisaket (assuming they beat Super Power), if those numbers become 3 and 10 respectively with a Sukhothai win and BEC were to beat Thai Honda, things start to look a little worrying for Port.

 

Players to Watch

Realistically there is only one.

I’ve barely mentioned thus far in this preview. Maranhao (29). The former Port player’s stock rose though the first half of the season without him even setting foot on the pitch. As attacking options available proved workmanlike, when they could be bothered to work, the idea of a player capable of scoring spectacular goals and beating the odd player (especially as both were seldom occurring) was always going to appeal. With the team at that point regularly picking up points, there seemed little worry of a relegation battle, while the top teams were clearly beyond our pay grade.

Then come the start of the second leg of the season it appeared Maranhao was back in favour as he started the first game away at Suphanburi, the situation that followed was comical. The end result, just as hope of the mercurial Brazilian bringing a bit of showmanship to the season seemed realistic, he was moved on to Sukhothai. At his new home, he has operated as more of a central attacker than a wide man. In 6 games for his new club he’s managed to score twice. He replaced Admir Adrovic who returned to his native Montenegro, finding navigating his path back to the Balkans somewhat easier than others who have recently left Thai football to undertake a similar journey. He had scored 9 goals before departing.

They also have Baggio (10) pulling the strings in midfield, although like the Tot(t)i at Bangkok Glass this one is also a knock off, in this case Jhon “Baggio” Rakotonomenjanahar. I think I’ll be sticking with “Baggio” after a couple of Leos on Sunday!

The final foreign starter is likely to be Ivorian Bireme Diouf (27). At just 5ft 7, with Maranhao the same height and Baggio standing at an incredible 5ft2, it means Sukhothai will likely start with neither the ‘Scary Foreign Striker’ or centre-back so favoured by most Thai teams. Bireme is somewhat of a journeyman of Thai football having arrived to play for M****Thong  in 2006 and remained here for all but one season (spent at Yadanarbon). He has scored 8 goals this season.

 

John Baggio, Rodrigo Maranhao and Bireme Diouf

 

The Fan’s View

Here’s Sukhothai fan Henry Kittikul Musa with his thoughts on the game…

Since both our teams last met, it’s been an uphill struggle to keep ourselves above the relegation zone, but so far we are doing exactly that. We’re currently only 1 place above the relegation zone but with that being said, we’re 7 points ahead of Sisaket who are a place below us. Before our loss to Bangkok United, we had gone 7 matches undefeated and things were starting to look quite good. After that, we did hit a bit of a slump with 3 straight losses to the likes of Bangkok United, Chiang Rai and Navy. Thankfully, we recorded a 1-0 win over Thai Honda just before the break.

One player who has played an influential role in our battle for survival is Ex-Port player, Maranhão. He’s been a game changer since the moment he arrived, scoring on his debut at home against Sisaket. He’s formed a strong relationship with Baggio and they seem to be able to read each others runs quite well. If it’s any consolation to Port fans, we had the exact same thing happen to us with Renan Marques. We sold him to Chonburi at the end of last season, as during his tenure at the club, his performance was largely overshadowed by other players such as Baggio and Bireme. This season alone, he’s put 22 goals behind the net for Chonburi and is currently the 3rd highest scorer in the league.

Coming back to Sunday’s match, it’ll be an important one for Sukhothai. At this late stage of the season, with only 9 matches remaining, every point is crucial. If we could come away from Sunday’s match with a point, I think everyone in the Sukhothai camp would be pleased. On paper, we haven’t had such a great run away from home with 2 wins, 3 draws and 6 losses. Our 2 away wins were against Thai Honda and Super Power. Whilst we managed to take a point away from some crucial matches against the likes of Bangkok Glass and Ratchaburi.

My prediction for Sunday’s match is, Thai Port 1-1 Sukhothai.

It looks to be a good match and I’ll be sure to make it to the game. The atmosphere at PAT Stadium never disappoints. Hopefully both teams put on their best performance and no matter which way the result ends up, I hope it’s an enjoyable match for all

 

Port FC

Tom’s Starting XI  – Two Question Marks

With Jim having missed the mid-mid-season friendlies, I thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts on team selection. It seems Zico is close to settling on his First XI, but he isn’t quite there yet. Defensive midfield and left back are still very much up for grabs.

In defensive midfield Zico has shown little love for Adisorn (13), phasing him out of the team and trying a few different options in his place. Ittipol (7) and Pummared (41) are the shortlisted candidates. Ittipol provides a cool, disciplined head in midfield, and is a technically superior footballer to both of his rivals. He is, however, 33 years of age and doesn’t seem anywhere near capable of playing a full 90 minutes. Pummared, on the other hand, is still in his mid-twenties and has no problem with his fitness. His positional discipline looked good against Bangkok Glass – his only competitive appearance for Port – so in the absence of enough evidence to really form an opinion, I’ll just say that I really hope he holds his position and covers his full-backs better than Adisorn. The jury is still out on his passing, too. Tim thinks he’s alright and I think he’s desperately lacking. He looks set to get the nod, anyway. Only time will tell!

At left back, it’s a three way battle between Panpanpong (19), Yossawat (28) and Jetjinn (51). You have to feel for Jetjinn, who appears to be coming third in a three man race despite performing excellently whenever called on so far. He scored a superb goal in the friendly against Suphanburi, too, surging forward from left-back, playing a neat one-two and finding the bottom corner with a calm right-footed finish. With Jetjinn very unlikely to get the nod, it’s between Panpanpong and Yossawat. Yossawat debuted in the clean-sheet against Bangkok Glass, putting in a positionally sound performance which didn’t offer much going forward, but kept things tight at the back. We know from what we’ve seen of him so far that Yossawat does have the attacking play in his arsenal, but is just a bit more selective of when to use it. Clearly he’s been watching Panpanpong bomb up the left wing, misplace simple passes and then jog back towards goal while his teammates – usually Rochela – try and rescue the situation. It seems like a no-brainer for me that Yossawat starts, but Zico has kept his cards close to the chest by giving them a start apiece in Port’s two friendlies. I’m plumping for Yossawat, and I really hope Zico does too.

In a forced change, Worawut is likely going to continue deputizing for Rattanai (17), who seems to have struggled more than expected recovering from the shoulder injury he picked up against Ubon.

 

Predicted Starting XI

 

 

 

 

 

View From the Terraces Pt 2: Thailand

 

“A running track separates fans from footballer; supporters want to be as close as possible and with a running track you cannot provide this. If any club in England is thinking of doing this, I would say to them: Don’t!” Markus Horwick, Bayern Munich Club spokesman.

 

You can always trust a German to express matters in an efficient, succinct manner; even if their words are longer than most, it is the sentiment that counts and leaves you in no doubt about the message delivered. Horwick had written this a year after Bayern Munich’s move from the Olympic Stadium to the Allianz Arena in 2015. The following season, their attendances near trebled and it was the higher quality of the viewing experience and the improved atmosphere which fans quoted as the main reason for their renewed interest in the team. Obviously, the fact that they were a highly successful club playing attractive football must have counted more than a little. However, most of us who suffer the long view nearly every other week at T1 League football grounds, will agree with Horwick’s appraisal.

This second part of my article is about watching football in Thailand and, in its assessment, the running track will never be far from our thoughts. If you have read Part One you will know that I grew up watching football in the 60’s and 70’s on the terraces, from Luton to Liverpool, often amongst huge, passionate crowds. Without getting into the debate about safe-standing and, as a Liverpool fan, this is a very emotional issue, I have to declare now that one of the reasons I love going to Port is that I can stand up. I can also jump up and down, wave my arms, hoist my Sivakorn scarf, sing, scream and shout and often go completely bonkers, with my mates in Zone B. When you have up to 12,000 people doing this at the same time, it creates an ATMOSPHERE. This ATMOSPHERE is enhanced by the fact that we virtually overhang the pitch. The opposing goalkeeper feels our uncomfortably hot breath on his neck and an opposing full-back taking a throw-in might receive a gentle, slightly mocking, pat on the back (Air Force 2014).  We can also see, even from behind the goal, WHAT IS GOING ON. This to me is the complete viewing experience and goes some way to recreate those halcyon days of mullets, obscenely short shorts and pissing in someone’s pocket.

Before we take a look at those Thai grounds, and they will be restricted to the T1, here is a bit of global history.

According to my research, the oldest football ground in the world is Field Mill (now the One Call Stadium), the home of Mansfield Town, with the first game being played there in1861. Bramall Lane (Sheffield Utd), was the first ground to see the use of floodlights, in 1878. However, it was not until 1950 that they were officially endorsed by the ‘enlightened’ Football League and the FA; the Dell, Southampton being the first ground to have them permanently installed.

The Maracana stadium in Brazil holds the record attendance of 199,854 for the Brazil vs. Uruguay match in the World Cup Final on the 16th June, 1950. This is the biggest attendance at a sporting event held in an enclosed stadium and was a bit of a tight squeeze. Galatasaray’s home ground stadium, Turk Telecom Arena, is claimed to be the loudest football stadium in the world, in 2011 reaching a deafening noise of about 131 decibels. All those mobiles going off at the same time must have helped.

Football was introduced to Thailand in 1897 and the Thai FA formed in 1916. The first stadium was Supachalasai, the old National Stadium, built in 1935. PAT Stadium was built in 1967, the year the club was officially formed. The highest recorded attendance at a Thai Stadium outside of an International was 34,689 at the 80th Birthday Stadium, Nakhon Ratchasima in July 2015. With the official capacity set at 24,641, this was even more of a tight squeeze than the Maracana and potentially lethal. Still, as their safety conscious chairman proudly remarked as he watched the traumatized, wheezing fans staggering out of the stadium, “Well, at least we broke the record.”

So, let’s have a look at those Thai Stadiums, and for this purpose I have rated them in four categories.

 

Grounds For Approval

There are certainly some decent grounds in T1; the Thunder Castle at Buriram, for obvious reasons, being the pick of the bunch. Bearing a close resemblance to the King Power Stadium, Leicester, it is all-seater, covered and the atmosphere, although somewhat manufactured, is stirring on big-game nights. The first time I went, it even had turnstiles FFS, although I believe they are now a thing of the past. It is a PROPER STADIUM. Running it close, is the three-sided, plastic-turfed, Leo Stadium, home of Bangkok Glass. It’s three-tiered terracing behind the goal, ever so slightly reminiscent of La Bombonera of Boca Juniors, would be scarily intimidating if it was ever full. Its spacious bar and glamorous Glass Bunnies are added bonuses.

 

Leo Stadium (pic by Tim Russell)

 

Although different in size and appearance, Chiang Rai, Ubon UMT, Pattaya Utd (?), Ratchaburi (new stadium) and Sukhothai (impressive setting) would all squeeze into this category, mainly because, I believe, although I haven’t been to all of them, there is NO RUNNING TRACK. Well done, lads.

The SCG Stadium of Muang Thong aspires to be in this group but it seems to have been dumped in the middle of a building site and should be condemned. Like these below.

Grounds for Condemnation

Basically, however posh you think you might be, with your huge stands and towering floodlights, you have a running track and therefore NO ATMOSPHERE and, half the time, NO FANS. Are you listening Bangkok Utd, Chonburi, Suphanburi, Nakhon Ratchasima? You need to take a lesson from Bayern Munich. Then, there are your slumdog compatriots who have shitty grounds and a shitty view (can you detect my rising anger?): Police Tero, Sisaket, SuperPower, Thai Honda and Thai Navy, although the latter must be slightly excused for having the consolation of Ban Chang on its doorstep ☺. One might argue that our cause is not helped by being dumped in the often, dilapidated away end behind the goal, while the empty sides might afford a better perspective on proceedings.

 

Absence (of fans) makes the brain go ‘Honda!’

 

I reserve especial opprobrium for Thai Honda. You have situated yourself (and BEC Tero before you), in the middle of a sea of rice paddies, which nobody can ever get to, or leave. Our side-view might be slightly better because you don’t have the decency to have any proper ‘ends’ but, and I suppose this is the biggest source of my recurring nightmare, we always lose! If ever I had a powerful but malevolent Uncle who might gift me a drone strike for a birthday present, it would be unerringly employed against the 72nd Anniversary Stadium, after clearing it of human habitation of course. I am not a violent man.  

 

Grounds for Optimism

Of course, most of us know why there are so many grounds with running tracks; they were built for institutions such as the Forces, Universities, etc, to cater for a community and a variety of sports, all before professional Thai football became more popular than Match of the Day. In Bangkok, especially, there is very little space to build a new stadium. But, out in the provinces, blessed with a little bit of spare land, things are on the up, as it were.

 

Pattaya Utd’s new stadium

 

Ratchaburi have already opened their new ground, which many of us will look forward to visiting on the last game of the season, while Chonburi, Pattaya, Sisaket  and Suphanburi all have highly creative, almost futuristic images of supposed new stadiums in the pipe-line. Whether they are ever built is a different thing but at least it shows a growing recognition that football should be played in a proper football stadium with no running track and an ATMOSPHERE, which brings me to….

Hallowed Ground

I stumbled upon an interesting quote about PAT Stadium, “It is rarely used to at least half full capacity, topping in 2011 at 6,916.” The author had obviously been reading the official attendance records because many of us have enjoyed Port brim-full, under the lights, the gates locked, fans clambering up the fences and floodlights, seeking any foothold they can gain, or gap through which they can peer, to get a view of the action. Buriram, with their huge, raucous travelling support, have mostly been our opponents on these momentous occasions when the ATMOSPHERE has been truly, and I know it is old cliché, electrifying. One extremely well traveled, visiting English fan, who had seen football at grounds, large and small, all over the world, compared it to Sao Paolo. Now, I have googled the Cicero Pompeu de Toledo Stadium of Sao Paolo and it is nothing like PAT, so he must have been referring to the fans. Certainly, on capacity-full nights, under the lights, the mist rolling in from the klongs, gazing across at the orange and blue sea of shirts massed in Zone C, a tingle ripples down my spine.

 

The beating heart of Thai football – PAT Stadium (pic by John Parbury)

 

Zone C is where I started my Port career, as it were.  It was a little more sedate in those days and I felt that entrance to Zone B, the traditional ‘behind-the-goal’ position of my youth, was a rite of passage that I had yet to earn. But, I was eager to join. They looked like they were having so much fun. Seven years later and Zone B is a second home, a place where I would almost feel comfortable with a pipe and slippers, probably not on Buriram days though. After an enforced footballing absence of a month, walking up to my usual spot behind the goal for the friendly on Wednesday night and seeing the boys from the Sandpit already in place, induced a warm and cuddly feeling, enhanced by the rare treat of having a beer in my hand. PAT Stadium may be a little worn at the edges, it would never win the Gaudi prize for innovative architecture, but for us, it is, to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, a Colosseum of Delights. Roll on Sept 10th.

 

(Header image courtesy of John Parbury)

 

View From the Terraces Pt 1: England

 

“To say that these men paid their shillings to watch 22 hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that… Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling, Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art… and what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half. Not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay… but you had escaped with most of your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swopping judgments like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art.”      From ‘The Good Companions’ by JB Priestley, 1929

 

This article was originally going to be based around Thai Football grounds but a number of factors during the course of my research suggested that a wider view of the football watching experience was required. None more so than the quote above, featured at the beginning of a recent Observer article heralding the baptism of Huddersfield Town in the Premier League. You cannot separate the stadium from the fans; without them, whether glitzy or run-down, it is no more than a soul-less, conglomeration of concrete, plastic and steel with a bit of grass neatly laid in the middle. The fans are what bring the stadiums, the game, to life and are integral part of the match-day experience.

On Zone B, we may not be paying in shillings, we are not escaping, in most cases, clanking machinery or dole queues, but, for most of us, it is indeed a world away from our daily routine. Our Port match-day experience is a special, tribal rite, which we share with our mates on the terraces. Bereft of that experience for the last 3 weeks has only reinforced how important a factor the ‘match’ is in my life, a life which has had football at its heart since as long as I can remember.

I come from a football mad family, on the male side anyway: my dad and my brother were players like me, dad followed Aston Villa for reasons I still find hard to recollect, my brother, Blackpool, for Stanley Matthews. My mum and two sisters didn’t follow, but understood. Like most boys of my age growing up in the Fifties, playing football filled my waking hours, mostly with a tennis ball up and down our alleyway. We lived in open countryside between two villages and sometimes it was a bit of a trek to the recreation ground in the nearest village to play with my mates, especially in winter, so, as a 7 year-old, my first football-playing arena was created in my imagination. ‘The Orchard’, I called it and you have to admit, it is a fitting, romantic, rural name. Subsequent research has found there actually is a ground with this name, home of Bedfont and Feltham FC currently playing in the Combined Counties Premier Division.

 

My Theatre of Dreams

 

But my Orchard, owned by my uncles next door, was a proper one, with heavily laden apple trees, slightly overgrown grass, a wall at one end, which served as one goal, and a fence, bordering the chicken run at the other end, for the other goal. I had been given my first, proper, lace-up football at Christmas and so, with this, dubbined and tucked proudly under my arm, I would stride out into The Orchard at the head of my Imaginary Team (Me) to face my Imaginary Opponents (Me). We (Me v Me) played out many epic encounters in this leafy stadium, winning, drawing and losing in equal measure, a 3rd Me refereeing and a 4th Me providing a running commentary. There was an Imaginary Crowd too, some preening their feathers in the branches of the apple trees, others in the form of a few curious sheep peering over the gate of the field next door (my uncles were farmers), while a few chickens clucked in approval from the henhouse as I dribbled round the apple trees as if they were rooted to the ground. Once a fight broke out between two enraged cockerels over a disputed penalty, but a dousing with the hose pipe soon quietened them down. On another occasion, a particularly nasty foul by Me on Myself ended with a sending off by Me and the inevitable abandonment of the game.

It was about this time, 1959, when I was eight years old, that another uncle, who lived at the end of our row of four family houses (we hadn’t been ostracized from the village or anything, my uncles were just clever with a trowel, bricks and cement and built four houses on a prime plot of Buckinghamshire countryside before it became a designated Green Belt and well before the advent of Milton Keynes) took me to Kenilworth Road, home of Luton Town, to watch them play the mighty Manchester Utd. I was presented with a black and white scarf, bobble hat, a rattle made by my dad (he was clever with wood) and a two week old programme to learn the names of the players on the journey to the game….Baynham, McNally, Hawkes, Groves…. Luton were to make it to the FA Cup Final that year, losing to Forest 2-1.

Luton then, were my first date, the Oak Road my first memorable, ‘behind the goal’ experience, none better than when John O’Rourke scored two late goals to sink local rivals Watford.  I even sat on a bench a few feet away from Sir Alf Ramsey when Ipswich visited as League Champions in 1962 and the ground was so packed we were put around the edge of the pitch for our own safety.

Then in 1964, I met Liverpool.  I had just turned 13 a few days earlier and Mark, my best mate in school, a Scouser, whose dad was head of the school, suggested that we go to watch Liverpool in a 5th round FA Cup tie at Highbury. Now this was Highbury, Arsenal in London, and for a country lad whose biggest regular experience of a metropolis outside his little hamlet, was the small market town of Bletchley, I might as well have been going to Timbuktu. My entry into the dark world of the ‘teens’ must have emboldened me as I promptly agreed to go, not knowing what I was letting myself in for. My tearful mother waved me off that Saturday with a grease-proofed pack of cheese sandwiches and a look of hand-wringing anguish normally associated with sending your offspring into war. Little did she know.

 

Ian St John

 

The crowd was 61,295 that day, nearly all standing, and, arriving late at the back of the Liverpool end, Mark and I were passed, hand to hand, over the heads of the crowd to the front, “There you are lads, you’ll be safer down here”. A quick glance at the empty, tossed bottles massed on the touchline behind the goal didn’t exactly confirm that sentiment. The game seemed to pass me by in an instant, but I still remember the noise, the passion, the drama and Ian St John’s winning goal, a towering header from the smallest player on the field. He was to become my hero. There was also a fight: Joe Baker trading blows with the massive Ron Yeats; both send off. A month later we were in London again to watch Manchester Utd win 3-2 at White Hart Lane in front of 56, 392 equally passionate fans. Best, Law, Charlton, Greaves – I was a child in sweetshop. But it was Liverpool, Ian St John, Bill Shankly and those strange accents that had captured my imagination.

 

Bill Shankly

 

I hadn’t exactly dumped Luton, in the cruel, heartless way that Wendy Osborne, nicknamed Quackers on account of her large protruding front teeth, had dumped me behind the bike sheds the previous week in school, but Liverpool and the truly big match atmosphere was getting a grip. I alternated between Kenilworth Road and wherever Liverpool were playing within reasonable, parentally approved territory. However, I didn’t tell my parents I had a knife pulled on me on the tube coming back from Upton Park, and that year, 1964, Liverpool won the League title just two years after gaining promotion. Although my Luton supporting uncle may not have done, my father approved of my new-found love, being a great admirer of Bill Shankly, a man of the people.

When I moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1975 for my first teaching job, it was that little bit closer to Anfield and I would drive up, mostly for mid-week games, as I played football at weekends, to stand on the Kop. It was the eras of Keegan, Dalglish, Ian Rush and a world with no compare.

“I remember the Kop when it was like a bowl of maggots. It was one of the most inspiring sights of my life. The thing levitated, man. Like any gathering of people, a rave or a gig, where people react together en masse, it was spiritual.” (John Power, singer The Cast).

 

On a wet day, with the steam and the cigarette smoke hanging grey and yellow in the air, and the derision exploding in wicked humour out of this gloomy cavern, the Kop had all the menace of an hysteric’s nightmare. (Arthur Hopcraft).