“We were somewhere around Samut Sakhon, on the edge of the desert, when the Amaretto began to take hold…”
I began following Port FC in the summer of 2014, yet due to some curse put on me by a vengeful Burmese gypsy in Khlong Thoey market after I refused to buy her kumquats, as yesterday dawned I had still to see my team win an away league game. Such was the gravity of the Russell jinx that there was widespread relief that I was out of the country for the recent trip to Super Power (though that may have just been relief at the fact that I was out of the country full stop), and I headed to Ratchaburi in hope (with Port on a run of 5 unbeaten games) rather than expectation.
Ratchaburi is a short 2-hour journey away, and we pass the time with the usual erudite discussions on Port-related matters as well as the varying quality of hotel pillows, Japanese psychedelia and the health-giving properties of Amaretto, which for some reason Dom is passing around the bus. Possibly the first Amaretto-fuelled football away trip in history. Certainly in Thai history anyway.
Ratchaburi’s new Mitr Phol Stadium is, at first glance at least, very impressive: a modern, running-track free ground with a bloody great orange dragon covering the main stand. Up close it’s still suffering teething troubles though – there’s very little food or beer available, the beer at the away end runs out before kick-off, there’s only one ticket office, and the long-anticipated stadium pub is closed.
But once we’re in the away end, with comfortable seats and excellent views, and the sun sets spectacularly behind the main stand, it’s pretty clear that we’re in probably the best stadium in Thailand – it’s just a shame there are so few home fans in it. But the away end is packed and in good voice, and as the game kicks off Port tear into their opponents with the vigour we’ve come to expect in recent weeks, and take a mere 10 minutes to take the lead. Ratchaburi’s keeper makes a mess of a corner, his attempted punch as limp as one of the stadium sausages; the ball is swung back across the area, to be nodded into the centre by Rochela (22), and once again the keeper comes out waving to his mother (c Big Ron) and misses the ball, allowing Todsapol (6) to nod it into an empty net. It’s a great start and no more than Port deserve.
Port continue to dominate for the next 20 minutes or so, with both Josimar (30) and Pakorn (9) coming close with long-range screamers. But on the half-hour mark Ratchaburi’s quality starts to show and they boss the remainder of the half. And right on the 45-minute mark their pressure tells, with big Congolese defender Joel Sami, a living monument to the fortifying effects of Um Bongo, muscling Rochela out of the way and nodding in a corner at the near post to make it 1-1.
Over half-time Changs (note to Mitr Phol: you can’t build a sexy new stadium and then stock it with the Devil’s Piss. You just can’t) the consensus is that 1-1 is pretty much fair. Ratchaburi have more quality throughout the squad than Port do, but Port have the team spirit and the intensity, and so in the second half it could go either way.
And what a second half it turns out to be, a fitting final 45 minutes of an enjoyable and often batshit mental 2017 season. Port are on top for most of it – I can hardly remember young Rattanai (17) having to make a save – and get the lead back on 66 minutes, when Josimar (yes, Josimar) skins a Ratchaburi defender, bursts into the box and unleashes a fierce left-foot shot which the keeper can only parry onto the foot of Suarez (5), who taps it in for 2-1.
Port continue to dominate and on 85 minutes get the third goal their pressure deserves, with Pakorn cheekily taking out three Ratch defenders and putting in a cross which skims off Josi’s boot onto the head of a defender and into the net for 3-1.
But just as I’m taking pats on the back from my colleagues in celebration of the lifting of the Gypsy’s Curse, Operation Fuckup briefly rears its ugly head on 90 minutes as Dragons’ striker Nattawut manages to calmly wander past six static Port defenders to get on the end of a pass and stick it past Rattanai. When the ref adds on 4 minutes’ stoppage time, the gypsy begins to rub her gnarled, wrinkled hands together and cackle over her kumquats, but luckily Port manage to play out the remaining time with a combination of possession and feigning injury, and finally, after over three years, the curse is lifted and I get to celebrate an away league win.
But tonight is all about Port ending a successful season on a high, with 16 points taken out of the last 18 and a top-half finish secured, in front of one of the biggest and most boisterous away crowds of the season. One of those nights when you forget the away drubbing at Honda, the home defeat to Pattaya, the existence of Tana, and the Zico Experiment, and just thank your lucky stars that you support this team and are surrounded by these wonderful, wonderful fans. We sing ourselves hoarse, Genki (18) sheds a few tears as he says farewell, and we head to the disco tuk-tuk to carry on the party in the car park.
Due to logistical issues our journey home is beer-free, which makes it somewhat less fun but also means we get home in 2 hours without having to make multiple toilet stops, and we bid sad farewells at Bang Chak and promise to meet again in 3 months’ time. Well, apart from the Thai FA Cup Final next Saturday of course. Oh, and there’s the futsal too. Football – and friendship – never stop.
Man of the Match: Josimar Rodrigues
Fittingly for his last game in a Port shirt, Josi put in one of his best performances of the season today, adding a few bursts of pace to his usual hard graft in the lone striker role, setting up the second goal for Suarez, and – possibly – staking a claim to the third. Whether he touched it or not, he’s beaten his 2016 goal tally and become the highest-scoring Port striker since Leandro, and tonight’s bustling, productive performance was a great way to bow out after a great season.