There can be few better places to enjoy a game of football than Chiang Rai in September. Lovely cool evening weather, a beautiful purpose-built stadium, and a mature attitude to in-stadium beer consumption all contribute to the ideal Thai footy experience, and throw in some particularly friendly food vendors handing out free crispy worms, and the weary travelling fan couldn’t ask for more. Apart, of course, from a decent crowd (note to the FAT – on what planet is 5.45pm on a Wednesday a good kick-off time?), and a referee with a degree of competence and integrity. That, in Thai football, seems too much to ask.
Following the piss-poor performances against Prachuap & Chainat, the uninformed observer may have expected Jadet to make a few changes to take into account certain players’ poor form and the inevitable fatigue that comes with playing two games per week. Those of us who know better were not at all surprised that the only change was an enforced one, with the suspended Pakorn replaced not by another winger, but by Port’s own midfield Jack Russell, Adisorn (13). Quite how Jadet had told his players to line up was a mystery to us and the players themselves, with Boskovic (23), Nurul (31) and Suarez (5) all having spells on the right, left and middle. It would’ve been no surprise had Bosko popped up manning the sausage stand under the away end, such was the players’ obvious confusion.
But Port began brightly, bossing possession and passing the ball around crisply. Chiang Rai simply couldn’t get near them until the 3rd minute, when Chaiyawat (and you’ll be reading more, oh so much more, about this dickhead later) broke forward and fed the left winger who crossed to an unmarked Phittiwat on the edge of the box, who fired home impressively past Worawut (36) to give the Beetles an undeserved lead.
Port once again began passing the ball around comfortably without really threatening and Chiang Rai, rather like a man whose wife has been invited out for the evening by Elton John, were happy to sit back & let them get on with it in the knowledge that there would be no penetration. But after a while Elton, presumably feeling nostalgic for his brief 1980s liaison with busty German saucepot Renate Blauel, started feeling a bit frisky. On 18 minutes Nurul broke into the box and picked out an unmarked Suarez, but the out-of-sorts Spaniard could only pass the ball tamely into the keeper’s arms. A few minutes later Siwakorn (16) curled a shot just wide of the post, and just before half-time Suarez headed narrowly over the bar. 1-0 at half-time, with Port much the better side and Chiang Rai seemingly happy to park the bus against far more talented opponents.
The second half began in similar vein, with Bodin (10), briefly remembering how to play football and hitting the side netting with a long shot, before the game was transformed by the worst piece of refereeing I’ve seen at a Port game since the infamous Chainat Debacle in 2014. Dolah (4) blocked a shot from Chaiyawat – known henceforth as Chaiyatwat – and the players briefly collided. The big Swede, being the decent sort of gent that he is, tried to help Chaiyatwat to his feet, but the latter reacted angrily and then, seeing that Port were bombing up the pitch at considerable speed, fell to the turf clutching his face. Port played on, and when Chiang Rai regained possession, they gave a similar number of fucks about Chaiyatwat’s plight as the rest of us – that number being zero – and launched an attack of their own, only to start surrounding the ref as soon as the ball went out of play. The ref, who throughout the game seemed to be waiting for the home side to tell him what decisions to make, bizarrely booked both players; at which point CR defender Victor, a huge bear of a man temporarily doing a pretty convincing impression of a weasel, minced over to the ref to point out that Elias had already been booked, and the ref produced a red card. An early bath for the big no4, and my sources tell me that he went the full Thiago on the dressing room door on his way back. And why not.
Minutes later Chaiyatwat cut out a Port attack with his hand – technically a straight red but at least a yellow – yet, despite being given a good mauling by a by-now incandescent Boskovic, the ref let him off. By this point the Port players were in a state of fury, as were the away fans, with one Sandpitter who shall remain nameless (cough) heading down several rows to the front of the away end to hurl abuse at the cheating fucker in the orange 18 shirt. Clearly fearing for their player’s safety, Chaiyatwat was subbed off to a rousing sendoff from the Khlong Thoey Army.
With Port’s twin farang strike force always playing better when they’re nursing a grievance, Port tore into the home team but their best chances fell to Bodin, whose brief moment of enlightenment at the start of the half had long since passed, and who had reverted to his by now standard impression of “man seeing football for the first time”. It was inevitable that Chiang Rai would catch Port on the break and they added a second in injury time, condemning Port to a very unfortunate away win in a game they dominated and, but for the ridiculous referee, could well have won.
That said, all is clearly not well at Port. The team have won just twice in the last 11 games in all competitions (against Police Tero & Trat), and a team that was tearing T1 apart with pace, style and intensity a few weeks ago now looks lost & demoralised. Several players clearly don’t want to be there, others have visibly regressed, and any semblance of a tactical plan has long since vanished. Boskovic in particular seems like a lost soul, popping up all over the pitch when he should be planting himself up front and demanding some decent service. Jadet needs to look up the word “meritocracy” in the dictionary because at the moment he’s picking his standard first XI regardless of form and attitude, and the team are suffering as a result. Mme Pang was away on an Instagramming holiday to Paris, and there will be few people on the Port staff looking forward to her return.
We left the stadium with the red mist still hovering above our heads, but thankfully our faith in humanity and the fine townspeople of Chiang Rai was very quickly restored. Having taken a “fuck it, let’s worry about it later” approach to getting back into town after the game, we found ourselves stranded and facing a long walk. 5 minutes down the road I spotted a farang returning to his car and asked him how one might go about getting to the night market. He didn’t understand me so, recognising his accent, I switched to the old francais, and the farang in question revealed himself as Alain, French retiree and longtime resident of Chiang Rai. Not only that, but he also turned out to be a fellow St Etienne fan, having followed the mighty Verts throughout Europe during their late 70s/early 80s glory years, and happily ushered us into his car and took us all the way into town. Merci monsieur. Then, having located a khao soy stand, the chef complimented us on our choice of football team and threw an extra chicken leg into each bowl. It may have been the warming, hearty goodness of the soup, the kindness of strangers, or the large amount of beer I’d consumed by that point, but my wife informs me there was a tear in my jaded old eye as I slurped down my bowl of the very best.
And so as is often the case, another away trip which would’ve been perfect had we not had to go & watch football. As Alain would say, plus ca change…
The Sandpit Man of the Match: David Rochela
Despite dark mutterings in various Port fan circles about his declining powers, El Capitan was at his very best last night, mopping up at the back, starting attacks with his accurate passing, and making several last-ditch tackles. Honourable mentions to to the ever-reliable Nitipong (34), Adisorn (who was our best player until Jadet inexplicably subbed him off) and Kim (8), who at least tried to instill some order into the tactical chaos that was Port’s midfield.