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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up- Nongbua Pitchaya

This is the first season in the top tier for the team from Isaan. It was on route to a 2019 league cup game in Nongbua that five Port fans were tragically killed. Since then, there has been a bit of a bond between the two clubs. I attended their final game of last season at Kasetsart, another fan in the bus that day who still suffers with his injuries was also there and the care and respect towards him from the fans and owners of the Nongbua was remarkable. This was the day they lifted the title and yet one of the biggest cheers of the evening was for a guy battling his way to the top of a staircase. The owners without a show or placing themselves at the centre of it also made sure he had pictures with the trophy, along with ex Port player Adisorn (who has since moved on to Nakhonpathom). All done in an understated and classy manner. The fans themselves will be a welcome addition to the division, plenty of them made the trip for a mid week game at the other end of the country and they know how to have a good time and make some noise.  Having seen them play in Bangkok in the past it wasn’t in the slightest due to the presentation of silverware.

There is a lot to like about this club besides a solid fanbase. Stupid nickname…… the Gamecocks. Things aren’t getting much better than that. New town……. This looks like a trip to deepest Isaan. Silly kits…… oh yes, in the land where bright orange is the norm, this lot take it to another level with pink and blue. Decent stadium……. It’s not quite finished yet but it’s got bright pink seats and no running track, sounds like a double win to me.

Farm cock. Fighting cock, gamecock village scene

They were champions of the M150 Championship quite comfortably finishing 6 points clear of Chiangmai United and only losing once all season with a solid defence only conceding 16 in 34 games. When l saw them, their football was quite impressive but the overall sense was that their foreign players weren’t of the level required for the step up. Which was a view shared by the club as they’ve moved them all on. I’m told there’s some serious money backing this club and you’d hope they bring in some players with experience in Thai football. They have in Iain Ramsey who followed his former boss from PT Prachuap. The rest are a bit more of a worry, income Brazilians, Airton a centre back from his native second tier and attacker Hamilton who arrives from Kuwait.  You never know with these signings but given that Hamilton doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, it’s probably wisest to keep expectations low until they provide evidence to the contrary. Also arriving are Iran defensive midfielder Mahan Rahmani and Israeli winger Lidor Cohen, again players with little reputation. Their like, have arrived from unusual places and been a success in Thailand but more often than not they don’t. Also arriving is striker Apiwat Pengprakone, who got a fair few starts for Ratchaburi last season and a couple in their recent ACL campaign managing a worrying total of one goal in return. Generally the squad currently looks a bit light.

Pitchaya Stadium one to add to the wish list

 

Head Coach – Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul

Taking over at the helm for this season, Thawatchai has been in charge at PT Prachuap since 2017, keeping the seasiders in the top tier for the past three seasons. This realistically appears to be the ceiling of ambition with Nongbua this season. He’s got the experience hopefully he can pull it off again.

 

Thawatchai pretty in “pink”

 

Key Player – Athibordee Atirat

Thai football’s most entertaining man and its finest Instagram account make a return to the big time with the gamecocks. It’s not so much that l think he’s the key player for the club on the field or will be winning them many games. More this club looks in the first leg of the season set to be down there battling to avoid relegation. And it’s while you’re down there battling that players like Athibordee are golden, this guy will keep smiles on faces and spirits up in the dark days to come.

 

To be honest,  the squad’s rubbish and I’m not picking some Brazilian random as a starman only to see him disappear after 5 games, we learnt that lesson with Mezenga at PT Prachuap last season. So you’re getting Athibordee pulling silly poses instead.

 

The Kingof Instagram in his Port days

 

Prediction – Survival more easily than you expect.

The closed season doesn’t seem to have been particularly good for the Gamecocks and they are widely tipped to go down. Despite that l’m going to go out on a limb and predict the club stays up, partly because I’m more than a little taken with them and believe they’re the kind of club that the top division needs if the domestic league is to grow. However, the bigger reason is, relegation in Thailand is seldom decided in the first half, for all but the worst clubs. Rather it’s a warm up, its more often than not how you stand after the mid season transfer window that decides your destiny than before it and we’ve seen many occasions where some shrewd signing or just throwing some cash at big names see teams do a “Suphanburi” and avoid the drop. If they don’t get points first half of the year to avoid trouble l expect them to sign their way to safety.

 

James Clarke

James Clarke

Originally from England, James first came to Thailand in 2010 to escape big cities and spend time on beaches away from crowds. He now divides his time between living in Bangkok and wishing he was living in Bangkok.

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