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Thi-Aggro: Ex-Port Star in Comedy Brawl Action

 

Following his on-pitch meltdown and GBH on the dressing room door during the game against Samut Songkhram last August, lovable East Timorese goal machine Thiago Cunha left Port FC and joined Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC, joining Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan in the most mismatched partnership since Ed Sheeran hooked up with Taylor Swift.

 

Thiago, you’ll be stunned to learn, has yet to find the net for his new club, but he did make the news this week when he was involved in an almighty post-whistle dust-up at the end of the second leg of the ISL semi-final, which saw Mumbai dumped out by the amusingly named Atletico de Kolkata. Kolkata’s Juan Belencoso gets dumped on his arse just as the final whistle blows, which is the cue for a highly entertaining bout of handbags.

 

Our hero makes his entrance around the 20-second mark in the clip below, punching a Kolkata player from behind and then aiming a flying kick at Belencoso himself, before running away to the safety of the match officials, whilst looking around him in panic and making hilarious boxing gestures. It’s all here:

 

 

…and The Sandpit has also paid tribute to Thiago’s moment of glory by turning it into a GIF:

The Chaos Theory of Thai Football

 

“League One club Fleetwood Town this week announced that they have bought West Bromwich Albion’s licence and will be taking their place in next season’s English Premier League. West Brom will now move to Leeds.

 

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, but it’s exactly what happened last week when Udon Thani FC of Thailand’s Regional League Division 2 Northeastern purchased the licence of TPL club BEC Tero, thus taking Tero’s TPL place for 2017. Tero themselves are rumoured to be moving out of Bangkok to Khon Kaen.

 

Such is the crazy, unpredictable world of Thai football where situations like the relocation of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes in 2003, which caused a massive stink in English football and whose aftershocks are still being felt, are simply par for the course and rarely raise an eyelid. We don’t have time to list all the examples of such shenanigans here, but let’s look at our own club, Port FC. Since I began supporting Port in the summer of 2014, the club has had four names (Singhtarua FC, Thai Port FC, Thai Port MTI FC, Port FC), four badges (a lion, an anchor, a horse for reasons far to bizarre to go into here, and back to a lion), three owners, and seven coaches. The fans have been banned from watching the team twice, we’ve been docked 9 points for crowd trouble, and two weeks prior to the 2016 season we still didn’t know which division we’d be playing in. All in the space of 2.5 years. And this is at one of Thailand’s more stable clubs.

 

Right now, with two months to go before the start of the new season, the exact lineup of the 2017 TPL remains unknown, with the Udon-BEC deal still not 100% confirmed, Pattaya Utd’s situation uncertain, and nomadic club Osotspa – currently going under the name Samut Sakhon City Power – still not sure if their latest move and name change has been approved.

 

To outsiders unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Thai football, it seems totally chaotic, but those of us who follow the Thai game generally just roll our eyes and mutter about how silly it all is, whilst being grateful that we have something to talk about during the dead weeks of the close season.

 

My theory – inspired one evening a couple of weeks ago, like much of the content on this site, by the magical elixir that is Leo beer – is that this chaos, uncertainty and flexibility vis a vis the rules is deliberately engineered into Thai football in order to give the authorities some wiggle room when wealthy, influential club owners for whom things aren’t going well on the pitch and who are used to getting their own way try to flex their muscles; matters can be resolved to hiso satisfaction without anyone – other than the game itself, in the eyes of fans used to more transparent footballing cultures – losing face.

 

So on those rare occasions when Thai footballing culture intersects with the outside world, comedy often ensues. In 2015, Reading FC’s Thai chairwoman Khunying Srivikorn wrote an official club song called ‘They Call Us the Royals‘, complete with cringeworthy rap interlude, to the visible bewilderment of those players corralled into appearing in the video, to the embarrassment of the club’s fans, and to the amusement of the rest of the footballing world.

 

 

And back in September, Leicester fans – including club legend Gary Lineker – were surprised to see the face of the club’s Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha beaming out at them from the cover of the programme for the club’s first ever Champions League game, rather than club manager Claudio Ranieri.

 

To those of us used to the caprices of Thai club owners, Reading’s song and Leicester’s programme weren’t in the least surprising. We shrugged and laughed, just as we shrugged and laughed at the ridiculous Udon-BEC Tero deal, just as we shrugged and laughed at the 2016 season ending with 3 games still left to play, just as we’ll shrug and laugh when the 2017 season is delayed when some rich club owner launches an appeal against something or other. It’s a kind of footballing Stockholm Syndrome, without which we wouldn’t be able to take the game seriously and continue showing up to watch our clubs every week. And, I suspect, without the chaos and confusion, Thai football might just be a little less fun.

 

 

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Tom’s Transfer Talk – 13 Dec 2016

SMM Sport is reporting that Port have signed 31 year old journeyman Siwapong Jarernsin. The midfielder has played for ten different teams in the last ten years, and has more often than not been more of a squad player than a regular fixture in the starting XI. He was a surprising pick in Thai coach Zico’s preliminary AFF Suzuki Cup squad, although he didn’t make the final cut.

Siwapong, 31

Port have already seen significant turnover in midfield during the transfer window. Artit (19) returned to parent club Muang Thong, and Wagner (35) has not retained his place in the squad, meaning last season’s two main options in the holding role have been let go. Sergio Suarez seems to be Wagner’s natural replacement at the heart of the midfield, but The Sandpit will have to see fellow newbies Wanchalerm Yingyong and Pakin Kaikaew in action before being able to judge where they are likely to fit in.

This week sees Port visit Navy on the 15th, before Malaysian side Pahang play at PAT Stadium on the 18th, giving Port fans the opportunity to see some of the new arrivals in action for the first time.

Tom’s Transfer Talk welcomes more or less any insight or gossip, providing you’re not just making stuff up, so tweet me @BKKEarlsy or leave a comment on the article if there’s anything else you think I should be covering.

Thanks to regular Sandpitter Dom for helping me out with this round of transfer gossip.

 

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Spit in the Sandpit: Overrated/Underrated

 

 

Every now and again I hope to share with you my personal list of underrateds and overrateds at Port FC…..

 

Underrated- Midfielder Rodrigo Maranho. #29. Wow. This Brazilian was dazzling to watch. He scored some of the prettiest goals I’ve seen in Thai football.  I guess he fell out of favour with team management but he can take a lot of the credit for Ports success in 2016.

 

Overrated- Forward Hironori Saruta (2014-2015).The chant “Sa-ru-ta!” was loud and clear at PAT stadium for two seasons. But I never drank the Saruta kool-aid. I ended up just shaking my head  whenever the Japanese forward would dippsy doodle just inside the box and then (if he didn’t dive to draw a penalty) he would hit a strike that seemed to always go wide or sail over the crossbar. Saruta scored just 6 goals for Port in 62 appearances. Maybe the chant should have been “ WTF Sa-ru-ta?”

 

Underrated– Defender David Rochela. #22 I know, I know, how can Port FC’s player of the year be underrated? I think I saw at least a dozen matches this past season where I’m sure Rochela was the only Port player who knew what to do with a football. I’m serious! He was always saving our butts.

 

Overrated- Muangthong United FC…..sorry I have to get in at least one obligatory poke at MTU.

 

Overrated- The new fancy video scoreboard in zone D. Yes, it’s a pleasant upgrade to the old  scoreboard that more than half the stadium of supporters couldn’t see. All the old scoreboard would give you is…time of day and home 01 visitors 00. The new video scoreboard will actually show you match time! Wow, technology! But where’s video replays, scores from other matches? or where are the close ups of Madame Pang?

 

Underrated- I can go to a Port home game at PAT stadium and pay 100 baht for my ticket, 60 baht for a large beer, and buy some delicious finger food for another oh let’s say 40 baht. Total cost for a Port FC experience…200 baht. That same 200 baht wouldn’t even pay for parking at BC Place stadium, home of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. A Port FC match is incredibly good value.

 

PAT’s the Way to Do It: How to Improve the Fan Experience

 

I have a confession to make; I’m a latecomer to “football” or as we know it in the US “soccer.” Growing up it was American Football, basketball, a bit of baseball, and when Dallas got the Stars in ’94 it was all about hockey. One of the things I knew I would miss when I moved to Thailand was sports, so I soon latched onto the EPL and became a raging football fan, watching a myriad of games each weekend.

 

Sports on TV are nice, but I really missed the live experience. Giving up my season tickets to the Stars was just about the biggest blow for me, well aside from forgoing good Mexican food, so I was thrilled in 2011 when my gal suggested we go to a TPL match. Truth be told I did not even know there was a league. We first went to a BEC Tero match at Thephasadin Stadium that was ok, but not that impressive. The next week we went to see Port vs Sisaket at PAT and we were immediately hooked.

 

I have really enjoyed these 6 seasons. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions with a cup final, relegations, promotions, road trips, and lots of new friends both Thai and foreign. I have never felt more connected and attached to a team.

 

For me the fan experience is really what professional sports are about. And it is one thing that American sports do quite well. From ticketing, to merchandising, marketing and what occurs each game day is well planned and thought out and most of it’s all fan-centric.

 

I would like to suggest a few things that would make the Port fan experience even better.

 

Ticketing

As a long time season ticket holder and Zone A denizen, I would like to have a reserved seat and be able to retain that seat season to season.

 

It would also be nice to have all the tickets ready at the beginning of the season for season ticket holders so that we don’t have to go to the shop each week to get our tickets. They could be labeled Match 1, 2, etc.

 

Merchandising and Marketing

Some years have been better than others. The years with Mizuno and Joma saw the shopped well stocked throughout the season with plenty of jerseys, t-shirts, and swag available. Other years have seen long waits for jerseys and a pretty barren shop. Port supporters buy a lot of merchandise, so ensuring that the suppliers keep the shop stocked and open during business hours is something all the fans will appreciate.

 

As I mentioned in the first paragraph; I lived in Bangkok, Khlongtoey specifically for over ten year before I even knew there was a league. I might have found the team a bit earlier had there been merch in the malls.

 

Game Day Experience

The atmosphere at PAT is great. Each year there is more food, more activities, and the supporters appreciate it. Last year the club sought out discounts on hotels for away trips and there were some buses. For certain effort is being put in by the club to make the game day experience better for the fans. I am hopeful we will have an even better atmosphere during the upcoming season with even more fan-centric events for supporters.

 

Again, just my two cents on some things I would like to see. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season. Hopefully we will field a competitive team. A mid-table finish would be wonderful!

 

Thanks to Landry Dunand for the photo

 

Port Announce Two Friendlies

Port FC will play two more pre-season friendlies in the coming week.

On Thursday 15 December, they travel to Siam Navy FC, and on Sunday 18 December they welcome Malaysian side Pahang FC to the PAT. Both games kick off at 17:00 and as far as we know entrance is FOC. Details are on the Fixtures & Results page.

As usual the Sandpit welcomes volunteer match reporters for both games.

Dolah In The Bank

 

Thai-Swedish centre-half Elias Dolah has reportedly signed with Port. The 6 foot 5 defender was born in Lund, Sweden to a Thai father and a Swedish mother, meaning he will be able to bring his experience of European football to Port without taking up one of the five foreign player slots.

Elias Dolah, 23

23 year old Dolah played 21 games for local third tier side Lunds BK before moving to FC Rosengard and then Songkhla United in the TPL. He made 23 appearances for Songkhla last season, scoring one goal.

Dolah looks to be a shrewd signing, bringing much-needed physical presence to a Port squad that was somewhat lacking in height and strength last term. His arrival will increase competition for places in the Port back-line, where Todsapol (6) formed a solid partnership with Rochela (22) last season. He could also add a goal threat from set-pieces, giving Pakorn (9) a target for his pinpoint crosses.

Welcome to PAT Stadium, Elias Dolah!

 

Portrait of an Icon: Leandro Oliveira da Luz

“Leandro! One-nil”

It could have been John Motson or Barry Davies, screaming those words with accustomed familiarity on Match of the Day, but for us, in those first few games of the TPL season 2014, it was probably just in our heads. Leandro had, inevitably, scored and we were ahead, and for a while, top of the League. They were giddy times, and Leandro, his exploits in the previous season’s promotion campaign still buzzing through the memory banks, was our hero. I loved him and, to show my devotion, popped down to MBK to buy a Port blue t-shirt to have it emblazoned, in bright orange lettering, with that commentary above and, ‘The Perfect 10’ on the back. So, what of the man who had inspired this devotion?

 

The Pedigree (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Leandro was born in Candido Mota in Brazil on March 3rd, 1983. At the age of 19, he joined the legendary Santos in the top echelon of Brazilian football, Pele numbering amongst its former luminaries. The following year, he represented his country at U23 level, scoring one goal in 4 appearances. His career took on a rather wayward, nomadic turn after this, as he wandered through a number of home-based teams before making his way to Hai Phong in Vietnam in 2008.

 

It was here that he reached his own personal level of excellence, scoring 53 goals in 68 appearances, being made captain and winning Player of the Year 2009 in an on-line, unofficial poll. Leandro left Vietnam in 2012 to return to Brazil, but it was no doubt during his time in the V League that he had come under the radar of Dusit Chalermsan, Port manager 2013-14, who was coaching in Vietnam at the time.

 

The Goals 2013-14

Leandro announced his arrival with a stunning, left foot volleyed goal against Bangkok Glass in a rather meaningless, pre-season tournament in Chiang Rai. A header and a trademark free-kick in the first, victorious, away game at Ayuthaya confirmed that we had something special on our hands. ‘Getting a Brazilian’ became a subject that could now be discussed in Port family circles without any hint of embarrassment or recrimination. We won the first four away games in a row, were top of the League and the promotion adventure had begun.

 

The goals flowed: twenty-four that season, to win Leandro the Golden Boot. And they were, often than not, spectacular. Left foot shots and volleys, long and short range, of all description – meeting the ball dropping out of the air; crosses from the right; crosses from the left. Had they been scored by.. (insert here the name of a top Premier League striker) they would have been talked about incessantly. But they weren’t and they were.

 

Then came the headers, dispatched with deadly accuracy: diving with power; hanging in the air with placement; deftly cushioned into the corner. And, the penalties – he never missed. Every corner, free-kick and penalty was met with an expectant intake of breath, ready to be discharged in an exultant roar to announce yet another Leandro goal. We almost expected him to score direct from a throw-in.

 

His goals took us to promotion in 2013, to the top of the TPL at the beginning of 2014, and helped to save us from an unjust relegation after a 9-point deduction following the annual Battle of Muang Thong.

Leandro: what was there not to like…….?

 

The Dark Side

Quite a lot, according to some, and there is no doubt that Leandro had his detractors. He was, without doubt, egotistical; he wanted the game to revolve around him, often berating team-mates for some perceived indiscretion. In the true Latin tradition, he was, to put it kindly, theatrical. He dived, he rolled over, he screamed, clutching numerous body parts with varying degrees of pain intolerance. He argued with officials and had tantrums. He carried his baby into the pre-match line-up. In other words, he was the epitome of the modern footballer.

 

Whether you loved him or hated him (it was hard to be indifferent), you just couldn’t stop talking about him. Still, as Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” I suspect Oscar would have admired Leandro.

 

My question to his detractors is: “Would you rather have had him for those two years or not had him? Would we have won promotion and climbed to 9th place in the League without him? If not Leandro, then who?”

 

He could be a rogue, but to my mind, a loveable one, and we English love a loveable rogue – just look at the Krays!

 

The Dismantling of an Icon

So, how will we look back on Leandro? For two years he was our God, our mercurial wizard; his left foot – his magic wand. We all knew he could be a bit of a twat. But, he was our twat, and we adored him. To watch him on his last return to Port with Air Force was to only feel sad at how much he had lost that magic. Never possessing a sylph-like figure, he looked overweight and well off the pace; even his aim letting him down. His once feared free-kicks never surmounted the wall and he spent most of the game in a running battle with the ref, Port players (and his own), and, ultimately, the crowd, that had once adored him and chanted his name. When he was sent off after a second yellow card for a nasty foul on the young Port keeper, Rattanai, his departure was greeted with ironic cheers, or were they jeers? This was the third time he had returned to Port as an opposition player; on the first occasion, he did a lap of honour around the ground, signing autographs and posing for selfies.

 

With each subsequent visit, his allure had diminished.

 

I, for one, will not forget him. Thanks for the memories, Leandro – Once You Were King. 

 

 

2016 Season Review: Great Expectations

A disappointing 2015 saw Port relegated to Division 1. 2016 started off with some impressive signings and a heady confidence that we wouldn’t be in the second tier for long. The first and most impressive of the signings was Thiago Cunha (10) from Chonburi, he was joined by two Brazilian Midfielders Maranhao (29) and Wagner (35). Along with Pakorn (9) Pinyo (21) and Tana (5) from Division 1 championship winning Police United. Looking at the squad list on day one Port had assembled the best group of 35 in the league.

 

Port had a great start with 9 wins and 4 draws. We were top of the league and looked like favourites for the Division 1 championship, but other teams also had impressive records. Ubon UMT held Port to a draw in Ubon and were the main early contenders for the title. Port’s results were good, but often revolved around a few bits of great individual play. This Port team looked great at times but disjointed at others. We had enough good players to beat average Division 1 teams but the drawn matches showed this team was not going to walk the league. The Division 1 championship was going to be decided by which of the top 5 or 6 teams dropped the least points in a top heavy league. Port’s first loss away to Ang Thong FC flagged them up as possible promotion challengers. Thai Honda joined Ubon UMT with decent early form.

 

After the loss to Ang Thong and a draw against Rayong FC worse was to come. Port went on to throw away a two goal lead to last placed Bangkok United. Serious questions being asked about whether Port had any chance of winning the Division 1 title. Then came the first home loss of the season to a well organised but mid-table Prachuap FC. This probably sealed manager Wada’s fate. He’d done a reasonable job at the back end of last season and the beginning of 2016, but it wasn’t going to be enough to save him from Madam Pang wielding the axe. His results weren’t dreadful, but with the squad available Port were underperforming.

 

New manager Jadet Melarp came in and secured an FA Cup win against BEC Tero. Under Jadet Port went on to beat promotion rivals Ang Thong FC when they visited PAT Stadium. He’d knocked a few heads together and the future looked rosy for Port.

 

Unfortunately the next game saw Jadet make the odd decision to switch a winger in to defence exposing an already troubled back line. The strong Thai Honda attack really shut down any chance of a win for Port. We should have been aiming for at least a draw against Honda but the result showed that Port were vulnerable against the top clubs. With this win Honda took control of the race for top spot. The next Port loss 5-1 away to Chiang Mai sounded serious alarm bells back at the PAT. Chiang Mai had a reasonable side, but Port were looking to take 3 points from this game. They ended up being battered 5-1. It was a body blow for Port’s promotion hopes. Coming in between the two mid-week cup games Port were paying the price for a good run of form in both cups. Tired legs and a long trip up North to Chiang Mai did for Port, they never got into the game.

 

Port’s Cup form was a highlight of the season. Beating a decent Bangkok Glass team 1-0 at home, Navy away and Sisaket back at the PAT. Port had developed the infuriating ability to turn it on against the big clubs, then falter against average league opposition.

 

Thai Honda and Ubon UMT weren’t dropping many points towards the end of the season. Port’s championship bid slowly turned into a chase for the last promotion place. Ang Thong, Songklaa and Air Force were all within striking distance of Port if they slipped up. A 6-2 demolition of Samut Songkram set up a promotion clash against Air Force, lead by everyone’s favourite Ex-Port manager Sasom. He had just seen his side dispatch Bangkok United 5-0 and announced in the press he believed Air Force were going spoil Port’s promotion hopes. Port had only narrowly beaten Air Force away. This game would be a chance to control our own destiny in the promotion race or get dragged into a tight four horse race with Air Force, Ang Thong and Songklaa.  In a close game Port beat Air Force 2-0 and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. There was a party atmosphere at PAT as it looked like the job was nearly done. But before Nakhon Pathom in the league there was Muangthong away.

 

In the first leg of the league cup semi-final Port looked solid only losing by one goal to a Muangthong side dominant in the TPL. The second leg of the semi-final saw a tight game with Muangthong holding on for a 1-1 draw getting them through to the final. The match saw some serious fan violence after the game. With these incidents it’s always difficult to tell who started and who retaliated. Both sets of fans were at fault at different times. The beating of a lone Port fan near the exit road of the away end, was probably the key trigger to the ensuing violence. The violence meant both sets of fans would be banned from the stands for the last 5 games of the season.

 

Port still had a crucial game in the league three days later. Another win and promotion would be nearly certain. Next up were a lackluster Nakhon Pathom side that Port had beaten 6-1 at home and hadn’t won in their last five. Three points in the bag for sure, unfortunately Nakhon Pathom hadn’t read that script. They ran a shocked Port side around chalking up a 2-1 win, they could’ve easily scored a few more. Maybe the aftermath of the Muangthong game affected the players, I think it was more likely the highly charged atmosphere and the come down from such a close defeat against the top side in the TPL. This shattered side sleep walked into Nakhon Pathon expecting to be handed the three points.

 

Reflecting on the loss to Nakhon Pathom and the pummeling in Chiang Mai, Jadet played a weakened side away to Sukothai in the FA Cup. A team half starters half subs bowed out of the FA Cup in the quarter finals. This set up a real test of a home game against an already promoted Ubon UMT. A nervous make or break game for Jadet and Port. It was a quiet day at PAT stadium with only Ubon UMT fans allowed in, and Port fans watching the match at the Port Futsal stadium on the big screen. The Futsal Stadium is essentially a warehouse with four big fans plonked in it. The event was a cross between viewing a football match and a 1980’s rave. As Port went 3-1 up flares were lit up, and everyone ended the night all loved up. This win put Port safely in third place. Port needed only one point from the last two games to make promotion a mathematical certainty.

 

On 13th October 2016 King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at the age of 88 after a long illness. The death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej meant the whole country entered a period of mourning. The Thai F.A. decided to end the 2016 season early cancelling the last two fixtures for all clubs. This left Port in third place promoted along with Thai Honda first and Ubon UMT second.

 

 

Siroch: The One That Got Away

Did Port miss the opportunity to sign the Thai Heskey?

Siroch Chatthong, Ubon UMT’s powerful 24 year old forward, has exploded on to the Thai football scene in 2016. His promising displays this term did enough to persuade national team coach Zico to take a chance on him, and he has repayed the faith shown in him with some barnstorming performances.

Siroch vs. Rochela

Siroch, nicknamed Pipo, celebrated his 24th birthday on Thursday by scoring his first international goal in Thailand’s 4-0 thrashing of Myanmar, but it’s not because of his goals that Thai fans have taken to him. Pipo plays a distinctly un-Thai style of football, using his physique to bully and streamroll opposition defenders. Playing in Ubon’s all-white kit last season, Port fans may remember him being covered head-to-toe in Khlong Toey’s hallowed mud as he fought manfully for his team, although he couldn’t prevent them slipping to a 3-1 loss at PAT Stadium. Port fans congregated in the local Futsal arena during the stadium ban were full of praise for the Ubon forward, but if things had turned out differently, they could have been cheering on one of their own.

Before moving to Ubon UMT for the 2016 season, Pipo played for BCC in the regional league. Their home ground? Our very own PAT Stadium. Pipo scored 10 goals in 29 games for BCC before being spotted by Ubon’s scouts, but the Port coaching team must be disappointed that they missed the chance to sign Thailand’s most promising young player while he was right under their noses.

Tana Chanabhut

What’s more, it seems likely that Pipo has now usurped Port striker Tana Chanabhut’s place in the national team squad. Port’s only representative in the national team usually makes the 23 man squad alongside Muang Thong duo Teerasil Dangda and Adisak Kraisorn. Once all four are fit they will be fighting for three places, and it seems almost certain that Pipo will be ahead of Tana in the pecking order.

While Thai fans will be gleefully watching Indonesian players bounce off Pipo as he marauds through their defense in the Suzuki Cup Final later this month, Port fans may justifiably feel a little peeved that they missed the chance to sign Thailand’s latest sensation.