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How to Train Your Dragons: Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC 2-3 Port FC

 

“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.

 

The Farang Army

 

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.

 

The beautiful Mitr Phol Stadium

 

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.

 

Amaretto & cigars – who said Port fans were all hooligans?

 

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.

 

Some Friendlies

 

Starved of football during the international break? Help is at hand, as the club have just announced three friendly games against Bangkok Utd (hopefully not a repeat of the recent 6-2 away drubbing), Ratchaburi, and our old friends the Raging Mackerels of Samut Songkhram. Hopefully a good chance for Jadet to have a good look at the likes of Tatchanon, Pinyo, Meechok and Hansson, all players who should in my opinion be getting more game time than they have so far.

All games are, as far as we know, free to attend, and you can see the full details below:

 

Weds 22 March 17:00: Port FC vs Bangok Utd (H)

Sat 25 March 17:00: Pattaya vs Port FC (A)

Weds 29 March 18:00: Port FC vs Samut Songkhram FC (H)

 

Due to work commitments I’ll be unable to attend any of these so if anyone wants to write reports, please let us know!

 

 

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Spit in the Sandpit: Opening Day Notes

 

Warning…I am about to tell you about many of my observations of the season opener last Saturday night and I don’t mention or sing Genki’s name even once. So all you Genki fan boys move on, nothing to see here.

Close to a sell out, which warmed my heart, and as I looked out upon the sea of Port support I noticed hey, where are the black shirts in Zone D known as the Ultras? Have they been banned because of last season’s shenanigans? I miss having them there. Sort of a security blanket…like The Hell’s Angels providing security for a Rolling Stones concert, though that didn’t turn out all that great.

The new 50th Anniversary home kit is meh. I prefer last season’s white sleeves to the black and where’s the badge commemorating 50 years? The black away kit is sharp looking.

Wow. The pace in TPL (or do they call it Thai League 1 now?) is so much quicker. The ball is moving around a lot faster and I think our players had trouble adjusting for the first half hour. It’s so nice to see fast paced football return to PAT and of course the obligatory poor officiating. Ha ha ha.

Hey, I like our new foreign players. I thought after a slow start Spaniard Sergio Suarez #5 and Serbian striker #10 Andrija Kaluderovic provided Port with a dangerous one/two punch up front. Swedish-Thai defender Elias Dolah #4 is pretty slow but solid in the back and he seems to make right decisions when opposition is threatening. I give the new players a B+ grade.

I am disappointed with our new electronic scoreboard. It’s boring. It cost a lot of baht to install it and I’ve seen it display things other than score & time. I know league rules prevents it from showing replays but how about crowd shots or scores from other matches when there’s a break in the action? You can accuse of me of being a typical North American sports fan needing lots of bells and whistles on the scoreboard to keep me entertained but come on, can we have a little bit more than score and time?

My final observation of the night – Madame Pang is a rock star. The supporters just wanted to touch her as she came up to greet them in Zone C. I think she is a great asset to Port FC. I really do. I’m sorry all you negative Nellie’s. But just one bit of advice for the Madame, it’s weird watching the owner of the team lead the cheer in the players’ pre-match huddle.

 

Arigato Genki-San! Port FC 1-1 Ratchaburi FC

 

Football came home yesterday as Port opened their season at the PAT against Ratchaburi in front of what looked like a full house. An evening of great football, controversy, excitement and heavy drinking. Ah, we’ve missed you.

What’s that? Heavy drinking? Wasn’t it a dry day due to the Makha Bucha holiday? In theory, yes. But it’s a brave man who tells Port fans they can’t get leathered, particularly after 5 months without football. I was just about to pack some cold Leos into my backpack before heading to the stadium when my wife, who had gone down to the PAT earlier, broke the joyous news that the beer stalls were serving as per normal. It’s a Makha Bucha miracle!

Patrick Bentley models the 2017 Port shirt

The new season’s shirts were also revealed, modelled by friend of the Sandpit Patrick Bentley, to mixed reviews. The home shirt looks better on the pitch than it does close up, though the Leo logo proved popular and the black away shirt is very tasty.

We had no firm idea of what the lineup would be, with further confusion sowed the previous evening when Brazilian striker Josimar confirmed that he’d passed his medical and signed for Port, and then Ratchaburi’s Armenian striker Edgar Manucharyan was pictured wearing Port kit, with Ratchaburi confirming on Twitter the morning of the game that he had indeed signed for Port. That makes seven foreigners, so quite what is going on is a mystery.

Eyebrows were raised when the lineup was revealed, with Jadet paying virtually no attention to player performances in pre-season friendlies and picking Piyachart at LB, Piyachat as DM and Nitipong at RB. Heads were scratched when Piyachat went off injured in the first half and was replaced not by Wanchalerm or Tatchanon, but the long-forgotten Adisorn.

 

 

And in the first half Port’s play was as disjointed as Jadet’s thinking, as Ratchaburi, looking stronger, fitter and better organised, and blessed with the obligatory Scary Foreign Strikers that Port continually refuse to sign, threatened to run away with the game in the first 15 minutes, with only some heroic defending from Rochela keeping the score at 0-0. After weathering the storm, Port started to get more into the game and during a good spell of pressure Suarez shaved the crossbar with a diagonal shot from the right. But as the half-time whistle blew, there was general relief that we were still on level terms.

The second half began in a much more lively fashion, the excellent Rattanai making a superb stop from point blank range before Essombe fired over the bar. Then Port took hold of the game for the next 10 minutes, launching wave after wave of attacks with the otherwise unimpressive Kaludjerovic almost scoring from a header.

But it was the visitors who took the lead in the 77th minute, when a corner was headed back into the area where the excellent Santos, man of the match for me, headed in at the post. A bit harsh on Port who had had the best of the half but, and I can’t believe we’re still saying this, completely lacked any kind of goal threat.

 

Ten minutes later chaos reigned, when we were reminded of just how bad top flight refereeing is in Thailand. A Tana ball into the box was blocked by a defender, with a hand claimed Port, and the ref initially appeared to give a penalty which, after consultation with both his assistants and a lot of handbaggery from both sets of players, was amended to a free kick, despite the offence clearly taking place inside the area. Repeat viewing suggests it hit the defender’s leg rather than his hand, but if the referee thought there had been an offence, it should’ve been a penalty.

In front of an aggrieved Zone B, Pakorn curled the resulting free kick towards the far corner but was denied by an excellent save. But Port didn’t have to wait long to get their deserved equaliser. In the 5th minute of injury time a free kick was awarded on the edge of the Ratchaburi box. Pakorn pinged it into the box and right onto the head of Genki, who rose majestically from the melee like the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji to nod it past the keeper and into the net, sparking ecstatic scenes on the terraces as five months of frustration, and several hours of heavy drinking, caused an explosion of joy. Grown men hugged, women wept, and two weirdos started singing a Human League song.

So, a creditable first result against a very good side, but there is much work to do with Jadet clearly having no idea what his best side is, and some very good players sitting on the bench watching some very average ones. On the plus side, Suarez made a busy, combative debut, Siwakhorn and Genki’s workrate inspired their colleagues, Pakorn looked well up for it, and Rochela was majestic. On the minus, Kalu didn’t look like the SFS we’ve been waiting for, Dolah seems to lack pace, and until Pinkong came on, our full-backs were simply awful. A decent result from a poor performance, with much improvement needed if that top half place is going to be a reality.

 

PORT MAN OF THE MATCH – David Rochela

A typically classy, authoritative performance from the captain. Spent the first half having to cover for Piyachart at LB as well as doing his own job, yet still stopped Ratchaburi’s strikers from having a sniff. Apparently he had his pocket picked on the way home – the thieves got away with 2000BHT, his phone, and Marcel Essombe.

 

 

Ratch of the Day: Port Kick Off 2017 Season vs the Dragons

 

Like a burlesque dancer slowly removing garment after garment, in front of an audience baying to see the full monty, the Thai FA revealed the first 3 weeks of T1 games yesterday. Oh, you saucy old teases you.

As you can see on our Fixtures page, which we intend to be THE most up-to-date and informative Port FC fixture list on the web (in a not particularly competitive field), Port kick off the T1 season at the bizarre but acceptable time of 5.45pm on Saturday 11 Feb at the PAT. The game was originally scheduled to be played at the Sugardome, aka the Mitr Phol Stadium in Ratchaburi, but the club have been unable to complete their erection on time, so the game has been switched to the hallowed turf of Khlong Thoey. It’s also the very first game of the T1 season so if we win, we’ll go straight to the top of the league.

Port then have another home game on Sunday 19 Feb at 7pm against Suphanburi, before making the epic journey to Rangsit on 25 Feb to take on Bangkok Utd.

In a similar vein, Port released a teaser video of the 2017 shirt yesterday. From what little we can see, the shirt appears to have a grandad collar (which will suit various Sandpit readers), simple orange & blue stripes, and a sexy black trim & sleeves. Check out the header image to get a taste of what Khlong Thoey’s fashionistas will be wearing this April, when the shirt will no doubt finally be available in the club shop.