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Thai League Postponed Until Mid-April

 

Due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, The Football Association of Thailand has postponed all T1-T4 fixtures from now until April 18th. Originally the FA announced there would be no change, then a day later it was announced that games would go ahead behind closed doors. After input from clubs, however, who were unhappy at the prospect of losing out on the income generated on matchdays, the FA decided to pull the plug altogether and postpone the fixtures until after Songkran.

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These Are the Breaks: Thai Football’s Dumber Summer

 

Today’s Bangkok Post features an excellent article on the stop-start nature of the 2017 T1 season. Following a 3-week break in June so the Thai national team could play a pointless friendly in Uzbekistan, followed by a World Cup dead rubber against UAE, the season resumed last Saturday…for 3 weeks. During which time Port will play 7 games. Then – are you following this? – there’s another 3-week break whilst Muangthong – oops I meant the Thai national team – take on the might of Belarus, North Korea & Burkina Faso in the King’s Cup tournament (rumours that next year’s tournament will feature Saudi Arabia, the Death Star and the Planet Mongo have yet to be confirmed). The season then resumes again on 30 July for 2 games, followed by an absurd 5-week break for two more World Cup dead rubbers. Effectively this means Port will have 1 home league game – vs Chiang Rai on 30 July – in 10 weeks, during what should be the middle of the season. Somehow, some way, the FA also have to squeeze in FA and League Cup games during the brief periods of footballing activity.

We’re told that the reason for all these breaks is to benefit the national team, as if helping the national team is the sole purpose of the Thai League. So to help a Thailand team composed of players drawn mainly from 3-4 clubs, the rest of the league have to sit around twiddling their thumbs for weeks on end, whilst players lose match fitness, teams lose momentum, and, most importantly, fans lose interest. The crowd at Suphanburi last Saturday for the first game of the 2nd leg of the season was surprisingly sparse, as was the crowd at high-flying Chonburi a few weeks ago, but with such a badly organised schedule, is it really any wonder?

As for the theory that these breaks benefit the national team, Thailand’s position in their World Cup qualifying group doesn’t exactly bear this out, and successful teams like Germany and Spain have done alright in recent years without asking their entire league to shut down for several weeks to give them more prep time for internationals. Not that I give a toss about the national team anyway, given that the racist ticketing policy means that, as a farang, I’m not allowed to buy tickets. But I do care – hard though it often is – about watching Port.

Additionally, think of the clubs’ cashflow. Is it reasonable to expect clubs to go 3 weeks, followed by another 5 weeks, without any gate receipts, during which time they still have to pay their players’ wages in full whilst those same players don’t play a single second of football? Fine for the richer clubs, but a big deal to the smaller ones.

In the next couple of years, the problem is likely to get worse rather than better, with the top division being reduced to 16 teams by the 2019 season, to enable the national team to have even more preparation time. That means even fewer games for fans, and less revenue for the clubs. Factor in the tighter foreign player limit in 2018, and you have a product even less attractive than it is now.

So as we fans find other ways to spend our weekends whilst the league takes a break so that Burkina Faso can take on Belarus, the Thai FA shouldn’t be too surprised if some of us decide not to bother coming back. Seriously, Thai fans – especially the passionately loyal ones at Port – deserve a lot, lot better.

 

 

Raging Mackerels vs Glass Rabbits: The Crazy World of Thai Football Club Nicknames

 

 

It has been my habit, in researching information on Port’s next opponents for my weekly newsletter to ex Patana colleagues and others, to make an often, bemused note of that team’s catchy nickname. Over the years, I have built up quite a collection, which, I hope you will find, makes a colourful, if slightly frivolous, addition to the literary treasures emerging from the Sandpit.

 

Saturday (or Sunday) Night’s Alright for Fighting

Thai football monikers are not without their aggression. In spite of Thailand’s smile-strewn image, an awful lot of teams seem up for a bundle, from the sharp-finned Fighting Fish (Chachoengsao FC) to the gory Southern Fighting Bulls (Songkhla Utd). Leading the charge into battle are numerous armies of valiant Warriors, whether of the Golden Rice variety (Ang Thong), emerging from a Golden Pagoda (Ayutthaya) or storming the beach from a Kolak Boat (Nara Utd).

 

In true, Tolkienesque fashion, their battlefield modes of transport offer a range of exotic possibilities. Will they charge in to the strife on trumpeting War Elephants (BEC Tero), ride sparkling Emerald Chariots (Lampang FC), sit atop of a herd of unyielding Iron Bulls (Bangkok FC), or spur on some galloping Wild Horses (Rayong FC)? Offering aerial support might be the stinging assault of the Killer Wasps (Prachuap Kiri Khan), or a coastal attack from the decidedly angry Raging Mackerels (Samut Songkhran – trust me, I opened a tin last night and they were more than a bit peeved).

 

If all else fails, it will be time, in true Rob Stark or Gandalf fashion, to bring in the heavy mob; perhaps the fiery Dragons (Ratchaburi), or the fiercesome T-Rex’s (Khon Kaen – back in the League just for this battle); the hissing Emerald Nagas (Kasetsart), or those towering North-East Giants (Udon Thani). Roaring, licking flames are a weapon of constant threat, either from the Fire Bats (Sukothai FC) or the Fire Dragons (Suphanburi).

 

The battle over, funded by the Oil Millionaires (PTT Rayong), the victorious army will retreat behind the Diamond Walls (Kampang Phaet ) of the Thunder Castle (Buriram), living to fight another day.

 

A group of animals that will most likely not see any action are The Dangerous Koupreys (Sisaket), on account of the fact that they are feared to be already extinct. The last one was reputed to have been seen in Cambodia in 1988. So, I have a feeling that the good people who run Sisaket FC had one of those ‘Lost in Translation’ moments. In a fit of conservationist zeal, and, alarmed at the plight of this gentle, forest dwelling bovine, they decided to call themselves, ‘The Endangered Kouprays’, in its demise-threatened honour, but didn’t quite get it right. Good try though, lads!

 

A kouprey, looking somewhat less than dangerous

 

 

Opting out of the battle would have been the pacifist Angels (Bangkok Utd), while far too transparently fragile for the fight were the Glass Rabbits (Bangkok Glass), although their delightful Bunny Cheerleaders might have provided the mid-battle entertainment. Given that this is preference-diverse Thailand, the Hello Boys (TOT – I am assured this is true by my Ed) might provide some alternative distractions, as well as possibly the best nickname ever! I want to see that logo! Completely contrary to their probable job description, The Gentlemen Rangers (Army United) sound like they will stay aloof from any physical engagement as well. The legendary, Chinese Twin Kilins (Muang Thong) would have waited all day until they outnumbered their weakened opposition and then launched a cowardly attack from the rear.

 

Animal Crackers

A Sisawat – or ‘Swat’ – Cat

The animal kingdom, cuddly and otherwise, is well represented in Thai football with a number of Eagles: ‘The’ (Ubon UMT); ‘Blue’ (Air Force),  ‘Kings’ (Thai Honda) and ‘Andaman’ (Krabi). Keeping well out of their way will be the slightly less predatory Hornbills (Chainat). The Tigers roam in Ubon Ratchatani, while the ‘King’ version prowls in Nakhon Pathom. Our very own Port Lions (Thai Port) and the Pink Panthers (BBCU) complete the Big Cat set, as I am not quite sure what a Swat Cat (Nakhon Ratchasima) is, apart from, apparently, being a radical squadron from an animated American TV crime series. Can somebody illuminate? The White Elephants (Trat) add a touch of slightly extravagant uselessness to this eclectic menagerie.

 

Getting closer to the ground are The Roosters (Surat Thani) locking spurs with The Gamecocks (Nongbua Pitchaya) with The Beetles (Chiangrai) scurrying nervously between them. Meanwhile, The Sharks (Chonburi) and The Blue Dolphins (Pattaya) frolic beneath the waves. David Attenborough would be in his element.

 

Nicknames Coming Home

English football cannot quite compete with the sheer vibrancy and occasional lunacy of some the Thai club nicknames, but there are a few gems amongst the unimaginative City’s, United’s, Blues and Reds.

 

Many nicknames in the UK derive from local industry or history, the colours of the home strip, the club or stadium name and the club logo. This has thrown up one or two gems, such as The Addicks (Charlton Athletic), a derivation of, ‘The Haddocks’, a local Fish and Chip shop. Bournemouth’s Stadium was built on a cherry orchard, giving them The Cherries, while The Biscuitmen of Reading, was in honour of the Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory in the town, which provided much local employment. In the past, Middlesborough were known as The Smoggies, due to the smog produced by industrial, chemical pollution in the town, while The Baggies of West Brom once wore exceptionally roomy shorts.

 

One particular favourite of mine is The Mushrooms, a name given to the team by the fans of Hayes and Yeading Utd, on account of the fact that the Club’s Board kept their supporters in the dark.

 

But, perhaps, the finest of all, although maybe not so politically correct today, is Hartlepool’s The Monkey Hangers. This dates back to the legend, which many contend as being true, of a monkey, dressed in sailor’s unform, which was washed ashore in Hartlepool at the time of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. The local people, having most likely never seen a Frenchman, or even wanting to, took him for a French spy and duly tried and hanged him; the monkey, not unlike Hartlepool FC itself, unable to mount an adequate defence. I would love to see the club logo for that one as well.

 

The Top Trump Nickname Play-Off

In conclusion, Thai Football nicknames would make a great subject for a set of Top Trump game cards, featuring attributes such as: Strength, Speed, Skill, Endurance, Intelligence, Fear Factor and just Sheer Wackiness. Imagine The Fire Dragons matched against The North-East Giants; the Killer Wasps contesting The Raging Mackerels or the Hello Boys standing erect against the Gentlemen Rangers. England, if you want to compete, even with your Monkey Hangers, forget it!  The Biscuitmen would be dunked, The Mushrooms picked off, Bournemouth would lose their Cherries while the Baggies would be unceremoniously debagged!

 

Thai Football nicknames rule!

 

 

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.