Confessions of a Port FC Virgin

 

Well here I am on the coach back to Cha Am at 10.20 Tuesday morning after a breathless and exhilarating trip to the Blade Runner set that is modern Bangkok and boy oh boy what a treat my first visit to Port F.C. turned out to be.

This folks is REAL footy. None of yer prawn sandwich brigade welcome here, just people gathered together to watch THEIR TEAM win, lose or draw.

PORT F.C. are the Port Authority of Thailand team and are based on the edge of the notorious area called Klongtoey. To compare them to Millwall may be unfortunate but is possibly/perhaps a good comparison. A one time powerhouse in the early days of pro-football in Thailand they’re currently celebrating their 50th anniversary and on the rise again as they’ve just been promoted back to the top tier along with their opponents Ubon UMT who boast an English Thai League winning coach (with powerhouses Buriram Utd) and several ‘big name’ signings that have seen them start the season well and currently sit in 4th position. Port have won 3 of their 5 home games but have lost both away games currently sit in 8th.

Arriving at the ground fashionably early I’m greeted with a typical Thai scene as the open training ground immediately outside the small stadium is lined with food and drinks stalls. Kids of all ages, persuasions and nationalities play kick about on the training pitch. Many of them sport Port shirts including a young English girl in a yellow Port jersey attempting to kick anything that moves. Except the ball of course.

Farangs (foreigners) are everywhere and the majority of them are wearing Port shirts. My host Tom Earls grabs the first of several beers and leads us to the infamous ‘sandpit’, name of the highly recommended excellent English language website and meeting place for many of its members. It’s actually a concrete petanque/boules/bocce set up which seems incongruous but TIT (this is Thailand) so it is what it is and nothing too out of the ordinary. The general pre-game consensus seems to be the Port are in tough, a point will be good, a win a bonus.

The atmosphere is happy and relaxed eye contact is greeted with a smile and in what seems like the blink of an eye we’re filing in to the metal stands behind one of the goals and standing to attention for the national anthem. A small compact ground with what looks a decent playing surface (but as is the fashion these days turns out to be over-watered ) is filling up late due in no small part to the strange day and time of the kick-off which is due to the recent 3 week international break! Yeah, I know.
The small but vocal crowd is provided a constant back beat by drummers on 3 sides of the ground and as I look at the teams it’s clear Ubon are roughly twice the size of Port. I’m hoping this means they’re slow and ponderous, we’re quick and clever.
Neither turns out to be particularly true.

A first half short on incident but high on atmosphere has just enough going on to make it interesting. Both sides have a couple of half chances and Ubon look the better organized of the two teams. Port seem to have no discernible game plan or team shape and often look like a group of individuals recently thrown together and told to go out and see what happens. Challenging for or anticipating the second ball appears to be a foreign concept and promising moves often fizzle out for a variety of reasons including, skillful but lazy Thai playmakers and wingers who are not keen on either getting to the byline or crossing the ball. Josimar – a stocky Brazilian centre-forward – is decent in the air but no-one’s playing off him and his movement in the box is non-existent.

Ubon on the other hand seem to know each other and are keen to get the ball to their right winger Siroch. Strangely tall for a Thai he’s apparently a star in the making and provides the two real moments of danger, first with a run and dangerous cross and then with a run and cut back inside that floors his full back and leaves him with only the keeper to beat. The keeper is out quickly and makes a good save. So it’s 0-0 at the half and all to play for.

Whatever the much maligned Port coach has said at half-time it’s done the trick. For the first 15 minutes of the second half Port use pace and width to stretch the previously comfortable Ubon defence to breaking point. Josimar’s winning everything in the air, balls are being played wide to wingers moving at speed and Ubon don’t look anywhere like as comfortable as they did in the first 45.

With 15 minutes gone the ball is swept wide right and the Port winger hits a lovely low cross into the 6 yard box, the onrushing Genki can’t meet it with his head but the Ubon keeper is distracted and rooted to his line. The ball fizzes towards the back post where Josimar does well at full stretch to control the late rising ball and deflect the ball into the net. Mayhem ensues. The drummers of Burundi are on the march, the metal stands are squeaking and Port take a deserved lead.

By now the ground is full, the floodlights are on and the atmosphere generated by the small crowd is approximately three times the size of its collective number. My female Italian Juventus fan is jumping up and down with a grin the width of the Grand Canyon plastered across her face as she claps in time with the drums and joins in with the screams of the frenzied home support who sense blood.
“TA RUA – TA RUA – TA RUA”

The place is mental. The Port manager makes a strange substitution, Ubon make two. One goliath replacing another and immediately they set about Port with a vengeance. Port seem content to soak up the pressure and hit Ubon on the break a tactic that may well have paid dividends if it hadn’t been for a referee inept enough to be doing it in the Premier League. A couple of astonishing decisions raise the temper of the fans and the Port players and deny Port a clear opportunity to increase their lead when Josimar is penalised for what looks like an excellent challenge that sees him dispossess a defender inside the box leaving him with only the keeper to beat. The referee blows his whistle. The striker’s apopletic and the crowd goes ballistic. I’m gobsmacked and later am reminded by Tom that corrupt referees are a real issue in the Thai game. i bow to his superior knowledge because as regular readers will know I’m not one for footy conspiracy theories.

Ubon huff and puff, Port throw their bodies around like their lives depend on it. 5 minutes of added time are added to by some handbags in the Ubon end that attracts most of the players on the pitch but is sorted out by Ubon’s Brasilian defensive goliath Victor who basically picks up several of the Thai players puts them across his knee gives them a good spanking and sends them packing back into their own half tails firmly tucked between their tiny legs.

Eventually the referee seems to realize that despite his best efforts he’s not going to be able to help Ubon score gives up the ghost and blows the final whistle. Exhausted players from both sides collapse in heaps, hysterical fans do likewise. The drums are still pounding, the guys with the megaphones are still cheer-leading but the climax has been reached and eventually the shattered Port players come to greet the almost as shattered fans and take their well deserved applause.

My magical evening is completed when Josimar spots my Fluminense shirt and starts waving at me pounding his chest where his badge is. Like the 18 yr old I still am at heart I tear off my shirt and wave it at him and his fellow Brazilian coach who he’s pointed it out to and the 3 of us are waving, grinning and chest-pounding like a troop of primates in the jungle. (Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much)

Which is a fitting description of the night overall.

Marvellous mayhem that exhibited the best that communal spectator sport has to offer. The post-match comedown necessitated more beer, Michela the Juventus fan proudly wearing her newly acquired Port F.C. blue and orange striped team shirt went home immediately; exhausted but exhilarated and soon texted to say that her taxi driver was a Port fan and had refused to let her pay for her ride home!

TIT people, TIT. (This is Thailand)

Where the 70’s are alive and well small gestures are made that take your breath away on a regular basis and you can go and join thousands of other people for an evening of footy that’ll cost you 2.50 pounds or 3 and a bit Canadian dollars to watch. Plus you can eat street food that tastes as good and costs as little as it does on the street, no tinned burgers and watery boiled onions that require a mortgage to buy on offer here. And nary a hint of aggression to trouble your mind or sour your evening. What a strange concept! And wonderful experience.

So, a deserved slender victory for the good guys and an experience I need to repeat as soon as I possibly can. I’ve been to Upton Park, Wembley, the Maracana and the Calgary Saddledome when ALL have been rocking and this, fellow footy lovers was up there with them all (nearly, I just felt the urge for a bit of MSM over-hype there. You know the JJ, PN school of brilliant).

 

Eagles Caged in Fortress PAT: Port FC 1-0 Ubon UMT

 

There was a very subdued start, with the less-than-hostile atmosphere probably aided by a strange kick off time of 17:45 as the fans continued to stream in throughout the first half. What turned out to be an interesting 45 minute stalemate sprung into life in the 10th minute with the Brazilian Tiago (7) bringing the best out of surprise starter Worawut (36) in the Port goal and Siroch (35) looking very dangerous slipping one wide of the upright. Tiago again found himself in space but this time the ball flew over the bar. Sounds familiar!

In what was a surprisingly consistent team Dolah (4) came in to replace Todsapol (6), and again the combination of Adisorn (13) and Siwakorn (16) in the middle ensuring that we were always going to have a high energy, high tempo and committed type of game.

In what turned out to be a game of two contradicting halves for Port in the first our wide men were sucked in and offered very little in terms of width and quality although Pakorn (9) always looks dangerous with the ball, and had a decent chance on the 23rd minute. Again three minutes later Josimar (9), who offered little in the first half, took a long ball down and teed up Genki Nagasato (18) who fizzed the ball just wide.

Ubon’s best chance of the game came on the 40 minute mark when Siroch (35) dribbled past three Port defenders but Worawut (36) was equal to it and had a great game throughout.

Port – cheered on by a now boisterous and passionate support – were a completely different team in the second half. Whatever the man Meelarp said at half time, or maybe they even got a visit from the Madame, certainly worked but the effort and application was different. The full backs Panpanpong (19) and Nitipong (34) started to establish themselves and cover every inch of the pitch culminating in Nitipong making a marauding run in the 57th minute and delivering a defense splitting cross to the back post where Josimar (30) was lurking to tap into an empty net. Josimar was a different proposition in the second half. He harassed the Ubon defense but he was also marked by one of the league’s best defenders Victor (6), The Ubon captain and all-around big unit.

Three minutes prior Port had justifiable appeals for a penalty and Genki (18) had again gone close. Pakorn, my favourite player, looked disinterested, with a level of consistency and work rate he would be unplayable but he drifts in and out of games, despite his undoubted ability. He should take a look at the application of his two colleagues in central midfield, who had another industrious night. Sergio Suarez (5) is starting to look the real deal, he had another very impressive night and this is assisted by the shift of the two lads behind him. Tana (99) came on for Genki (18) and whilst he was very unlucky with an offside decision, he didn’t offer as much as much defensively as his teammate had done.

Port were now under the cosh, and had to defend for their lives to close the game out. Nebihi (8), who replaced Tiago (7) saw a low shot slide just wide of Worawut’s right hand post, then Nitipong (34) defended bravely against the rather larger Victor Cardozo (6), putting his body between the big man and the ball and being sent crashing on to the turf. With tensions being raised, tempers soon flared. Adisorn (13) hacked down Ubon defender Nikom (11), who reacted furiously, kicking out at Adisorn and putting his hands around the Port midfielder’s neck. The referee gave nothing – as per usual – and a scrum was formed near the sideline, with almost every player on the pitch involved.

When play finally resumed, Ubon continued the offensive. A stunning sliding tackle denied Berriex (20) as he burst through the defence, and the Argentine then created probably Ubon’s best chance with a whipped cross from the right which veteran Thai midfielder Surat Sukha (15) could only flick over the bar from 5 yards out. After 5 agonizing minutes of injury time, the referee eventually blew the final whistle and Port could celebrate another barnstorming home win.

So this result leaves us sitting in 8th place only three points behind Bangkok Glass who are in 4th. If someone would have offered me that in January I would have snapped their hand off. In our first campaign back in the top flight we have won three and drawn two of our five home games conceding only three goals. Incredible! The million dollar question is… Which Thai Port will show up in Chiang Rai on Sunday?

Port FC Man of the Match

Photo by Supersub

 

Josimar is finally off the mark! He really came alive in the second half, scrapping for every ball and giving Port an important outlet by winning balls in the air – both in attack and defence – and holding the ball up well. If the Brazilian can keep the goals coming, he could make a huge impact at Port.

 

The Sandpit’s Port FC Player of the Month for March Is…

 

Voting for The Sandpit’s Player of the Month competition for March has now closed and the winner, incredibly by a single vote is…

The Skinny Wizard – Siwakorn Jakkuprasart!

 

 

Siwakorn, as Port fans know, is often the unsung hero in the midfield engine room. With his box-to-box midfield play, he is just as adept at starting attacks from deep as he is breaking them up when the opposition get the ball. The home games against Navy and Buriram in March were classic examples of excellent Siwakorn performances where others were largely given the plaudits. Keen observers that The Sandpit’s readers are, though, they have picked the midfield maestro to be their Player of the Month for March, albeit by a margin as skinny as one of Siwakorn’s arms! 73 votes ultimately gave Siwakorn 36% of the total, edging out…

 

David Rochela

Photo by Singhphanakon on TV

Always popular when it comes to a fan vote, Rochela’s army of supporters came up just short this time. El Capitan, as usual, marshaled his defence superbly in the two home wins, giving Port 6 points out of a possibly 9 this March. 72 votes for 35% of the total were not quite enough, though, meaning the Rochela fan club will have to redouble their efforts next month. Their main man will doubtless keep churning out the excellent performances we are all accustomed to seeing, so it would be a shock if he wasn’t on the shortlist again next month.

 

The Rest of the Nominees

 

Rattanai Sangsongchan was thought by many to be the favourite for this month’s competition. Having kept two clean sheets in his only two games, and missing the Honda disaster altogether, Rattanai had a flawless March. Whilst he leaped out to an early lead, he was slowly but surely reeled in, finishing with 13% of the vote. In order to scoop our prize in future months, Rattanai will have to become as adept at organizing his fans as he is at organizing his Port defence!

Nitipong Selanon was one of only two Port goalscorers in March, with his winning goal against Navy giving Port a potentially very important 3 points. Whether he meant it or not we don’t know, but the fans continue to appreciate Nitipong’s performances, as he picked up 11% of the vote.

Pakorn Prempak was this month’s other goalscorer. Surprisingly dropped for the away clash at Honda, he came on with his side already down 4-0 and curled in a masterful free kick to give Port’s traveling fans something to cheer about. If Pakorn wants to get more than the 4% of the vote he picked up in March, he is going to have to start performing more consistently.

Adisorn Daeng-rueng was not nominated by The Sandpit’s panel by virtue of the fact that he played just one game in March. He sat out the games against Navy and Honda, so we felt that despite his Man of the Match performance against Buriram, we couldn’t include him in our competition. Thanks to all those who asked us why he wasn’t there. If he nails down that midfield spot and keeps playing like he did against Buriram, he’ll be in the running soon enough!

 

Thanks to all 203 voters, and congratulations to Siwakorn and all the other nominees.