The Blessing of the Light: Singhtarua 2013


The referee’s shrill blast brought matters on the pitch to a conclusion, prompting a frenzied vaulting of pitch-side barriers by fans eager to cavort alone, in pairs, or gather in small groups; to wave flags and sing songs of homage to their beloved team. Players and home fans received sporting applause from the away supporters in the stands and, as they drifted away into the still, Klong Toey night, a large group of Port fans remained, hands clasped in a circle, or waving flags, whilst belting out popular club anthems.

The joyous occasion? Port had just been soundly beaten by Chonburi F.C. on the final game of the 2012 season to add further insult to the relegation status sealed in a bad-tempered, 2-1 home defeat to bitter enemies Muang Thong, the pitch ringed by riot police in full body armour to prevent the crowd trouble so popular in this cross-city rivalry.

But this was no funeral dirge. The scenes that night would have been hard to comprehend for anyone without knowledge of the passion and optimism that is shared by the supporters of Thai Port. As one of a relatively small band of foreign supporters, compared to current times, our three to four years of following Port had gradually come to see us welcomed, hesitantly at times, into the rituals of this unique brother and sisterhood, so this seemingly bizarre way to ‘celebrate’ relegation seemed perfectly natural and something to be admired. We recalled a 4-0 battering at Bangkok Glass earlier in the season that had prompted an extended sing-song amongst fans sheltered from the rain under the away stand after the match.

Relegation? So what? Port will be back.

But would we? At times, as the season drew to a conclusion, we had been questioned by some Port fans as to whether we would remain loyal should the club go down; I was even asked by a Thai/American student at my school, “Who will you support next year if Port are relegated?” I politely explained, simply, that this is my team now, why should that change? In those few short years, amongst this club and its community, Port had seeped into our blood and there would be no sudden transfusion. Relegation would be embraced, with so many things to look forward to: the boisterous camaraderie on the many away trips to explore new grounds and towns, and, hopefully, an infusion of decent players and the prospect of a swift return.

We were to be, ‘Singhtarua’, that year; ‘The Lion of Thai Port’, reflected in the more traditional winged lion and anchor badge. However, for the ease of keyboard negotiation during this piece, I will stick with Port.

Our dedication would be quickly put to the test at the start of the new season, as, with much improved floodlights being installed at PAT Stadium, our first four games were away.

The reactions on the faces of the local Port fans gathered outside the Ayuthaya Stadium as we rolled out of our two minibuses, bevvy-fueled, for that first game, said it all. Surprised looks of incredulity were quickly replaced by smiles of respect and affirmation. Yes, we’re still here.

Leandro de Oliveira da Luz (the Light), signed by new manager Dusit Chalermsaen from Hai Phong in Vietnam where Dusit had previously coached, had excitingly impressed during pre-season friendlies and his two goals that day, a trade-mark free-kick and powerful header, confirmed the arrival of a special, if controversial talent. That 2-0 victory was followed by further wins at Trat, Saraburi and Rayong Utd to set Port flying high at the top.

When action re-started at Port with the floodlights finished and impressively towering high above the Klong Toey landscape, expectations were high, but in the most Portsy way possible, we lost 1-2 to an unfancied Big Bang Chula University FC, the second of the muscularly impressive Bouba Abbo’s goals being clearly offside! This is worth watching if only for the familiar, prolonged protests over the Port penalty – things haven’t changed. Nostalgia lovers will also fondly recall the scoreboard in the corner with the temperature thoughtfully displayed, just to confirm that, yes, it was bloody hot!



Ali Diarra

Abbo clearly won the SFS award for that year, while Port’s own foreigners were the usual mixed bunch of failed-at-homes, past-its and could have-done-betters, the pick of the bunch, of course, being the Brazilian, Leandro, while the stylish midfielder, Ali Diarra (Ivory Coast), a Patrick Viera look-alike, vied with Leandro for my affections for much of the season. His name was actually on my shirt. The lean and mean, take one for the team, Ivan Petrovic (Serbia), and Filipino/German Patrick Reichelt were mid-season signings who played a significant role in Port’s final push: Reichelt’s 4 goals coming across two, consecutive late games, including a hat-trick against TTM. Matthias Christen (Liechenstein), Amara Jerry (Nigeria) and Ri Myong-Jun (North Korea), filled in from time to time without ever making a lasting impact. Home-grown players featured our inspirational, industrious captain Kiatjareon, the perennial, no-nonsense stopper, Todsapol, and the diminutive, tricky winger Kroekrit.

Port’s main rivals that year were Air Force AVIA, PTT Rayong, powered by the petroleum giants, and Bangkok FC, based across the river at the 72nd Anniversary Stadium (Bang Mod). We had lost 1-0 away to Air Force earlier in the season, and the home game will conclude this story for obvious reasons, while fixtures against the other two were skillfully and fiercely competitive and, on one occasion, somewhat troublesome.

PTT beat Port 2-1 at PAT during a run of 21 unbeaten games, while the reverse fixture, at their splendidly appointed stadium near Bang Chang, witnessed a pulsating 2-2 draw. Less splendidly appointed that day was Phil Reid, who had decided to turn up, daringly attired in a pair of blue denim dungarees, much to the amused bafflement of the Thai fans gathered outside the ground and the mocking scorn of his fellow ‘farangs’. “Come on, Eileen, what the f*ck is that about?” To his credit, Phil weathered the abuse and went on, quite rightly, to win the, ‘Brass Neck of the Year’, award for this brave, sartorial statement. I thought you looked very smart, Phil.


Bangkok FC was a solid, highly combative (dirty) team that year, powered by former English professional, Lee Tuck (Halifax and Bradford Park Avenue) and former Port striker, Olaf Watson. Tuck, 23 goals, was to finish second behind Golden Boot winner Leandro (24) in the scoring table, though somewhat oddly winning the, ‘Striker of the Year’, award, ahead of Leandro, while Watson weighed in with 16. Port’s 2-0 win at PAT was probably the most fiercely fought home game of the season with Tuck, totally shackled by Todsapol, raucously abused by Zone B, spending most of the second half looking forlorn, bedraggled, and wishing he was back at home cuddled up in front o’fire dunking a digestive into a cup of Yorkshire tea.

The away fixture was a battle. Literally. All-ticket, vitally important, corruptible; and, with the animosity between players and fans palpable, this was not going to end well, both on and off the pitch. Port lost 2-1, controversially (don’t we always?) and, while it was not clear exactly who started it (allegedly, them), the post-match, running battles on the terraces and in the streets outside, threatened for a while to derail both teams’ season. Fortunately, no points were deducted, leaving a tense run-in between these four teams at the top.


Saturday, November 2nd 2013: Singhtarua FC v Air Force Avia FC

I was awakened by my phone pinging at 7 a.m. I knew, without looking. It was Keith: “Match Day”. No more need be said.

We were really hoping it wouldn’t come to this. For a glorious, delirious, thirty minutes the previous week at Nakhon Pathom, we sincerely believed that our 3-2 away win had secured us promotion, with one of our close rivals (I forget which) losing, only to find that the match had been held up by a lengthy delay while a sending-off was sorted out and the rival had actually gone on to win. This day then, this final match, was going to be both exhilarating and tortuous.

I had spent the previous week studying various permutations to outline in my weekly Port newsletter to Patana teachers and, without going into the complexities, I believe Port had to win or at least match the result of PTT Rayong or Bangkok F.C. to go up, most likely in third place. Air Force was already up, which, as it turned out, actually sealed the day. I needn’t have worried.

In those days our usual pre-match warm up was conducted in The Black Swan, just near the BTS exit at Asok by Sukhumvit 14. It was ideal: good, homely British pub atmosphere, great food (mine was a liver, bacon and fried onions baguette) and near to a motor-cycle taxi rank with easy access down Ratchadapisek Road to the ground. It was owned by a Sheffield Utd fan and, ostensibly, a ‘football pub’, but, oddly, in all the years we went in there, dressed in our Port shirts with, ‘Proper Football Men’, literally dripping from our pores, nobody asked us who we were, what we were doing or where we were going. It moved to Soi 19 a while ago and we miss it more than they miss us, clearly.

Nearly everyone who had taken the journey with us, at home and all over the country, was in the pub that lunchtime. I imagine that between us we had seen every game that season. And what away trips they were: Dinosaur Demolition in Khon Kaen, Songkran Splashed at Sri Racha, Car-boot Confinement at Navy; and we survived the Battle of Ban Mod! It was bloody family, man! At that moment, the Sandpit, although we didn’t call it that in those days, was the only place to be.

It was heaving and in all the time I have supported Port, even in bigger crowds, I truly cannot recall an atmosphere like it. The foreign Port fans, and we were much fewer then, were simply in awe. Port had won Cups before but this was the culmination of a whole season. Relegation, for the first time, had stung and now they were here to witness a wrong, righted. In my twenty years in the country, I had never felt so connected.

To be honest, and this may come as a huge disappointment to those who have stayed with me so far, I remember very little of the game. What I do remember, after an opening thirty minutes of desultory passing, half-hearted challenges and the tepid enthusiasm of the Air Force players reflecting the dull grey of their shirts, is a sudden realization, ‘They’re not bothered!’. They are promoted already. We are the two oldest teams in the country and if you can’t help out an old mate, then what’s up? All we had to do was stay focused, not do anything stupid, find one piece of inspiration, probably from Leandro, and we could win this. I almost had a sudden moment of calm. Almost. Late in the half, Ali Diarra had the ball in the net but the effort was disallowed, the ball having gone over the line before Leandro’s cut-back, while Petrovic just failed to get on to a neat, dinked Diarra through ball. And then it was half-time. 0-0.

The second half followed the same pattern until Air Force thought they had better give us an extra hand and a clumsy challenge in the box resulted in a penalty for Port. It probably wasn’t and Air Force put on the pretence of a protest, but Leandro, as was his wont in those days, put the kick away with aplomb and we could breathe a little more easily.

With about fifteen minutes to go, came one of the most priceless moments I have ever witnessed at Port. A fan, leaning on the touchline fence in Zone C, put his hands over the barrier and proceeded to give a shoulder massage to an opposing Air Force player who had stepped back to take a throw-in. It was touching and affectionate and almost completely captured the madcap, benevolent mood of the day. Unfortunately, it seemed to distract the Port players more than their opponents and from the finally taken throw-in, a comedy of errors in the Port box led to the Air Force equalizer. With reports coming through of our closest rivals possibly drawing, and within sight of victory, we now desperately needed that win to ensure promotion.

Then came the moment that I can still replay in my head a hundred times a day, and one of the few bits of genuine class in the entire game. Seeket played the ball out to Diarra on the right touchline; the Ivorian made his way to the bye-line, evading a couple of challenges, before sending in a floating cross to the far post for Super-Sub Sarawut to rise high, power the ball down and in.

Sarawut’s shirt came off before he was engulfed by his team-mates, while PAT stadium erupted with a wave of noise supercharged by exultation and relief. Zone B was a mass of uncontrollable humanity; hugs and tears of joy and relief in equal proportion. I had just come down to earth when I was lifted off my feet again by Ralph Gosling in our customary goal celebration. By the time the crowd had finally settled, news had started to filter through of results elsewhere going in our favour and the final minutes were played out in an atmosphere of unhindered celebration.


Some of the crowd are on the pitch…

Then, once again, with the final, shrill blast of the referee’s whistle, the game was over. There was to be no hesitancy this time. I had made my way, along with many others, down to the barrier and was one of the first to hit the pitch running to find any player to back-slap or delirious fan to embrace. It was going to be a long night.

And it was. This was in the days when the club knew how to throw a party and the field in front of the club shop had been set up from very early on with food and beer outlets to spark celebrations that would go on long into the night and early next morning. The players came on to a stage to receive the adulation of the crowd; Ali Diarra signed the back of my Diarra number 7 shirt, goalkeeper Sukawat signed the front. I am sure I can also recall some Air Force officials and players joining in the celebration. Or maybe I didn’t. It would have been in keeping with the charitable mood of the match.

In the end, Port had snuck up above PTT Rayong into second place, both teams promoted with Air Force, whose coach Narasak Boon Khleng won the Coach of the Year Award. Bangkok FC missed out. Shame. The two Rayongs, FC and Utd were relegated, the latter having hosted, in their final game, the season’s lowest attendance of 107. Just out of interest, the highest was 23,884 for Nakhon Ratchasima v Khon Kaen.

Highlights of that final match below. Whatever happened to the pre-match pretties?



Singhtarua Team: Sukawat (31); Seekat (15), Sudjarit (35), Todsapol (4), Pawarit (2); Diarra (7), Kiatjareon(Capt) (27), Petrovic (18); Reichelt (29), Leandro (10), Kroekrit (34).

Port were to start the next season with an incredible opening run of games which saw us beat Champions Buriram and top the League. In the end, we barely survived a nine-point deduction after another, traditional Muang Thong brawl, and the following season we were relegated again. Once more, promotion swiftly followed but in anti-climactic circumstances; the sad passing of King Rama IX prompting an early closure of the Leagues with Port’s promotion placing to stand.

Nothing though, would surpass that Season in Yamaha League One and this adaptation of the opening line from, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, is dedicated to all my fellow Port fans with whom I shared that season:

“It was the best of times, it was the best of times.”

For those of you that would like to relive or be introduced to that magical season, Dominick’s superb video highlights compilation, opening with that ‘relegation celebration’, will bring a tear to many an eye.


Leandro de Oliveira da Luz

This was, of course, the season that was dominated by one player more than any other I have witnessed at Port; we were truly blessed by his presence. Anyone interested in learning more about the mercurial Brazilian can take a dip into this article. 


Leandro scores again

Author’s Note: This started off as, ‘My Favourite Game’, in response to Marco’s excellent recent article, but the more I researched through print and video, the more the memories came flooding back until I felt that this remarkable season deserved a piece all of its own.


Peter Hockley

Peter Hockley

Peter 'Hockers' Hockley is currently the School Librarian at St Andrews International School, Sathorn and has lived in Thailand since 1992. He has followed Port home and away since 2010, with unbridled devotion and his famous woolly hat. He is a co-founder member of the Sivakorn (is a football genius) Appreciation Society (SAS). At present, the Society boasts a membership of, well, two. Peter has written travel articles for The Nation and Sawaddi magazine, and once had a letter published in Charles Buchan's Football Monthly which won him 5 guineas.

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