Bangkok Phil

World Cup Fever

Roll on June 14th ...... er, I think

Well, we're about a month away from the big kick off. 

I trust that you've scrawled a great big red circle around June 14th in your diary because that's when it all starts - the greatest sporting spectacular on earth - The Football World Cup. 

It's the opportunity for Russia to show off its finest soccer stadia and the world's toughest football hooligans to get together and bond over a few beers in the town square.  Nothing brings nations closer together more than the beautiful game.

Wow! Seven world cups!

Actually, something just dawned on me. I've lived in Thailand through no fewer than seven world cup tournaments. Who could forget the razzmatazz of USA 1994, the joint Korea / Japan tournament of 2004 and the pain-in-the-arse vuvuzelas of South Africa 2010. 

It's been interesting over the years to watch Thailand develop into such a fanatical football loving nation and that passion for football is never more evident than when the world cup rolls around. Yes folks, it's that time of year when half of your corporate business English class - noticeably the male half - suddenly disappears without trace. 

And as half of the students sneak off to watch Korea against Sweden in a group C opener, you're left with a training room full of non-footy fans - a handful of females and the guy with glasses from the accounting department. 

As a teacher, you should never be downhearted that the majority of your class have decided that Iran versus Morocco is more attractive than you prattling on about subject-verb agreement, because frankly speaking, you're lucky to have found some well-paid corporate work anyway. I've got no sympathy.

Thanks Dad

A month before the tournament begins, my father will kindly send me some sort of English language world cup guide. 

It's usually a glossy magazine affair with pen pictures of all the squads for each country, a section on how the teams got to the finals, and enough comment and opinion to keep your average armchair fan occupied for hours. 

Then of course there's the pull-out wall-chart, which you can spread out over the coffee table and see all the fixtures, dates and venues in their full glory. Once you've found yourself a nice pen with which to enter the scores, it all goes well until about the fourth match of the tournament, when you mistakenly enter the final score as nil-nil before realising it was actually 1-1. Have you ever tried changing zeros into ones? Nah, it can't be done. So your life is basically ruined.  

Then comes the job of painstakingly re-arranging your life for one whole month so that you don't miss a single throw-in or close-up shot of a manager picking his nose. There are endless logistical nightmares. 

If you keep that appointment at 9.00 on Tuesday morning, you won't be able to stay up until the early hours watching Saudi Arabia play Colombia. You could move the appointment to later in the afternoon, but get stuck in traffic on the way home and you could well miss the opening five minutes between Senegal and Panama. The world is suddenly a very stressful place to live in.

Here we go

Cometh the opening game and I'm perched on the edge of the sofa with a huge mug of coffee. The wife knows to keep out of the way, leaving just me and a well-thumbed world cup guide. I'm so excited I can even sit through two hours of opening ceremony (five hundred local schoolchildren prancing around with lengths of colored chiffon and a twenty-minute speech from some FIFA dinosaur who never played football in his life) 

I can even endure the traditionally tedious opening encounter between the host nation and Paraguay, which unsurprisingly finishes goalless.  In fact there was just one shot on goal in 94 minutes of football and the ball ended up in a different post code - but look on the bright side - things can only get better.  The soccer pundits are saying exactly the same thing. Things can only get better.

But they never ever do. 

Up next is another battle between two footballing superpowers - Slovenia and Algeria. It might be kicking off at one in the morning Thai time but I'm determined to stay with it - even if it means splashing my face with icy cold water at ten minute intervals. 

But there's nothing like a cat-and-mouse, midfield tussle between Slovenia and Algeria to make you realize that you probably have far better things to do with your life. Finally you succumb to exhaustion, fall asleep and miss the last quarter of an hour. You also miss the only goal of the game. The following morning, the BBC Sport website describes it as the greatest goal ever seen on the international stage - and you were comatose on the sofa you dickhead. 

A broken man

But as I climbed the stairs to bed for three hours of poor quality sleep, there was but one single thought in my mind. - The World Cup can go and do one. Two days and two games into the tournament and I'm a broken man. I'm beginning to question whether I actually like football anymore.

The following day, I open the world cup wall chart with considerably less enthusiasm. I scribble an X next to England's three qualifying group games. At least I can still get excited about those. 

But what about when England get knocked out by the Germans on penalties? Hmmm ..... I might force myself to watch the semi-finals. No, that's just being silly. I'll definitely watch the final though. But how can I possibly spend so many hours watching football when I could be rearranging my sock drawer?

I mean, come on, no one has the time or the inclination to sit through every single one of the 60-odd games that take place. No one except those two guys who work for the Thai TV network, and have the job of deciding if there's enough dead time to slip in a quick TV commercial.

"It's gone out for a throw-in, quick! Stick that commercial for energy drinks on. Hang about! the ball's gone into the crowd as well! Let's see if we can get away with the one for energy drinks AND the one for engine oil. It's only Peru v Afghanistan for pete's sake"

A caring company

Let's go back to the topic of Thailand and football fever. Larger companies in Bangkok (and I presume it happens elsewhere in Thailand) are fully aware that work is going to be severely disrupted during world cup month. Employees who normally work well past their allotted finishing time will be racing each other to the elevator to get back home for the early evening fixtures. 

Those employees who stay up half the night watching football and adverts for engine oil will be rolling up for work the following day whenever they feel like it. Many companies expect this and brace themselves for it. The only thing they can do is enter into the spirit of the tournament.

One of the noblest company gestures I ever saw was during the world cup of 2002 in Japan and Korea. The time difference between Japan and Thailand meant many of the games were kicking off at about 4.30pm - at least half an hour before the end of the Thai working day. 

At the time I was doing some corporate training at a Bangkok pharmaceutical company. But during The World Cup, not only did the company allow staff to finish half an hour early but they also set up a special lounge with a wide-screen TV and complimentary snacks and drinks. Now that's my kind of company. 

It actually worked well because it brought staff from different departments together. Staff that normally wouldn't interact with each other found themselves predicting results, analyzing the previous day's games and placing bets with money they could ill afford to lose.

Even delivery drivers and other staff from 'the lower orders' were invited up to a part of the building they rarely got to see. As a team-building exercise, it worked wonderfully well.

Anyway, roll on June 14th and the opening match - Russia v Saudi Arabia.  Now doesn't that set the pulse racing?  


When the football world cup starts you are left with a class full of females "and the guy with glasses from accounts". How did you reach the scientific calculation blokes with glasses don't like football? Thought you wore 'em Phil?

By Dave, England (18th May 2018)

yeah, nice article - nothing quite like the World Cup; a feast of footy, colour and skiving -
I actually think my team England can do well, lots of pace and thrust now we've got rid of Beckham; but I'm not investing any energy in hope for that after so many disappointments
I liked the comment about the drivers - but I think you're wrong in saying that they are the best at lolling around on comfy chairs - I am a pretty handy loller myself and will happily compete with any Thai driver, security guard or rich bar girl.........

By adam, chiang mai (17th May 2010)

Phil - a proper footie fan if ever there was one!

I even brought my 250 gig Sony DVD recorder back with me this time, so I don't miss any of the games!!

Probably makes me as mad as any footie fan, but I'm determined to see as many games as I can throughout the month! Half of it will be spent in Riyadh and the other will either be spent in Ireland or Bangkok. Wherever I am, I'll do my best to get as many games in as I can.

Last time, I watched the games in BKK, and I watched at least 70% of them. Gonna try to better that number this time around!

Yes, I am definitely mad as well!!
"Are you from Stockholm Sven?"
"No, I prefer Volkswagens, Lars!"
(Definitely as mad as a hatter!)


By Tom Tuohy, Riyadh (16th May 2010)

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