6 days to kick off
So we're away to Port FC then? It's certainly got more appeal than last season's corresponding fixture though?
Yes, last season, although it was great to finally experience a match at the PAT Stadium (and to have a photo with the legendary Madame Pang) it was rather a nothing game that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Port had lost their chance of winning the league, Samut Prakan were guaranteed to finish no higher (or lower) than 6th - and Port were also due to play in the FA Cup final several days later and rested a number of key players.
The game had the feel of a pre-season friendly and the result didn't seem to matter. This game has far more at stake.
Could this be Port's year?
Yes, but we said the same thing last year. We'll probably be saying it next year as well. Joking apart, there aren't many football articles that predict Port to finish outside the top three but this is a club with big ambitions. Top three isn't good enough. They want to win it!
They've made some key signings?
They've been splashing some serious cash around.
Brazilian striker, Heberty (probably the best in the TPL) has arrived from Muangthong, where he found the net 67 times in fewer than 100 appearances. Fellow Muangthong striker, Adisak Kraison, has also moved across the city (26 goals in 64 appearances) and midfielder, Charyl Chappuis has arrived from ......... you guessed it, Muangthong. (do they have any players left?)
Then there's a player I really admired last season - Tanasith Sripala - who was a ray of light in a struggling Suphanburi team. Known affectionately by Thai supporters as 'Taodinho' because of his resemblance to Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho, there was even talk of Samut Prakan snapping him up at one stage but sadly it wasn't to be. I would love to have seen him at Bang Plee, snapping at players' heels and winding the opposition fans up with his tenacious playing style.
Samut Prakan drew their first match of the season with Chiang Rai. How did Port do?
They got off to a great start yesterday with a comprehensive 4-1 win at home to Nakhon Ratchisima. I caught quite a lot of the game on TV and it was a good attacking display by the men from Klongtoey against a pretty mediocre-looking Khorat side. New signing, Heberty, got off the mark with a brace. (Read the match report from a rejuvenated Tim Russell)
How's the mood among Port fans at the mo?
Expectations are always high in this part of the world and to an outsider (someone who doesn't support the team) it often feels like there's a constant sense of 'entitlement' within the club. I'm not setting out to upset Port fans here (I have some good friends who are loyal Port supporters) but I must confess to finding it a bit grating at times.
Port followers have had a 'difficult' start to the season notwithstanding their fine opening day victory against Khorat.
Pre-season, they crashed out of the AFC Champions League at the preliminary stage following a shock 1-0 home defeat to Ceres FC from The Philippines.
Off the field, a costly revamp of the stadium seating (an AFC requirement) has not only reduced the capacity but left fans complaining about limited leg-room and dangerous bottle-necks when exiting the stadium.
To annoy fans even further, the club 'rush released' Port's 2020 replica home shirt and I'm not sure the design has gone down too well, showing little change from last season's relatively unpopular garment. But hey! - at least you've got new shirts.
Care to make a score prediction for this one?
I would take a draw all day long but truthfully, I can only see a defeat. Hopefully we won't ship four goals like Khorat did but I do fear the worst.
Samut Prakan will need to be at the top of their game to get anything out of this one.
But the first three games were always going to be tough?
I set a target of four points from the first three matches against Chiang Rai, Port and Bangkok United. Any more than four points would be a bonus. Then we face what I thought might be an 'easier game' away at Police Tero; however, Police Tero beat title favourites Buriram yesterday so I may have to reconsider that opinion. One thing is for sure - this is going to be a very tough TPL season.
Many away fans going?
General Pathomchai (our top boy) has organised the usual supporters club coach at a sensibly priced 100 baht return, but I guess many Samut Prakan fans, like me, will make their own way there. I mean, who can resist that world-famous walk through Klongtoey Market to get to the ground? There's nothing like the smell of fish guts and withering cabbages to get you in the mood for an early evening's footy.
Hopefully, we'll have a bigger away following than the 200-300 that made the short journey last season.
5 days to kick off
A quick word about Samut Prakan's reserve team. This season, Samut Prakan B will play in the Thai League 4th tier (Bangkok zone). The 14-team division will also include reserve teams from Police Tero, Port and Bangkok United so it will offer up some competitive matches, especially for those first teamers looking to maintain their fitness levels. ("Turning out for the stiffs" was how one of my great footballing heroes used to describe it when he was made to play in a reserve team game)
On Saturday, in their first game of the season, Samut Prakan B met with The Royal Thai Army team and lost 1-0 at home. I'll mention the reserves now and again in future blogs but won't make a big deal of it.
24 hours to kick off
Dominick Cartwright from The Sandpit, the unofficial Port FC website, has written a detailed preview of the game. He's gone for a 3-1 victory to the Klongtoey Lions to keep them singing at the top of the table.
Who are you going to the game with?
There could be five of us! I'm hoping my wife will make it to her first game of the season. My Thai pal Benz and his girlfriend Neigh are definitely up for it (Neigh doesn't like football that much but she's happy to tag along) and finally Ohmez, a Thai friend I haven't seen for several years, has expressed an interest in going.
It's match day
And it all started so well......
Light traffic on the expressway meant we got to the PAT Stadium in just twenty minutes from Samut Prakan and found a Kojak spot right next to the away end. Match tickets purchased, we strolled around to the Port fan zone, took photos and chatted with opposing fans and enjoyed some pre-match snacks. I even got to take a photo with everyone's favourite TV sports presenter (and I still don't know her name)
Eventually, we made our way back to the away end and selected our seats, all with great views of the pitch. It was in fact the same stand we sat in for last season's match. But enter a Port FC 'jobsworth with a walkie-talkie' determined to ruin our day.
He addressed the 30-40 away fans who had chosen to sit in this section and told us that we had to move. This area had now been allocated to VIP ticket holders only, which in Thai football usually means wives and girlfriends of players and friends of corporate sponsors who haven't been to a football match in their lives.
So with half hour to kick off, we were forced to move to a cramped away section with narrow aisles, no legroom between the seats, and a completely obstructed view of one goalmouth. It took me back to when I went to matches in England as a pre-teenager and had to peer through men's legs to get glimpses of the action. I endured it for five minutes and then decided to make a fuss and become a nuisance.
I clambered over Samut Prakan fans (it's a good job I know them), exited the stand and went in search of 'walkie-talkie jobsworth'. I explained to him - nicely at first - that our seats were unacceptable and we couldn't even see one of the goals. He couldn't have cared less and as I got more and more agitated, a couple of other Port henchmen started circling and all looked like they fancied a pop if the farang got out of hand.
This was a battle I wasn't going to win and I returned to the small, congested away stand with the shit view. The VIP section remained almost empty for the rest of the evening, unless perhaps the VIP guests had come disguised as plastic orange seats.
What about the Samut Prakan starting line-up?
We went with the same starting eleven that began the game against Chiang Rai so once again I was disappointed not to see Theerapol Yoyei leading the attack.
The men in yellow started the game brightly, battling for every ball with an aggression that we didn't see in last Friday's league opener but it was Port who opened the scoring on 32 minutes, Korean midfielder Go Seul-ki scooping the ball over the Samut Prakan keeper following a dreadful defensive mix up between Zarifovic and Phumiphan. There then followed a lengthy VAR check (not sure what for?) but the goal was awarded.
Samut Prakan levelled on the stroke of half-time and it involved another VAR check that seemed to last forever - but eventually Chayawat's far post tap-in was adjudged to have crossed the line.
This was my first experience with VAR as a 'live spectator' and you can now add my voice to the growing chorus of discontent. Quite simply, it sucks all the life out of a game, if only because you can never celebrate a goal with the same degree of passion twice.
So 1-1 it remained at half-time and I honestly felt that we had every chance of getting all three points. I saw nothing to fear from this Port side. Alas, it wasn't to be.
Aris Zarifovic was replaced at the interval by Tatsuya Sakai. I'm not offering it as an excuse but it can't have helped our cause. The big Slovenian had had a decent first 45 minutes to follow on from his man of the match performance in the 1-1 draw against Chiang Rai.
Four minutes into the second period and Samut Prakan are behind again. Port's number 7, Pakorn, whips a free kick into the box and Sergio Suarez gets the slightest of headers as the visitor's defence stands around ball-watching. An awful goal to concede so early in the half.
It then became a day to forget for Prakan's number 4, Suphanan Bureerat, sporting a shade of red hair normally reserved for charity purposes. On 69 minutes, he's adjudged to have hand-balled inside the penalty area and after the third enthusiasm-sapping VAR check, the Brazilian Heberty smashes home the spot-kick. Then deep into injury time, Bureerat gifts Port a fourth, attempting some sort of ludicrous back-heel flick when he needed to clear the ball over the stand and into the Klongtoey Port itself because that's what defenders do.
♫♫ Peep! Peep! ♫♫ Final score - Port 4 Samut Prakan 1. Match highlights here.
Forget the scoreline. It wasn't a 4-1 game despite what one-eyed Port fans might tell you. I was proud of those Samut Prakan boys today because as the saying goes, we left nothing out there on the pitch. Everyone put in a good shift and if we continue playing like that, the wins will surely come.
Off the field, the palaver with swapping seats before the game and eventually being fobbed off with a poor view and cramped conditions for our 200 baht tickets, coupled with the ridiculously heavy-handed stewarding, left a bad taste.
Listen, you can't charge supporters money to see a football match and then put them in seats where they can't even see one of the bloody penalty areas. But that's what Port Football Club were happy to do. Shame on them for that.
I think whatever team you follow, it's always strangely satisfying to have a club in the same league or division that you despise. Have I finally found mine?
Who's up next?
The games are coming thick and fast at the start of the season and there's a full midweek TPL program on Wednesday. Samut Prakan entertain Bangkok United at Bang Plee, kick off 8.00 pm. Three points would be most welcome to kick-start our season, but I'm sure it's going to be another tough encounter.