(Three points from today's away game at Chantaburi would cap a great week for a Samut Prakan fan. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
This is the first time the two teams have met so let's start with some club background
Chantaburi Football Club (The Wild Rabbits) were formed in 2004 but the first 15 years or so of their existence are cloaked in complete mystery (at least if you're relying on Wikipedia) What league did they play in? What were they called? Who knows?
The official Thai League website records only go back as far as the 2019 season and at that time, Chantaburi finished 6th in the third division east (which sounds OK until you realise there were only eight teams in the division) After a couple more seasons finishing in the bottom half of the table, they finally reached the T3 East play off final in the 2022/23 season but were beaten over two legs by MH Nakhonsi. Alas, thanks to a major slice of good fortune, MH Nakhonsi's stadium and set-up was deemed not to be up to second division standard, so Chantaburi took their place. These things happen in Thai football.
Chantaburi play their home matches at the 5,000 capacity Chantaburi Provincial Stadium, fairly near the centre of town.
So how are they doing in their first season in the big time of the second division?
They are currently in 14th place having won two, drawn two and lost six of their games so far. I don't wish to belittle those two victories but one was an early season 4-1 win over Nakhonsi United when the opposition were still finding their feet, and you could say the same about a 3-1 win away at Ayutthaya.
Chantaburi have only taken one point from their last three home games.
They do however have one of T2's top goalscorers - Wander Luis - who has already hit double figures for the season. Although the 31-year-old Brazilian striker is at his first Thai club, he's been around SE Asian football for about six years with spells in Vietnam and Indonesia. He seems to be finding Thai second tier football very much to his liking. We'll need to keep an eye on this fella!
Journey and digs
We were already in neighboring Trat for the midweek FA cup game so it was only an hour's drive to Chantaburi (plus a stop en route for coffee)
For accommodation, the Samut Prakan club management very kindly offered us a double room at the team hotel, The Bliq Hotel about four kilometres out of town. It was a wonderful gesture and we gratefully accepted.
We killed the afternoon and early evening around the Chantaburi waterfront area (traffic was horrendous), heading back to the hotel as the storm clouds threatened. Whilst Tun retired to the room to catch up on her reading, I did some work on my laptop in the lobby, occasionally striking up light conversation with a few of the players. Even though I gave up teaching English many moons ago, I'm still fascinated by that contrast between those who love to converse in a foreign language and those who look positively terrified.
It's match day!
We waited for the players to finish breakfast and go off to do some light stretching exercises, before we entered the hotel dining room for our Cornflakes, coffee and eggs on toast. We then drove off to see a little bit of unseen Chantaburi, starting off with the fortified town walls, which for the Thai history buffs among you, were built during the reign of Rama 3.
The nearby Chantaburi Maritime Museum was dank and stuffy and in need of a sizeable donation (the air-conditioners were merely decoration) Entrance was 20 baht for Thais and 100 baht for foreigners, which made the complete absence of signage and information in English all the more annoying. I did point this out to the staff but they just smiled. The star of the show was undoubtedly the full-scale sailing ship, but when you are struggling to breath in such a humid and sweaty environment, it's going to take a lot more than that to keep you longer than 20 minutes.
We had lunch at the wonderful Artists Garden, a coffee shop with a basic food menu but with awesome views over Chantaburi's verdant countryside. Chantaburi has long been one of my favourite Thai provinces and I'm slightly envious of anyone who calls it home.
Back at the hotel, with the Samut Prakan players and staff relaxing in the lobby after lunch and preparing to leave for the stadium, I spotted our Brazilian central defender Bianor Neto sitting on his own and in need of a friend. I ambled over and we spent a very pleasant twenty minutes chatting about his career in football, in countries like Macedonia and Kosova, and how passionate the fans are in his native Brazil (if you lose a game there, you can't even walk around a shopping mall for several days for fear of being abused) On a personal note, his wife had flown back to Brazil the day before to take care of their two-year old daughter, who has a lung problem and is unable to fly because of how the cabin pressure might affect her health. Bianor is desperate for his family to be reunited and all live together in Thailand (he loves it here by the way) but for the time being, he's on his own. I felt so sorry for him.
What about the Chantaburi Provincial Stadium?
We got to the stadium around 90 minutes before kick off. I would say Udon Thani's provincial stadium from last season, is the scruffiest, most forlorn-looking Thai football ground I've ever experienced, and although I've not sampled its delights, Chiang Mai FC's away zone generally gets the vote for the most miserable away end in Thai football. If you put the two together, you get the Chantaburi Provincial Stadium. Oh boy, where do I start?
With its straw-covered floor and makeshift terracing, cobbled from nailed-together planks of wood that shifted if you put any weight on them, it was like a place you'd keep circus animals...except more dangerous. It was a death trap!
The pair of security guards on duty just watched me as I wandered in and out without a ticket. It's only because I believe in supporting Thai football whenever I can that I eventually decided to wander off and buy a couple. I can only hope the other Samut Prakan fans were as honest.
I walked a complete circuit of the stadium and things didn't improve much over at the main stand (usually the plushest part of any Thai ground) It was like the place where faded traffic cones, rusty barriers and reels of leftover electrical cable go to die. It's heartbreaking to see Thai stadia in such a sorry state.
To the match itself
Final score: Chantaburi FC 0 Samut Prakan 0
If you were looking for a match report, well, you're not going to get one. Instead I'll jump to...
This wasn't a very good football match, it has to be said. In recent weeks, we've taken just one point from away fixtures at DP Kanchanaburi and Chantaburi, two of last season's third divison promoted sides. If we have any aspirations of a top six finish and being genuine promotion contenders, then we need to be beating sides of this ilk. Perhaps it was a case of 'after the lord mayor's show' following the terrific 2-1 win away at Trat FC in the FA Cup on Wednesday? Perhaps that game had sucked much of the energy out of us?
That said, I was grateful for the point in the end, because Chantaburi had by far the better chances, including several at the beginning of the second half when the home side enjoyed a golden 10-minute period. I think in 90+ minutes, Samut Prakan had a goal disallowed for offside and they put a header against the crossbar, but there wasn't an awful lot to keep the 70-strong away support happy (and the fans were magnificent again this evening) Yep, there will be much better days than this.
(One of the highlights of the evening was getting to say hi to @Thaitims (a Thai football fan and Twitter follower) and his two lads. It was a pleasure to meet you, sir!)
Who's up next
We have a home game against struggling Kasetsart FC on Sunday 12th November at 7.00pm