Diary of a Thai football season

2023/24 Lampang FC v Samut Prakan

Our last long away trip of the season

(We've already been to Lampang's provincial stadium but not to see an actual game. We popped our head in the door and took some photos on the way from Chiang Mai to Phrae last year)

We now know which three clubs will be relegated from T2

There are still four matches to play, but following defeats last weekend, Krabi FC and Customs United are now officially relegated. Kasetsart FC, currently also in the bottom three, will presumably fold at the end of the season if Thai media reports are accurate. They are only fulfilling their remaining fixtures because the Thai FA stepped in to help. 

And who's getting promoted from T3?

With three matches of the five completed, Sisaket and Bangkok FC have emerged as red hot favourites. Both teams have a 100% record and head their northern and southern group tables. Difficult to say at the moment who the third promoted team will be.  

Back to this weekend's opponents - Lampang FC. How are they doing?

Lampang are currently in 8th position but just one point below the play-off places and they have absolutely everything to play for. The Lampang Provincial Stadium is a tough place to go anyway and only Pattaya FC and surprisingly Kasetsart FC have won there this season.

Samut Prakan's hopes of a result are slim then?

Well, presumably the team will do the 8-hour journey by bus. I believe we have lost every game this season that has involved a long bus journey. However, I wouldn't argue against the club keeping the travel costs down to a minimum. Our safety in T2 is assured for another season so there's not an awful lot to play for. However, on that note...

Oh f***, here we go again!

News has been circulating on Thai football websites that Samut Prakan players have not been paid for several months, in fact one player posted the story of him being kicked out of his accommodation by the landlord and having his electricity cut off. How football players still turn up for work in these circumstances is just mindblowing to me. It certainly means we can forgive any poor performances in recent months. It's time to support the players and not care about the results.

But this time it sounds serious?

It does. Will Samut Prakan continue as a club next season? Who knows? One thing's for sure - there will be a mass exodus of players in a few weeks. I'm so bored now of all this uncertainty every season. The only attitude one can adopt is 'whatever will be, will be'   

Update on Friday 29th March - two days before the game

The news on the mainstream Thai football websites is that the Samut Prakan players are refusing to train (understandably) and will NOT make the journey to Lampang at the weekend. So at the moment it's a waiting game. Something has to give, someone - maybe from the Thai FA - has to step in with some sort of rescue plan. Regardless of whether the game goes ahead or not, Tun and I will press on with the trip as planned.

Oh what's this?

Finally an official announcement from the club. They say that the match v Lampang will go ahead as planned and the squad will travel. Not only that but all the current problems such as unpaid salaries, etc are being sorted out. My head is spinning with all this.    

Journey and digs

For something different we decided to make the trip by daytime train. The number 7 train from Bangkok Central Station leaves at 9.05 am and arrives in Lampang at 5.30pm, so a journey time of some eight and a half hours.

The second class seating in an air-conditioned carriage was comfortable enough and the hostess (or rather the lady who occasionally walked up and down the aisle) sold coffee, bottled water and snacks. It's a lovely, relaxing way to travel when you've got plenty of time on your hands.

The train pulled into Lampang Station at 5.45, just 15 minutes behing schedule, and after picking up our rental car we made the short drive to Baan Chiang Bed, our hotel for three nights. We stayed here last year when we were just passing through so knew what to expect. It's a friendly two-star hotel on the edge of town and although the air-con could be cooler, the shower could do with being warmer and there is no kettle, the rooms are great value at 650 baht a night.

On our first evening in town, we ambled around Lampang's night market, which unfortunately we missed last year. It truly is one of the best night markets I've seen in Thailand and Lampang in general was absolutely buzzing on a Saturday evening. I've never seen so many quirky cafes and shops in a rural Thai town, Many of these places are now a far cry from the peaceful, deserted towns you sometimes found yourself stuck in during the early 90s. They have come on in leaps and bounds!  

It's match day!

There's hot, and there's hot, and then there's Lampang at the end of March hot. It was brutal out there. But we summoned up the energy to knock off a couple of attractions in the morning. 

Banpongnak, a residence built for King Rama 7 whenever he was up this way, was superb. Places that are looked after by the army usually are because money and labour aren't an issue. We wandered around the old style building and every room was a delight, crammed with fascinating exhibits, all lovingly displayed. The staff couldn't have been more welcoming and they were genuinely pleased to see visitors. They clearly don't get that many, which is a criminal shame.

I certainly wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see Wat Pong Sanuk Nua though, unless you need a 10-,minute stocking filler. For somewhere proclaiming to be a Unesco site, the compound was surprisingly shabby.

After a couple of hours relaxation back at the hotel, we drove to the stadium at around 4.00pm for the 5.30 kick off. The late afternoon heat was brutal but we got the chance to say hello to a few of the players and staff and thank them for coming. We would be putting out a team of 11 starters along with three subs. Several of the players were young apprentices who I'd either never heard of or had been limited to one or two appearances from the bench. Our foreign trio of Neto, Sangjin Lee and Sho Shimoji would all feature, with Sho taking the captain's armband. Legends every one of them! 

The club hadn't even booked an overnight stay the night before the game. The players and staff had clambered aboard a bus at four 'o' clock that morning in Samut Prakan, driven the nine hours to Lampang and then were expected to do a light training session and play a football match... and then drive the nine hours back home! We didn't stand a chance of getting a result out of this game and the whole situation is just heartbreaking.

To fast forward to the end of a dismal match, we lost the game 3-0. I can't be bothered to do any kind of match report because what's the point? Actually, given the circumstances, we played quite well and I thought the 3-0 scoreline flattered Lampang somewhat. They didn't look any great shakes themselves. Promotion to T1? You're having a laugh.  

Watch the match highlights

Overall thoughts?

If Chiang Mai FC's notorious away end is the worst in T2 (possibly in all of Thai football) then the away enclosure at the Lampang Provincial Stadium runs it mighty close. In fact, I thought the whole stadium was tatty. And to add insult to injury, at the ticket booth, we had to purchase tickets from a woman who didn't know her arse from her elbow. She couldn't tell us which part of the stadium to head for or how to get there. She didn't even recognise that we were away fans (the great big Samut Prakan badge on our replica shirts should have been a giveaway) It's as if she'd never sold a ticket to an away fan before. 

The above photo was taken from the main stand before any of the home fans arrived. At least the security staff let us wander around unchallenged. You can see the metal terracing of the away end in the distance, behind the goal. If you've never been to the Lampang Provincial Stadium before (and I wouldn't blame you if you had no desire to go) trust me, that terrace is a long way from the pitch.

I'm not known for my flag-waving or cheerleading prowess at Samut Prakan games but I wanted to do this just once. Who knows when the last opportunity will be? 

When the players came over at the end of the game to applaud the small group of fans who had made the long journey, there was just an overriding sadness that I've never experienced in my five years as a supporter. You could see that sadness in the eyes of every player and staff member and it was heartbreaking. I became quite emotional because this club is so broken, I just can't see a future or a way out. We have had our ups and downs in recent seasons but we have never been at such a low point. If Samut Prakan City Football Club is going to continue into next season, it's going to take a quite remarkable turn of events.

A final day in Lampang

We decided to spend one more day in the north because who knows when we would be back this way again.

In the morning we visited the Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum, home of the famous Lampang chicken bowl. Stories of businesses that are started by one immigrant and a small suitcase and end up with a big factory exporting products all over the world, always make great stories. The museum and factory were superb and hats off to the guide who made the whole experience so informative and interesting.

With the mercury hitting the low 40s, Lampang recorded the hottest temperature in Thailand today, but we braved the scorching heat to get some views from Wat Rattana Khuha. Thankfully there was a winding road to the top of the mount and we avoided any need to climb hundreds of steps.

And then it was time to go home!

Who's up next?

We have a home game against already relegated Krabi FC on Saturday 6th April. There is a two-week break for the Songkran holiday after that. 

Samut Prakan fixtures 2023/2024


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