Diary of a Thai football season

(2019) Muangthong United v Samut Prakan City

An away trip to one of the premier league's 'big four' clubs

We're looking forward to this one then?

Oh yes sir.  Muangthong United (The Kirins) are one of the biggest clubs in the Thai Premier League and it's just a one-hour drive to north of Bangkok and Muangthong's swanky SCG Stadium.  

When the season's fixtures came out at the start of the year, this was one of the first away games I looked out for. 

They're having a wretched season though?

They're having a shocker!  The Kirins currently lie bottom of the table with six defeats from their opening nine games. Certainly not a position or situation they're used to.  However, in the last two matches, they've shared the spoils at Rayong despite twice being behind, and followed that with a fine 3-0 win in the FA Cup away at fellow Premier League team, Prachuap.  

Much now rests on the shoulders of ex-Korean international, Yoon Jong-Hwan, who took over the managerial hot seat last month.  Could Muangthong be finding their mojo at just the wrong time for us?  

Some Muangthong United background? 

Muangthong is one of the richest clubs in the Thai League and they won promotion to the premier division in 2008. In those interim eleven seasons, they've been champions five times, in fact, they've never finished outside the top five. 

I think over the years, they've employed a number of well-known foreign players at the 'fag end' of their professional career. Probably best known is ex-Liverpool superstar, Robbie Fowler, who took over as player-coach in 2011 for a season. 

Muangthong has a sizable fan base, including the boisterous, banner-waving 'Muangthong Ultra'.  Although football hooliganism is by and large alien to the Thai League, things have been known to get a bit 'tasty' down at the SCG Stadium, particularly against local rivals, Port FC.  

Three years ago, when the two clubs faced off in a league cup semi final, there were some nasty incidents after the game. Ten people were injured in sporadic brawling and it took considerable police manpower to bring the situation under control.

Thankfully, situations like this are extremely rare in Thai football so the Thai FA came down hard on both clubs. Both sets of fans were banned from attending any away games for the remainder of that season and Muangthong were forced to play their next five 'home' games at an alternative and more disagreeable venue.  

In a controversial move, the Thai FA even decided to ban Port FC followers from this season's fixture in April and avoid any repeat of past seasons.  Not a decision that went down well with Port supporters. 

Sounds like you're going into the belly of the beast? 

Perhaps there's a degree of trepidation for this one but I doubt the home fans are going to kick up a fuss over little Samut Prakarn City.  

The SCG is a stadium I really want to see.  With no running track around the pitch and completely enclosed by four stands, it's probably one of the best opportunities you'll get to sample something similar to an English football match atmosphere.  

The stadium has also been used for rock concerts. Guns 'N' Roses played there in 2017. 

Who's along for the ride?

My Thai pal, Benz, is coming with me.  Saturday is his one day off and his girlfriend is working, so he's got nothing better to do.  Plus I bought him a Samut Prakarn replica shirt a few weeks back, so this is his big chance to wear it - despite him being a Suphanburi fan.  This is a lad's day out! 

Did you get tickets in advance?

Yes. Muangthong use the Ticket Me online system and I was very impressed.  You buy the tickets on the internet and then print them off yourself to present at the stadium on the day of the match (the way it should be) There's no fannying around having to go and collect paper tickets at your nearest 7-11 like I had to do for the Chonburi game. 

The major drawback though is that I had to use my passport number to complete the ticket transaction so I have to take my passport to the match as proof of ID.  I hate carrying passports around because I can't begin to imagine the hassle involved if I were to lose it. 

Muangthong players to look out for?

I'm sure there are a quite a few so I turned to a good friend on Twitter for help with this section.  Gian Chansrichawla is a football journalist and editor, based in Bangkok.  These were Gian's player picks.

Oh Ban-suk is a 30-year-old midfielder from South Korea, on loan from Al Wasl in the United Arab Emirates.  He also made the Korean squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia but not sure he got any game time.

Brazilian striker, Heberty, is a man with an eye for goal. Back in 2014 - his first season in Thai football - he finished as the league's top scorer, hitting the net 26 times for Ratchaburi FC.  After a year in the Saudi Arabian wilderness, Heberty returned to Thailand in 2017 to take up a striker's role at Muangthong, where he's proved to be just as prolific in terms of goals and assists. 

Finally, a couple of Thai players to keep an eye on are Korrawit Tasa and Saringkan Promsupa.  Both are Thai youth internationals who have been getting some decent game time recently.  Korrawit scored for fun at Thailand U-16 and U-19 levels.  Saringkan. a 22-year old defender, has made most of his international appearances for the U-23 side. 

Journey and pre-match?

Despite Benz's GPS being on the blink, we covered the distance from Samut Prakarn to Muangthong in about an hour and managed to find the stadium easily enough.

I was very impressed with the facilities and set-up at the SCG. We stuck the car in the enormous free car-park right opposite the stadium and followed the red-shirted home fans over the pedestrian bridge and to the ground itself. 

On the stadium forecourt, both sets of fans mingled and took photos with a couple of Muangthong mascots. The club shop seemed to be doing good business, there were lots of activities for the kids in the nearby futsal park but best of all, plenty of refreshment kiosks. Not once did I have to queue to buy a soft drink. 

Benz and I (both wearing our Samut Prakarn blue) even got the chance to do a little interview with the friendly presenter from Muangthong TV.  It was just a pleasant vibe all round. 

Inside the stadium, the tatty plastic seating (certainly in the away section) needs a serious upgrade, but I'm going to let that slide. Once the game got underway, it really was the closest I've experienced to an English match atmosphere. It reminded me of being at one of the better National League stadiums, perhaps somewhere like Kidderminster's Aggborough.  


To the game itself, decent first half?

Muangthong had the first 25 minutes, at least in terms of possession. The men in red looked well up for this one and Samut Prakarn struggled to gain a foothold.  The home side missed an absolute sitter when number 7 and danger man, Heberty, shot straight at the keeper's outstretched leg with the entire goal at his mercy.  At the other end, Ibson Melo and Captain Peeradol both conjured up decent long range efforts. But we went in at half-time still goalless.

Better second half?

The second half went much the same way as the first with Muangthong asking all the questions and looking the most likely.  Korawich twisted his Samut Prakarn marker inside out to fire a low shot against the post and there was Heberty to tap in the rebound. 1-0 to Muangthong! Celebrations were short-lived however as the linesman raised his flag for offside.  

I'm not sure where it came from, but roared on by 150-200 noisy travelling supporters, there then followed Samut Prakarn's best 25 minutes of the season. 

We haven't seen Carlos Carlao since he limped off with hamstring trouble in the away game at Buriram at the end of March, so it was good to see him enter the fray as a 62nd minute substitute. And talk about a game changer. Jaroensak does brilliantly to chase a lost cause and whip in a pinpoint cross from the right wing. Carlos does the rest, rising above the Muangthong defence to plant a header into the bottom corner. Unfortunately he's also landed awkwardly and is clearly in pain. Carlos is substituted. His comeback may only have lasted six minutes - but what a six minutes!

74 minutes in and Samut Prakarn double their lead. Goal provider turns goalscorer as Jaroensak is put through and finds himself with a direct path into the box and a sight on goal. He scoops the ball over the advancing keeper with commendable aplomb. 

At two goals down, Muangthong had no choice but to give it the kitchen sink and attack in numbers, which left plenty of space at the back for Samut Prakarn to exploit and add a well-deserved third.  Picha Autra - who had a fine game today - has all the time in the world to look up and feed Thiraporn Yoyoei with a precision pass. Thiraporn makes no mistake, sidefooting past the keeper.  The away section goes mental. Are we really 3-0 up away at Muangthong? 

The game was over. Muangthong's heads went down and the home fans, deciding they'd seen enough, started to trickle out of the ground. Life is tough when you're bottom of the league. Muangthong's slogan is 'Football's Coming Home' - but it's not coming home today.

Overall thoughts?

You know what? There will be those who say 'you beat the bottom club 3-0, so what?' But in a Thai premier league where I'm convinced that on the day, anyone can beat anyone else, a 3-0 away win is a 3-0 away win.

There are two things I've noticed about this terrific little team of ours. Firstly, our fitness levels. I don't know what's happening on the training ground during the week, but they're clearly doing something right. In that final 25 minutes tonight - when you would expect energy levels to start flagging - we were incredible.

Secondly, we seem to have at least half a dozen players in the team who can step up at any given time and take a game by the scruff. We saw it tonight with a brief cameo from Carlao but the truth is, we have a number of players who are capable of changing the course of a game with individual moments of magic.    

(match highlights

Talking of moments of magic........

I just have to mention this.  For five minutes at the start of the game, the Samut Prakarn supporters sang "Sawatdee Khap Muangthong" and then performed it again at the final whistle. Sung with gusto, it translates as "Hello Muangthong. We are so pleased to be here. Thank you for having us"  

I'm not sure if every set of visiting away fans sing something similar, but I just thought it was wonderful. It genuinely brought a lump to my throat and I can't think of a better example to highlight the underlying friendliness that is so evident in Thai football.  It's one of the many reasons we love it, right?  Win, lose or draw, we'll wai or shake hands and take a selfie at the end.  Then we'll move on to the next game.

Thank you for having us Muangthong. Hopefully, we'll see you again soon.    

Who's up next?

We had our first FA Cup game a couple of weeks ago but now we turn our attention to the Thai League Cup and an away trip to Thonburi University on Wednesday. Kick off 3.30 pm (sunscreen optional)

Full fixture list for the 2019 season

Check the current Thai Premier League table


Always enjoy your reports, it’s nice to get some feedback from the fans side....

By Bardi, Bangkok (12th May 2019)

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