Diary of a Thai football season

Mid-term report

With half the season gone, what do we think of it so far?


We're at the midway stage in the Thai league season and excluding friendlies, Samut Prakan City have played a total of 18 matches including 15 league games, two FA cup ties and a first round league cup exit. What have been my highlights and low points so far? 

Most memorable match

For pure noise and atmosphere, I would have to go with the 2-1 home win against Port but I also enjoyed the 3-0 win at Muang Thong United with the three goals coming in a blistering 20-minute, second-half spell.  Yes, I know Muangthong were bottom of the league at the time, but they are still a club with a big reputation and you can only beat what's put in front of you.

Best team performance

The first half performance against Port would take some beating but I was just as impressed by the 1-0 win at Suphanburi. Beating a struggling club by a solitary dubious penalty doesn't sound like a cause for celebration but truth is, Samut Prakan were on a different planet for most of the game. 

Worst team performance

The highlights reel of the goalless home draw with Sukhothai is not one you'd ever want to re-visit, but hardly surprising given Sukhothai are arguably the most boring team in the Thai Premier. 

Favourite goal

I can't decide between Picha Autra's sublime lob over the goalkeeper in the very first home game of the season against Chiang Mai or Ibson Melo's last minute winner against Ratchaburi and the pure emotion that followed, having earlier missed a penalty. 

Best player

It would be difficult to vote against Ibson Melo given his goal tally and the way he's terrorized defences this season but I'm going to go for Captain Peeradol. The tenacious midfielder is the heartbeat of the team and when he was suspended for the 2-1 defeat at Bangkok United, we realized just how much we miss him. 

A shout out also for Picha Autra. He needs to find a bit more consistency but when he's on song, the boy is a joy to watch. 

Best away ground

Well I've only got a handful to choose from but so far it's Muang Thong by some distance. With all four sides of the ground feeling relatively full and no running track to contend with, it felt like watching a top National League game in England. Great atmosphere before the match as well with plenty of activity going in the fan zone area. If only all Thai Premier League games were like this. 

Worst away ground

No contest. Bangkok United. 2,000 home fans all huddled under the main stand roof and the rest of the ground a deserted, soulless, decaying concrete bowl. Oh, and the toilets were a disgrace. Simply a fucking awful place to watch a football match. If you are intent on watching a game from the away end, take your binoculars!   

Best fan zone

Believe it or not, Bangkok United. All I normally ask for from a fan zone is plenty of places to sit and a good choice of drinks and snacks - and Bangkok United did a fine job on that score. What a pity the stadium doesn't live up to the pre-match hype.

Biggest disappointment

Losing our manager Khun Surapong in what felt like very mysterious circumstances.  I still have no idea why he left.  Oh, and still not being able to purchase the white away shirt. It's fair to say we've probably given up on that one.     

Most enjoyable thing about following Thai football

Without doubt the friends I've made since becoming an avid Samut Prakan supporter. Both the fellow expats I chat to at home matches and the Thai guys who follow the club on away trips. Our friendship may only stretch to wais, handshakes, pats on the back or selfies together, but there's a real sense of community and camaraderie there. 

At the end of the league cup game against Thonburi University - at a stadium in the middle of nowhere - one familiar Thai face came up to me and expressed concern that I would find it difficult to get home and offered me a lift in his minivan. I didn't take him up on the offer but was genuinely touched all the same.      

Things I've come to dislike about following Thai football

1) Finding out information about the cup competitions in English. 

I appreciate that most clubs don't give a tinker's cuss about the FA Cup and care even less about the League Cup, but spare a thought for the fans that still get excited about gleaming silverware and would love a day out in the May Wembley sunshine (or whatever the Thai equivalent is). 

On the day that cup draws are made, we would genuinely love to know who we've been pitted against in the next round and not have to go trawling the internet looking for which fourth division team has a club crest depicting a white fist on a blue background.   

2) The lack of respect for away fans.

Listen home club. We've driven hours in our cars to get here. By all means charge us a 50 baht premium for a ticket in the away zone, but don't then stick us in a grubby, forlorn corner of the stadium with no roof and a shit view and make us walk half a mile to toilets that wouldn't look out of place in a Karachi slaughterhouse.  

3) Not being able to take cold drinks into the stadium.

What do you mean I can't take drinks into the stadium? (and I'm looking at you Chonburi and Suphanburi) Surely you can't expect me to sit under floodlights in 95 degree heat and not have a small bottle of water to sip on. What's that? I might put the cap on and throw it at one of the opposing players.  Listen, if I could chuck a bottle of water from the back of the away end, across the running track and land it on the referee's head, I'd be sitting with the other Greek Gods on Mount Olympus, not here.

4) Mid-week 5.45 / 6.00 pm kick offs. A punch in the gut for every fan who still has to work for a living. 

Friendliest away fans

Muang Thong United. If social media commentators were to be believed, then I would have been wise to cover up my club colours as I made my way to the ground along dark streets reminiscent of a North London council estate. Those warnings were ludicrously off the mark, proving there ain't half some bollocks spouted on social media.  

What I secretly love about our club

Our tiny ramshackle football ground held together with chicken wire and a prayer. No really. Indulge me for a moment. 

The 'little club' I follow in England is Colchester United in the second division. For over half a century, our home ground was Layer Road, which many a British football stadia expert described as 'the worst ground in the football league'. But for the Colchester United faithful, it was home. 

About a decade ago, Layer Road was demolished and the club moved to one of those modern Meccano boxes on the edge of an industrial estate that no one can get to. The fans have moaned about it ever since because progress isn't always welcome. What's happened is that we have lost the 'Layer Road effect', where visiting teams and managers would clamber off the coach, take in their surroundings, and their instant reaction would be one of 'what the fuck is this?' And then go out and lose the game.

I feel the same way about our stadium. The pitted dirt-track, the portable loos, the souvenir shop which is actually an open-sided van - and half a dozen street dogs lying there, licking their balls. Ah, yes - the Layer Road effect. 

Best place to kill time before a home match

The Pizza Company branch on Theparak Road, which is about a five-minute walk from the ground.  Despite the uncharacteristically miserable staff, the meat deluxe personal pan, garlic bread and large Sprite really hit the spot. Nice clean toilets as well. 

Three cheers for......

The club management for quickly sorting out the seating problems that blighted the first home game.

Final grade

A-

In my teaching days, I never gave students a straight A grade unless they had turned in a faultless performance and genuinely earned it. So I'm going to be harsh and dock Samut Prakan a point for going out of the league cup at the first hurdle and not taking our opponents, Thonburi University, seriously enough. 

However, our league performances and results have surprised a good few of the experts. Thai football journalist, Paul Murphy, said in his excellent pre-season preview "the quality of Samut Prakan's squad should be enough to keep them in the top flight with something to spare" and predicted us to finish 10th. 

I wouldn't have disagreed with that opinion but my word, haven't we done well. From here on in, a 10th place finish would be a disaster. 



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