Diary of a Thai football season

Samut Prakan City v Port FC

It's local derby day as we welcome Port FC from t'other side of town.


(photos courtesy of Go2 Photo Stock and the official Samut Prakan City Facebook page)

A local derby then? A fixture with a bit of 'needle' thrown in?

Definitely! Port FC are geographically our closest rivals so their fans should be there in considerable numbers this evening and I'm looking forward to what should be a terrific atmosphere. 

I chat regularly with a handful of expat Port supporters on social media so I guess that also adds a little extra rivalry.  

There's been quite a clamor for tickets in the week leading up to the game?

It will be interesting to see how Samut Prakan handles what should be a capacity crowd. Even yesterday I was getting people who have never been to a Thai football match, contact me and ask how they can get their hands on six tickets, such is the interest in this encounter.

Depending on who you believe, Port are bringing between 700 and 1,500 fans, all hoping to gain entry into an away section with some 565 seats.

All week, the Port FC fans have justifiably been complaining about the poor ticket allocation but there is a little-known law in Thai football stating that only 10% of the ground capacity can be given over to away fans. If the home club exceeds that percentage, they face being fined by the Thai FA. 


So what has been Samut Prakan's approach?

The ticket office hours were extended on Friday and Saturday and also on the day of the match.  The club's strategy seemed to be to sell out all the home sections, leaving just the 565 away seats available for purchase in the hours leading up to kick off. 

And if you are the 566th Port fan?

I guess you're shit out of luck. Your options are going to be to either stand in the street, peep through a crack in the stadium fencing or find somewhere showing the game on TV (not easy in that neighborhood)  

Didn't you have designs on being a Port supporter at one stage?

Very briefly when I started to develop an interest in Thai football, although I never actually got to a game.  And then thankfully Samut Prakan City came along and I nailed my colours to the mast. 

Because of their central Bangkok location, Port have a large number of farang supporters anyway and I just didn't feel they needed another one - and I still feel that way.

A bit of club background then?

Port FC were formed in 1967 by the director of the Port Authority, Major Prachuap Suntranakul and The Major was instrumental in getting the club on its feet in those early days as 'Port Authority of Thailand FC' 

The big cheese nowadays is chairwoman, Nualphan Lamsam, or 'Madame Pang' as she is more commonly known among supporters. One of the most recognizable faces in Thai football, she is also a phenomenally successful businesswoman.  

In terms of cup competitions, Port's finest hour came in 2010, when they lifted the FA Cup (followed by The League Cup the following year) Their best Premier League seasons in recent times have been in 2016 and 2018, when they finished third on both occasions.

Port FC play at the 8,000-capacity PAT Stadium in Klongtoey and credit where it's due, they attract a decent crowd for most home games. The absence of a running track and a boxy, intimate feel to the ground makes the PAT Stadium easily one of the best 'football experiences' in the Thai Premier League (or so I'm told). It's certainly one of the easier grounds to get to, being just a 10-minute stroll from the nearest MRT station so I'm looking forward to the return fixture at the end of October (our final game of the season)  

Port feel that this just might be their season?

It was looking very good a few weeks ago with Port five points clear at the top of the table, but Buriram's 3-1 victory against Port last weekend put something of a dent in things and it's now Buriram at the top of the pile by four points following a comfortable home win last night against Chiang Mai. 

Port are still having a good season though, losing just two of their 14 games so far - the other defeat coming in a 3-1 reverse at Sukhothai.  

Who are the Port FC danger men?

My good friend, Tim Russell, has been following Port closely since 2014 and runs the excellent unofficial Port FC website, The Sandpit, which I believe is the name given to the section where the hardcore foreign supporters congregate at home games. 

As well as contributing articles to the likes of Football 365, music-mad, Coventry City-supporting Tim has also written for the mighty NME no less. 

Who does Tim think Samut Prakan should keep an eye on this evening? 

First up is Port number 7, Pakorn Prempak. "The stocky winger regularly tops the Premier League assist charts and is probably the best striker of a dead ball in the country. Very dangerous from free kicks, this season he has added work-rate to his natural ability and is arguably Port's most dangerous player"

Bordin Phala also gets the nod. "The ex-Buriram youngster has finally come of age this season thanks to a regular run in the team, and his superficially languid style belies a very intelligent and creative footballer, adept at defence-splitting passes and long shots"

Tim describes Dragan Boskovic as a 'true Thai football legend' - "the feisty Montenegrin may not be the goal threat he once was but his work-rate and influence on his teammates are massive. And he LOVES playing against you - he hit 5 goals in 2 games against Pattaya United last season!"

Tim's final choice is Elias Dolah. "The big Thai-Swedish defender continues to improve every season and is now probably the best Thai centre-back in the league, providing a huge physical presence, very vocal leadership and some sublime long passing" 

Unfortunately, I believe Dolah is suspended for tonight's game along with Samut Prakan's Aris Zarifovic. Both huge losses to their respective defences. 

So to the evening itself. Good vibe around the ground before kick off?

Fantastic! We need more nights like this down at Bang Plee. There were sizable clusters of Port supporters everywhere you looked and Sanwa, the sponsors of Samut Prakan City, were doing their best to whip up the home fans who had gathered in numbers at the fan zone. There was just an all-round great sense of occasion and you wanted to embrace every second of it, 

A steady rain started to fall an hour before kick off but thankfully it didn't last long and didn't ruin the evening.  

Did all those Port fans manage to get into the ground in the end?

I think so. Once the official away section had sold out, the Port fans took over some of the stand behind the goal (wearing their club colours as well) so it seems the home club did a bit of a u-turn and found room for everyone. That said, my wife went to powder her nose shortly before half-time and reported there were a number of Samut Prakan fans milling around outside who had not managed to get tickets. That's a shame. 

And Samut Prakan made a dream start?

The first ten minutes of the game will live long in the memory. I don't know what the boss had said to the Samut Prakan lads in his pre-match team-talk but every member of the team was at it from the first whistle. They never gave the Port players a second to dwell on the ball and the visiting side looked rattled in those early stages.

Seven minutes on the clock and Samut Prakan force a corner. Jakkapan swings the ball into the danger zone and Picha Autra flicks it on at the near post (gives it the 'little eyebrows' as Ron Atkinson would say) and there's Ibson Melo at the far post to plant a firm header into the net and put The Sea Fang 1-0 up. 

Two minutes later and the Samut Prakan fans are in dreamland and celebrating a second goal.  It's the result of a quite sublime counter attack. Goalkeeper Pathiwat manages to thwart a Port attack and palm the ball out to one of his defenders, who then finds Chayawat, still well in his own half.  Chayawat looks up to see Ibson Melo in acres of space and screaming for the ball as the Port defenders go AWOL. He delivers the perfect pass and Ibson has an unobstructed run into the box where he has all the time to measure a pass across the goalmouth and leave Terrapol Yoyoei with a tap-in. 

I glance at my watch. We've been playing barely ten minutes and we're 2-0 up against the mighty Port. And I'm already starting to lose my voice. This is beyond our wildest dreams. 

The Port keeper then produces an absolute worldy to deny Samut Prakan a third goal, That really would have been game over.

The game starts to settle down a bit, which is not surprising. There's no way that Samut Prakan could have kept up the momentum of that first twenty minutes. There are chances at both ends as Port come more into the game and their efforts are finally rewarded with a penalty just before half-time. Port take a corner and the ref has noticed some argy-bargy in the penalty area. Samut Prakan number 5, Sarawut, seems to be the culprit as he wrestles his man clumsily to the floor. 

Port number 5, Suarez, has the chance to pull a goal back for Port but fires his spot-kick straight down the middle and into the goalkeeper's legs. You began to get the feeling this just might be our night. And there goes the half-time whistle with our two-goal lead still intact.   

Surely the second half couldn't live up to the first?

It didn't (probably not for a Samut Prakan fan) but it still had its moments.

The home team has another golden chance to put the game to bed. Ibson Melo playing deep in his own half, chips a ball forward to Captain Peeradol. He's on his own! Peeradol's still got half the field to carry the ball but just the Port goalkeeper to beat. Number 11, Jaroensak tears forward to offer an unmarked option in the box. It's either slip it past the keeper or pass it to Jaroensak for an easy tap-in but Peeradol does neither, choosing to blast it past the right-hand post and then collapse in a heap as he realises what a glorious opportunity he's missed.

Somewhere in all the excitement, Samut Prakan have found themselves down to ten men. Sarawut picks up a second yellow card for a nasty tackle and begins the slow walk back towards the bench. Worse still, there is more than half an hour to play. The home side make a couple of substitutions; Ibson Melo comes off as Samut Prakan sacrifice one of the front men in an attempt to hold on to their two-goal cushion.    

Although I'm in danger of losing my finger-nails, the last half hour passes surprisingly quickly with Port posing no real threat against the ten men in blue. Sergio Suarez pulls one back for the visitors right at the death but the four minutes of injury time pass without incident. The final whistle goes and that's it - we've done it!

(Match highlights)

Overall thoughts?

Football, bloody hell! Did I enjoy that or what. I've never felt so proud of my team as I did at the final whistle. I wouldn't be so cruel as to select a man of the match; they were all heroes out there tonight.

Perhaps at last we can shake off that 'punching above our weight' label that we seem to have got stuck with. With half the season gone, we're joint second in the table alongside Port and Bangkok United and we're there because we deserve to be there. We've got some fine, young players and a magnificent team spirit.

And a final word about the manager, Tetsuya Murayama. That's three wins out of three since he took up the hot seat and while it's far too early to refer to him as a tactical genius, he hasn't put a foot wrong so far.  

I met up with my sports journalist friend, Gian, after the match and he made an interesting point. "Everyone was bemoaning the loss of manager Surapong, but how much of Samut Prakan's success this season has been down to the Japanese technical director who is now the new manager. Perhaps only now is the real truth beginning to emerge"

I'll say one thing Gian, the players are certainly playing for him. That much is clearly in evidence.    

Who's up next?

We are away to Chiang Mai this Saturday 29th June. We've now reached the half-way point in the season so we begin playing teams in the reverse fixture.

Logistically it's a very doable away trip of course. There are plenty of flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and the 700th Anniversary Stadium is a relatively short taxi ride from the airport. However, I would need to book one night's accommodation in Chiang Mai (returning early on Sunday morning), then there's all the fannying around at airports, plus the fact I'm not a huge fan of Chiang Mai anyway so have no desire to 'make a weekend of it'.  

A Chiang Mai fan got in touch with me on social media to say 'don't bother Phil, the mood among the fans is pretty dark at the moment and a large percentage might even boycott this game'. 

The reason for the 'protest' is that the 700th Anniversary Stadium is to be closed for renovations during the second half of the season and the club will ground-share with Chiang Rai FC, some 200 kilometres away. It's hard to believe that someone out there thought Chiang Mai supporters would be willing to make a 7-hour round trip to see their team in action but that's Thai football for you. The fans are always the ones to suffer at the hands of crazy decision-makers. 

So as for making the trip up north, I'm still 50/50 at the moment. In the words of Joe Strummer and The Clash - should I stay or should I go?

Full fixture list for the 2019 season

Check the current Thai Premier League table




Comments

Watching Toyota games on TV . Thai league full of players Thais ,African, eastern european etc who behave the same as players in English Prem league. arguing with officials,cheating, no respect for opponents or the game. Thats 21st century football.

By mark, Bangkok (1st July 2019)

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