Diary of a Thai football season

(2019) Samut Prakan City v Chiang Mai

The first of 30 Thai Premier League games. Here we go!

So here we go then. The adrenalin's flowing.

Yes indeed. The first of thirty Thai Premier League games over the course of a 9-month season. Come on the Sea Fang! 

Who were the oppos?

We began our campaign with a home game against Chiang Mai FC.  The Lanna Tigers were promoted from division two last season after finishing in third place. They've certainly traveled a long way for this one.  

Most if not all of the articles and blogs I've read by staunch Thai football followers have tipped Chiang Mai as red-hot favourites for relegation and a swift return to division two.  

If that's an accurate assessment, then on paper at least, this was possibly our most winnable home fixture. Getting off to a winning start with three points in the bag was crucial.

To the occasion itself. Easy enough to get parked? 

The first home game was always going to be something of a learning curve and we arrived at the ground 'ridiculously early' (6.30 for an 8.00 pm start). The atmosphere outside the stadium, even at that hour, was electric - with plenty of fans around - but we managed to get 'a Kojak spot' in the shadow of the main stand. I'm sure we won't always be that lucky in future. 

We parked up and made the short walk to the ground, picking our way around potholes, snoozing street dogs and piles of garbage. As you would expect, the 'safety aspect' around the stadium was non-existent. But the floodlights were on, there was that buzz of anticipation and expectancy and it felt good to be following a local team and watching live football again.   

So the first port of call was the gleaming new club shop, stocked wall-to-wall with replica shirts?

You wish. 

We flashed our season tickets and chose a couple of good seats in W3. One of the stewards told me that the club shop was on the opposite side of the ground, about a five minute walk away. I left my wife to guard the seats while I sauntered off to get a home and away shirt. 

With money burning hole in my pocket, I ended up asking four different staff members en route where the club shop was.  I was hungry for merchandise. "Club shop? New team shirts?" Three of the staff pointed me in the direction of something that clearly wasn't a club shop; another staff member told me that all the shirts were sold out. 

Then a thought struck me - I couldn't see a single Samut Prakan supporter wearing a replica shirt. Doesn't that strike you as odd? 

In the end I gave up. I'm not even sure that a club shop actually exists. As I made my way back to the seats to join my wife again, an announcement came over the p.a apologising for club shirts not being available yet. I'll let you draw your own conclusions. 

I thought about going back to the girl who had told me the shirts had sold out and cheerfully wringing her neck but my wife's expression told me that we had other problems to deal with.

This wasn't going well was it?

It was about to get a lot worse. When we purchased our premium season tickets a week ago, I raised the point that we were given no seat numbers.  We were simply told by the sales girl that we could sit anywhere we wanted in either section W2 or W3, near the half-way line. 

However, between purchasing the season tickets and tonight's match, the system had changed. 

The club was now selling allocated, numbered seats as one-off purchases on the day of the match and while I was away on a fruitless quest to find the club shop, my wife had been forced to move twice as she realised she was sitting in other people's seats. And these people were non-season ticket holders. It all seemed very unfair.

By this stage, my wife was getting pretty angry and we grabbed a young female steward to explain the situation. The whole seat ticketing system felt like a bad joke and a recipe for chaos. 

Staff got on walkie-talkies to try and solve the problem and suddenly we were being passed around like an unwanted parcel. One steward suggested we walk to the cheaper, opposite side of the ground where there were still plenty of seats available. Another suggested we just stand there in the aisle and see what seats are left in our section once the game kicks off.  We refused both offers. The situation was getting ludicrous.  

You must have expected something like this though?

Well, I had spoken to several expat Thai football followers on social media in the week leading up to tonight's game, and they had all commented on how badly the Thai Premier League treats its fans. Tonight I was witnessing it first-hand.

Who was the knight in shining armour?

Eventually an older guy with a walkie-talkie came over. Straight away he looked like someone who held a senior position and he escorted us out of the stand, along the street, and into the press and media section, where he found us a couple of seats. They were terrific seats with an uninterrupted view but they did little to ease the disappointment of how we had been treated as season ticket holders. I had purposely bought season tickets in advance to avoid any situations like this. 

As we walked to the press section, the older guy confessed that many of the stewards on duty were new staff and just didn't have the experience to handle things. He sympathised with our situation and promised the ticketing situation would be sorted out before the next home game. I'm not holding my breath.  

I also bumped into one of my Twitter pals outside the stadium, with his wife and daughter in tow. "Tickets are completely sold out" he said miserably. 

However, he tweeted later that he had managed to secure seats in a packed away end, among the traveling Chiang Mai fans. He spent the whole of the first half trying to see around a fat bloke who insisted on standing up for the duration. 

My pal then decided to leave at half-time. I'm sure he'll be better prepared come the second home match next month. 

Let's get to something more positive. How about the atmosphere at kick off and attendance? 

The atmosphere was terrific. My wife and I were both staggered at the turnout of fans. There was barely an empty seat to be had. The drums were beating, the flags were waving, the away section was rammed - it all made for a great atmosphere. The official attendance was put at just over 4,900 - so for a stadium with a 5,100 capacity, it was virtually a sell out. 

However, I should add that we later discovered on Thai social media that a fair number of tickets had been given away as freebies. Thai elections coming up in March? I'll let you join the dots. 

Let's see how the season's attendances pan out once the freebies have dried up before any talk of filling a brand new 30,000 capacity stadium. 

To the match itself. First half?

Samut Prakarn started brightly and they are clearly a decent footballing side. The defence may have looked shaky all evening but going forward, the attackers were a constant menace. The deadlock was broken in the 15th minute when number 37 Picha (who had a terrific game I thought) took advantage of a mix-up between the Chiang Mai goalkeeper and defender. The ball fell to him on the edge of the box and his inch-perfect sublime lob evaded everyone on the goal-line.  

Chiang Mai had their best spell of possession mid-way through the first half and were rewarded with an equaliser just before the half hour. The Samut Prakarn defence got skinned on the right hand side, a nice flighted cross and there was Brazilian Evson Nascimento to put the ball in the net with an overhead kick. 

Half time: Samut Prakarn City 1 Chiang Mai 1. The home team had edged it but it was still honours even.   

And the second half?

The entertainment level really got ramped up in the second period. The half was barely a few minutes old when Samut Prakarn got the ball in the net for a second time only to see the ref bring play back and award a penalty for pushing. 

The whole Samut Prakarn team were incensed with the referee's decision not to play the advantage and allow a second goal to stand. Play was held up for a good five minutes before captain Peeradol was finally able to take the spot kick and shoot tamely at the Chiang Mai keeper diving to his left. Penalty missed. Still 1-1.     

The penalty fiasco seemed to light a fire in the Samut Prakarn team and home fans were treated to a wave of attacks.  The second goal came on 68 minutes with Thirapon Yoyoei curling in a delightful shot from the edge of the penalty area after a clever through ball from the Brazilian Carlao. 

What should have opened the floodgates for more Samut Prakarn goals became a lesson in how not to defend a lead as just five minutes later, and totally against the run of play, Chiang Mai's Mustafa Adzadzoy was gifted an easy goal after The Sea Fang failed to clear their lines.  Quarter of an hour left and a game that suddenly looked like it could swing either way.  

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. With just eight minutes left on the clock, the big Slovenian defender, Aris Zarifovic , put his shiny dome in where it hurts and buried the winning header after good work from substitute Chaiyawat. 

The last eight minutes and extra time were played out very comfortably and the home fans greeted the final whistle with boisterous cheers. Three points in the bag for the mighty Sea Fang!

How did the 'foreigners' do then in general?

Well firstly one of our supposed star players, the Myanmar international Kyaw Ko Ko, didn't make the starting line-up (injured?) but I was very, very impressed with the two Brazilian lads - Carlao and Ibsen Melo.  They are going to be a handful for any team in this league. Melo ran his socks off for 90 minutes. He's strong and quick with a good football brain. 

Carlao on the other hand, looks to be the kind of player whose head can perhaps go down when things aren't going well. You're not going to find him putting his body on the line on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke, but tonight he was constantly involved and he brought some of that samba magic to deepest Bang Plee. 

Aris Zarifovic didn't impress me in defence all that much but a second minute yellow card probably led to a more cautious display throughout. 

I can't knock a man who pops up with the winning goal though. His height and bravery are going to be wonderful assets to have at attacking set pieces. 

Overall thoughts on the game?

Loved it! The match itself was very entertaining and full marks to Chiang Mai for coming and making for such an open, attacking game. And two thumbs up to the Samut Prakarn fans - actually both sets of fans - for creating such a good atmosphere and singing their heroes to victory.  You can see great quality highlights of the match on YouTube

The season ticket balls-up was obviously a serious downer on the evening and that needs to be sorted out pronto.  If Samut Prakarn start doing well, there could be a clamor for seat tickets when the more 'attractive' and geographically closer teams like Port, Chonburi, Muangthong and Bangkok United all roll into town. 

Who's up next?

We are away to Chonburi next Saturday 2nd March. It's going to be a tough match but I'm looking forward to it because I get the chance to meet up with my old mate and Chonburi superfan, Dale. (He's put up a brand spanking new Chonburi FC website by the way)  And of course it's Samut Prakarn's first away match. 

(I wrote a blog about my first Thai league game when I went to see Chonburi take on Suphanburi last year) 

Back to this season's fixtures, we travel to PTT Rayong on Sunday 10th March (I'll probably watch that one on telly) before our next home game against Sukhothai on St Patrick's Day (Sunday 17th March)  


My wife did some trawling on Thai social media and discovered there were an awful lot of disgruntled Samut Prakarn fans out there.  Many fans had found themselves in the same boat as us - holding season tickets but constantly being kicked out of their seats when match-day ticket owners arrived to claim ownership.  There was an even larger group of angry supporters who had arrived at the stadium as early as 4.00 pm to buy tickets for last night's game, only to be told they had sold out.

Rumors are rife on Thai social media that as many as 4,000 tickets were given away to any Tom, Dick and Harry, meaning genuine fans - many who had traveled quite a distance to be there - ended up watching the game on TV in a local restaurant or peering through cracks in the stadium fencing. 

One Samut Prakarn fan posted on Facebook that he saw an elderly grandmother type clutching a ticket as she queued to go into the stadium. When he challenged her as to where she obtained it, she said "I was given it for free and we came here on a free shuttle bus. I don't even like football"


That was an awesome read. I had a thick grin throughout. Can't wait to see your coverage of an away game!

By Mark Newman, The Land of Barely Concealed Rage. (24th February 2019)

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