Diary of a Thai football season

(2019) Samut Prakan City v Sukhothai

Our second home game of the season and The Firebats are in town

So what's happened since the last blog?

Samut Prakarn played their third league match of the season away at PTT Rayong, who were bottom of the table and still looking for their first point. 

Despite Rayong being only a two-hour drive away, I didn't fancy going on my own so decided to watch the game on TV instead.  It proved to be the right decision as Samut Prakarn fell to a disappointing 2-1 defeat, despite having the lion's share of possession and probably deserving a draw at least. (Three minutes of match highlights

On a side-note, I'm beginning to fully understand why Thai teams import foreign players. In the majority of the dozen or so Thai league matches I've watched this season (either live or on TV) a foreign player has ended up going home with the man of the match award. 

Leading the PTT Rayong attack last Sunday was Jay Emmanuel Thomas, whose career in English football didn't really set the world alight. He made just the one appearance for his beloved Arsenal (after graduating from their academy) before becoming the classic 'journeyman' and going on to appear for another eight English clubs including lengthy spells at Ipswich and Bristol City. 

But he's ended up in a little corner of Thailand and you could see that he was a player with the proverbial 'bags of experience'.  He was an integral part of almost everything good that happened during Rayong's attacking play and arguably the difference between the two sides.

So who are the oppos this evening?

Tonight we host Sukhothai FC. The Firebats are in town! 

Currently lying just below half-way in the Premier League table and with three draws from their opening three games, they could be tough opponents to break down.  After yesterday's games, Samut Prakarn have slipped down to 7th in the table but a win tonight could see them regain the top spot.  It's all to play for!  

Bit of history for you - Sukhothai Football Club have actually only been in existence for ten years ago. They struggled for a number of seasons in the third tier of the Thai League, but were eventually promoted to the second level in 2014 and then to the premier league the following year.  

The away supporters will have done their club proud to be here tonight in any great number (it's a five-hour journey by road unless you're willing to stump up for the 80-minute Bangkok Airways flight)  

Any players to watch?

Montenegrin forward, Petar Orlandic, played 30 games (and scored 14 times) for Red Star Belgrade so he's clearly no mug - and at 28 years of age, still has plenty of peak years left in him.  

Congo international defender, Joel Sami, could be another one to keep an eye on. Now 34, Sami once had a trial for Leeds United but unfortunately his Elland Rd career only went as far as an appearance on the team photo.  Then there's Iain Ramsey, a Filipino international who chalked up 150 appearances in The Australian League 

Sukhothai's biggest name however is possibly John Baggio from Madagascar. A Sukhothai man since 2015, Baggio has made almost 100 appearances for the club and eight appearances for his national team (but how difficult is it to get into the Madagascar national team I hear you ask?) 

So have Samut Prakarn got the season ticket issues sorted out?

It's looking very promising indeed. About ten days ago, my wife got a call from the club thanking us for buying season tickets and asking us to choose our seat numbers for the rest of the season - and also what size football shirts we wanted?  I felt that solitary phone call was a huge step in the right direction!  Let's see what happens when we get to the ground.  

A handful of Thai Premier League clubs have taken to selling match day tickets online.  Have Samut Prakarn gone down that route?

That sales strategy feels like a long way off for us. 

I should give a mention to the club's Facebook page at this point, because whoever has the responsibility of maintaining it, is doing a wonderful job. You get plenty of match action photos, team line-up news, goal updates, etc - and the information is accompanied by some great graphics. 

The page also gives the latest info on buying seat tickets at the stadium and booking a place on the supporters club coach to away games.  Unfortunately, any advanced booking of those things can only be done in person at the stadium office (actually it's a little open-sided minivan) from Monday to Friday, between 5.00 pm and 7.00 pm, which is a ridiculous arrangement.  Who's got time to schlep to a stadium in the middle of nowhere during the weekday rush hour if you live any kind of distance from the ground? Absurd!   

But the club shirts have arrived!

They have indeed! Actually, the club announced on their Facebook page on the eve of the match that home shirts would be available in four sizes, and when we arrived at the ground an hour before kick off, the makeshift club shop was already doing a roaring trade. It was good to see so many fans decked out in club colours. 

We presented our season tickets to the staff and after checking our names off on a list, walked away with replica shirts, a nice scarf and some stickers, all presented in a natty little linen bag emblazoned with the club crest. Not only that but we were finally given permanent seat numbers to go with our season tickets.  So ten out of ten for organisation! We finally got things sorted. 

What was the attendance?

The official figure was around the 2,500 mark, which was half the number that turned up for the first home game against Chiang Mai two weeks ago. But that was only to be expected now that the election 'freebies' have dried up and you're left with just the die-hard supporters.  

Ten minutes to kick off and the attendance looked very poor, embarrassing even. But as my friend Dale had told me at the Chonburi game, Thais have a habit of turning up for football matches at the last minute and that's exactly what happened here. Once the game started, it looked a lot more respectable. 

You know what? I love this ramshackle little football ground of ours. It may not be the poshest stadium in the Thai Premier League - but it's OUR home. 

I watched a game on Saturday between Suphanburi and Chonburi at Suphanburi's 25,000 capacity municipal stadium (which they are rightly proudly of) but they can't even half fill it for a football match. All you see on TV are huge sections of nothing but empty seats. It's soul-destroying. However, even with just 2,500 bodies in the Samut Prakan Stadium, you get a decent atmosphere. Give me our ground any day of the week! 

Did you make any new friends?

A couple of farangs wearing their new replica shirts ambled over to introduce themselves. They were John from England and his pal Francoise, who clearly wasn't. They had both seen me at the first game and I appreciated their hand of friendship. We only had time for the briefest of chats but John had obviously been in Thailand a while and followed Samut Prakarn for a number of years in their various lower league guises.     

To the game itself. Thoughts on the first half?

Samut Prakarn started all guns blazing with talisman, Ibson Melo, going past defenders at will and making it look very easy. It began to feel like a case of how many Samut Prakarn would score. It was also good to see our other Brazilian 'superstar', Carlao, back in the team after injury forced him to miss the defeat at Rayong. 

Unfortunately Samut Prakarn just couldn't keep up the momentum and after that frenzied opening ten minutes, Melo faded and became anonymous and Carlao tried too many intricate flicks and one-touch passing moves. All completely pointless if your team-mates aren't on the same wavelength. 

The game became dull. It needed a goal. Most of the female fans around me started Facebooking on mobile phones, which is always a bad sign.

Cheered on by 200-300 orange-clad fans in the away section, Sukhothai grew into the game and had a couple of decent chances as the half drew to its goal-less conclusion. 

Second half?

Much the same story in all honesty.  Samut Prakarn played lots of pretty football and had most of the possession but there was little end product.  In fact, looking back on the 94 minutes of play, the Sukhothai keeper didn't have one difficult save to make all evening. Defender Aris Zarifovic did get the ball in the net from a corner early in the second half, but was adjudged to have fouled the keeper.  

With the clock ticking down the last quarter of an hour, Sukhothai began to realize that all three points were there for the taking. With Orlandic leading the attack and Samut Prakarn's defence looking increasingly wobbly, the Firebats hit the crossbar with a 25-yard screamer while another another effort fizzed just past the post.  Come on ref, get your whistle out! 

Peep! Peep!  Full time.  Samut Prakarn 0 Sukhothai 0.  That's four draws out of four for The Firebats (they remain firmly in the bottom half of the table) while Samut Prakarn's point sees them move up to 4th. (match highlights)

Overall thoughts?

Not a particularly inspiring game and definitely two points dropped. We just didn't get our best players into the match today. Nice to finally be wearing the Samut Prakarn shirt though!

Oh, just a word about the Sukhothai manager, Ljubomir Ristovski.  Serbian, ginger and clearly temperamental, he spent the entire game getting in the fourth official's face.  He contested every throw-in decision, gestured a yellow card when one of his team lost a perfectly good challenge - and then threw his water-bottle around.  Interesting fella, but there's a fine line between passionate and being a constant pain in the arse. 

Who's up next?

There are no Thai Premier League matches next weekend due to the international break, but then comes arguably our toughest game of the season - away at Buriram on Saturday 30th March - and a six-hour journey by road or a relatively inexpensive one-hour flight from Bangkok. 

Buriram also beat fellow title contenders Bangkok United this weekend by one goal to nil - AWAY from home! Buriram are now second in the league and showing their title-winning credentials after a slow start to the season. 

Boy, is that going to be a tough trip up there. Offer me a point right now and I'd bite your hand off.  

Opinions are subjective but Buriram's 32,000 capacity Chang Arena is probably the most impressive stadium in the Thai Premier League and I would love to see it one day. Alas, it won't be this season. 

Then shortly after our Buriram trip, we have a mid-week home match against Ratchaburi on Wednesday 3rd April.  I'll be there for that one of course!   

Full fixture list for the 2019 season

Check the current Thai Premier League table


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