(all photos credit: Samut Prakarn City Facebook page)
Hmmmm ....... the Thai FA Cup eh? Throw some random FA Cup facts at us!
I think approximately 700 teams enter the competition at the start. Basically, if you've got 11 players, a pitch and enough clean football shirts to go round, you're eligible to enter, It certainly seems that way.
The 16 Thai Premier League teams enter at the second round proper stage (when the competition has been whittled down to the last 64 sides) - and that's the stage we're at now.
Especially in the early rounds, it's not uncommon to see a ridiculously mismatched contest and the odd barmy scoreline. We've already had an 18-0 in one game this season. After the match, the goalkeeper slumped on a bench in the dressing room, put his head in his hands.......and missed.
The current FA Cup holders are Chiang Rai United, who beat Buriram 3-2 in last season's final. Actually, they won it the year before as well, winning 4-2 against Bangkok United.
The final is held at the Supachalasai National Stadium in Bangkok, which holds just under 20,000. The stadium is no longer used for international fixtures though, so actually the name is a little misleading. I think it's the stadium where many moons ago, I saw a Thailand XI play Man United as part of a pre-season Asia tour. It was Teddy Sheringham's debut as well. How's that for a memory!
All FA cup ties are settled on the day, going to extra time, penalties and whatever it takes to decide on a winner. There are no replays. If the home team doesn't have floodlighting, then matches usually kick off at 3.30 pm - slap bang in the white hot heat of the day.
All Thai FA Cup matches are played midweek and I'm told that attendances can be pretty dire compared to TPL matches. The interest just doesn't seem to be there in the early rounds. Samut Prakarn City didn't even announce their FA Cup match on their Facebook page until 48 hours before the scheduled kick off.
I watched the FA Cup draw for this round via a live internet stream. It was the most ridiculously convoluted mess I'd ever witnessed. I won't go into detail other than to say I lost the will to live well before the live feed went down.
So Samut Prakarn City have been drawn at home to North Vachilalai Chiang Mai United. Who the bloody hell are these?
Good question! and doing my research, all I could dig up was a Facebook page, which didn't give much away apart from a team photo and the club crest.
However, social media came to the rescue once more and a Thai footie expert, who focuses mainly on the Chiang Mai area, told me that they are an enthusiastic, university-based team from north of Chiang Mai and have been trying unsuccessfully to get into the Thai League for quite a while. The expert also added that tonight's game could be a rugby score. Think Liverpool at home to Tooting and Mitcham Reserves. 18-0 anyone?
So when you've got a banker home win like this one, it's a chance to give some of the squad players a run out?
I wondered the same thing. Not being familiar with the Thai FA Cup, I asked around and was surprised to hear that clubs often field near full-strength sides. So it's a far cry from the FA Cup in England where nowadays the Premier League clubs often select virtual reserve teams.
That said, the Thai FA Cup is well worth winning. The winner goes into the pot for the AFC Champions League qualifying stage (which is the Asian version of The Champions League in Europe) so you get the chance to play against some of the top club sides from Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, etc - if you can get past the qualifying round that is.
It's May the first, a public holiday. Are you dragging your poor wife along on her day off?
No, she's gone to Khorat to visit relatives and take care of some family business. Perhaps my mate Richard fancies coming again? He's a glutton for punishment is that lad.
In the end, Richard did decide to accompany me. The May Day traffic on the way to the ground was horrendous, taking us three times longer to get there than usual, and with just enough time to grab a soft drink, we took our seats in the main stand about 10 minutes before kick off.
We had the usual sportsmen's bet. I predicted 8-0 to the home side and Richard went for 10-1. Then the teams emerged from the tunnel and I burst out laughing. North Vachilalai looked like ten boy scouts and the fat kid who gets bullied at school. Oh my God, they were tiny. Even the goalkeeper was tiny. Did their mothers know they'd be home after dark?
"Richard, forget your 10-1 prediction, if this lot manage to score a goal, I will ply you with large bottles of Leo Beer until you can no longer physically stand up" Judging by Richard's reaction, he thought it a most agreeable arrangement.
Did Samut Prakarn play a full strength side?
No. There were about 5-6 regular starters and half a dozen who usually warm the bench. No Ibson Melo tonight and Captain Peeradol started as a sub. No sign of Carlos Carlao either since he picked up that hamstring injury away at Buriram.
But forget all that. What are we doing playing in our lime-green third kit!?
And the perfect start!
Four minutes in and the silver-haired Kyaw Ko Ko has picked up a lovely through ball and scooped it over the advancing keeper. 1-0 to the Sea Fang. This is going to be like Christians to lions at The Colosseum. Except it wasn't. Despite being three foot nothing, the North Vachilalai goalkeeper pulls off some excellent saves, aided by his best friend, Mr Woodwork. Samut Prakarn piss about with the ball in midfield and over-hit passes to wingers. All the moves are there but just not enough penetration (oooh er, Missis)
The half-time whistle goes and just the one goal for our efforts.
I bet the players got a rocket at half time?
Well, they certainly came out with a bit more purpose and attacking intent.
I knew nothing about the guy wearing the number 32 shirt - Boworn Tapla - as I don't think he's started a game this season. But a quick look at Wikipedia and it turns out he's something of a Thai league journeyman. Now 31 years old, he made 51 appearances for Trat in 2012 and has since played for Chonburi, Suphanburi and Sukhothai. The boy's been around.
He puts the home team 2-0 up in the 54th minute with an angled shot into the right-hand corner, and then five minutes later, scores his second of the game with a precision free kick. Up and over the wall, dipping and bending, the goalkeeper nowhere near it. That's how to take a free kick my son.
North Vachilai have put in a plucky performance but their heads start to go down and it's now all about damage limitation. The fourth goal comes on 67 minutes. Teerapol is tripped on the edge of the penalty area and up steps Boworn to put away the spot kick, complete his hat-trick and go home with the match ball (that's assuming Samut Prakarn can afford to let players go home with match balls; which they probably can't)
With the stadium clock ticking down the last few minutes, there's still time for one more goal. Boworn skips through the defence and in a one-on-one with the keeper, there's only going to be one outcome.
♫♫ Peep! Peep! ♫♫ 5-0 to Samut Prakarn, four goals for Boworn Tapla, and we're through to the next round of the FA Cup.
Overall, a decent performance considering our starting line-up and a performance good enough to send the small crowd home happy. (goals and highlights)
I wonder who we'll get in the next round? (Mummy! please don't make me watch the cup draw!)
And a new friend and a new restaurant?
Yes, I decided to make conversation with the season ticket holder who sits next to me. Up to now, our communication had been limited to friendly nods.
I asked him why he was on his own tonight and why his friend couldn't make it (he normally comes with a mate and they guzzle beer from plastic cups for the whole match)
Within five minutes, I'd become the best mate he'd never had. He told me his name, where he worked, his experiences following Thai football and all sorts. What a lovely guy! He even took a selfie of the two of us giving it the thumbs up so he could send it to his absent friend.
The next priority was food. Because of the traffic jams on the way to the match, Richard and I hadn't found time for our usual pre-match cheeseburger at McDonalds. My stomach was beginning to wonder if my throat had been cut and Richard was in much the same boat. We wandered the dark streets of Bang Plee in search of a restaurant offering beer and Thai food to a couple of weary football fans - and found one.
The friendly owner welcomed us in that way that Thai restaurant owners do when they are faced with their first ever foreign customers. Establishing that we were potential customers and not just lost, he couldn't do enough for us - translating the modest Thai menu into English, going through all the beers he had in stock and apologizing that the food was slow to arrive (it wasn't)
And Richard and I rounded off a very pleasant evening with a rack of chicken wings and a whacking great plate of pork fried rice, washed down with a couple of large, ice cold Leos. Lovely!
Who's up next?
Back to league action and an away trip to Muangthong United on Saturday the 11th. I'm so looking forward to this one. Despite languishing near the bottom of the TPL after a shocking start to the season, Muangthong are undoubtedly one of the 'top four' Thai clubs. They're a big name with a fine stadium to boot - a proper football stadium I'm told (with no running track). And hopefully I'll be there and proudly sporting the Samut Prakarn shirt in the away end. I'm hoping to talk my Thai mate Ben into going because a) he's got a car and b) my wife is working again.