Diary of a Thai football season

(2019) Suphanburi v Samut Prakan City

An away trip to the club currently bottom of the league - but will it be an easy three points?

A lot has happened since the last game a couple of weeks ago?

Now there's an understatement. The manager, Khun Surapong, and the fitness coach have both resigned and left the club (Surapong has now become technical director at Chiang Mai FC) And Brazilian striker, Carlos Carlao, has apparently moved to Prachuap FC (although we are still waiting for absolute confirmation) 

The Carlos transfer I can understand. He was struggling with injuries and seemed to have fallen out of favor anyway. Perhaps a move down south is in everyone's best interests. But to lose the manager and fitness coach - who had both done such an incredible job this season - feels like a catastrophe. 

What happened?

Not sure. The downside of being a foreigner who follows Thai football, but can't read the Thai language, is that it's difficult to get hold of the true facts. You have to make do with snippets of rumour and hearsay, copied and pasted into Google translate (and that isn't always reliable)

The general consensus seems to be that the manager perhaps didn't see eye to eye with the Japanese technical director - but maybe we'll never know the full story.  I don't want to say much more about this because Samut Prakan needs to move on and make sure all the great work achieved in the first half of the season doesn't start to unravel.      

Anyway, Tetsuya Murayama (the Japanese technical director) has now been promoted to manager, so let's get behind him.

So away to Suphanburi then? They're having a stinker of a season.

Yes, they're bottom of the Premier League with just two wins to show from their opening 13 games. As we approach the season's mid-point, Suphanburi are rapidly becoming a lot of people's favourites to fill one of the three relegation spots come the end of the campaign.

A relatively easy game to get to?

Suphanburi City itself is about a 100 kilometres north-west of Bangkok so you can reach it comfortably by road in a couple of hours. 

The club plays its home matches at the Suphanburi Provincial Stadium, which is slap bang in the middle of the city centre. When I talk football with my Thai pal, Benz, who comes from Suphanburi, his little face lights up when you talk about the stadium. The locals are extremely proud of it. 

Can they fill it though?

The stadium holds 15,000 and for the opening game of the season, they pulled in over 13,000 for the visit of reigning champions, Buriram. It's always unfair to use that fixture as a yardstick though because Buriram attract a decent crowd wherever they play. 

At the last home game, only 2,463 hardy souls turned up for a nil-nil draw against Rayong. I rest my case. 

A bit of club history?

The War Elephants, as they are often referred to as, began life in 1997 and played in provincial leagues for a number of seasons. 

They were promoted to the Thai Premier League in 2013 and enjoyed three golden seasons, finishing 4th, 6th and 3rd. Since then, they've become the very definition of a mid-table side. In the last three seasons, they've finished either 10th or 11th on all three occasions. 

If you're looking for a random, interesting fact, Suphanburi FC has an official partnership with Borussia Dortmund. This mainly involves the German giants sending over coaches to train Suphanburi's youth players and to pass on its footballing expertise. And take that smile off your face - the words 'free holiday' haven't even entered my head. 

Who's the gaffer?

Who was the gaffer - until he resigned a couple of weeks ago?  It was the much-loved and much-respected Totchtawan Sripan (nickname 'Ban') who played as an attacking midfielder for the Thai national team for 16 years!

When Thailand failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2010, Ban immediately announced his retirement from international football but stayed on with the national team to become assistant coach to ex-Everton legend, Peter Reid. That must have been fun trying to decipher Reidy's thick Scouse accent.  

In his club career, Ban represented teams in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore and has also managed several clubs in Thailand's top division, including Muangthong. 

Players to watch?

I'm going to choose three of Suphanburi's foreign players, starting with Cleiton Silva. The 32-year-old Brazilian forward has been around the Thai League for the best part of a decade and netted 57 times for Muangthong in a three-season spell between 2014-17. 

Fellow Brazilian, Jonaton Reis, is also a man with an eye for goal, averaging almost a goal a game in spells at Prachuap and second division Kasertsat, where he finished as the division's top scorer in 2017.

Finally, Mark Hartmann is a Filipino striker who has represented his country at international level. One of his career highlights undoubtedly being a first-half hat-trick against the mighty Papua New Guineau.  

In his younger days, when he no doubt had all the ambition in the world, he spent brief periods at both Portsmouth and Swindon Town - but failed to make the grade at either. So he joined Blackfield and Langley in the Wessex League. As you do.  

I told Benz about my three choices for this section and he insisted I slip a Thai player in there somewhere, so he's gone for Suphanburi's number 10, Chananan Pombuppha, an attacking midfielder now in his 4th season at the club. He made his debut for the Thai national team as a raw 18-year old in 2010, but has only figured in their plans nine times since. 

Score prediction?

I'll go for a 2-0 win to Samut Prakan. I would be disappointed with anything less than a victory given Suphanburi's league position.   

Looking at records, Suphanburi was something of a happy hunting ground for Pattaya United (before they became Samut Prakan City) They won there 2-1 last season and 3-0 the season before.   

So who was along for this one?

Four of us. - My wife and I wearing Samut Prakan blue and Benz and his partner Neigh in Suphanburi blue and orange. I did try and persuade Benz to wear the colours of his adopted 'second team' but he wasn't having it for a moment. Once a Suphanburi boy, always a Suphanburi boy.

Although the match didn't kick off until 5.45, we left Samut Prakan about ten in the morning and made a day of it. We stopped off at a rural floating market, which Benz informed me was Suphanburi's newest tourist attraction and we popped into his family home to say a quick hello to his nearest and dearest. They made us very welcome (I had to pass on the som tam though). It's always interesting to see a slice of Thai family life, especially out in the countryside. They don't see too many farangs in these parts.  

We enjoyed a late lunch at one of Suphanburi's numerous quirky coffee shop / restaurants and then Benz took us on a whistle-stop tour of his old high school / university where he spent 13 years of his academic life and ended up studying for a degree in sports science. The Suphanburi Stadium was conveniently right next door and we parked up about an hour before kick off.

How was the stadium?

My wife and I were talking in the car on the journey home and both agreed that we could happily live in Suphanburi. You're just a couple of hours from Bangkok and it really is a lovely city. It's tidy and well-maintained (you rarely see any litter) and the buildings all feel as if they've just been given a fresh coat of paint. Plus the locals are friendly, quiet and polite and obviously take enormous pride in the place. 

In many ways, this is reflected in the city's football stadium. It's simply very well looked after and nothing like the tatty, neglected football venue we experienced at Bangkok United a few weeks ago. OK, in the away section you are still a relatively long way from the pitch, but it's something you are prepared to forgive and forget. 

I think there would be a terrific atmosphere if the stadium was even half-full - but sadly that wasn't going to happen today.

Many Samut Prakarn fans there?

Actually, I was surprised. In the week leading up to the match, Khun Pathomchai, the Samut Prakan 'super-fan' who organises the away travel, was struggling to fill a 40-seater coach, but we ended up with a couple of hundred fans there and they were noisy throughout. 

Because Benz and Neigh were both wearing Suphanburi colours, they sat with the home fans and said you could certainly hear the drumbeats and singing from the away end.  

So the Suphanburi fans were quiet?

It can be tough supporting a team at the bottom of the table. Relegation is a very realistic possibility and I got the impression the Suphanburi fans are almost resigned to their fate. No one asked us to pose for photos with them (as often happens at other grounds), very few fans even said hello. 

With hope evaporating fast, it felt like they were attending the match out of duty and little else.  Given they have such a decent set up, it would be a crying shame to see Suphanburi Football Club have to battle it out in the second tier and I wish them nothing but the best of luck for the rest of the campaign.

To the game itself. First half?

I suppose all eyes were on Tetsuya Murayama, the new manager. How would the team react to his appointment? 

Well, if the first 45 minutes were anything to go by, Samut Prakan fans are in for a treat. My wife turned to me at half time and remarked that it was the best she had seen the team play and I wouldn't disagree. It was champagne football at times with every single player bringing their A-game. This was pass-and-move intricate triangles, fast flowing football with players pinging passes the width of the field and putting the ball on a five-baht coin. It was a joy to watch! We looked on another planet to Suphanburi, who are clearly lacking in confidence.    

The deadlock was broken midway through the first half. The lively Chayawat is brought down just outside the penalty area and the resultant free kick is smacked straight into the wall. However, the eagle-eyed referee has seen an outstretched hand from one of the Suphanburi defenders and points to the penalty spot. It looks a harsh decision - Suphanburi certainly think so judging by the way they're pushing the ref around - but we'll take it. 

Captain Peeradol makes no mistake from the spot, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to put Samut Prakan 1-0 up.   

Samut Prakan continue attacking in the same vein for the rest of the period. On the stroke of half-time, the Suphanburi defence parts like The Red Sea and midfielder Jakkapan is left with a clear route to goal and a golden opportunity to increase the lead, but blasts his shot straight at the keeper.  

That precious second goal has proved elusive - and while it's just a one goal lead, The War Elephants are still very much in it. 

Second half?

Suphanburi came out after the interval with a bit more fight in them and for ten minutes, probably had their best period of the game. But you felt throughout the second half that if the home side were to equalize, Samut Prakan still had another gear or two to move into. 

Suphanburi's best chance of getting back on level terms comes mid-way through the half. The Suphanburi attacker is one on one with the keeper but Patiwat's outstretched left leg saves the day. Our man between the sticks had a fine game this evening. At the other end, Ibson Melo and Picha Autra both spurn decent opportunities. 

The last five minutes are a trifle nervy for the travelling away support but there goes the final whistle and it's another three points in the bag. (Match highlights)

Overall thoughts?

Like so many other Samut Prakan fans, I adored our previous manager, Khun Surapong. It was heartbreaking to see him leave. However, you have to give the new guy a chance and he certainly got it right today. That first 45 minutes? how does the old saying go? - it was like watching Barcelona. We were brilliant!

The record books will show a 1-0 away win to Samut Prakan and a game won by a dubious penalty, but that really wasn't the story. We were far superior in virtually every department. 

Overall, a very enjoyable day - a proper Thai football day out. An amble around a floating market, the chance to finally meet Benz's family (because he's spoken about them many times during our gym sessions) and an away win for The Sea Fang. It doesn't get much better than that.   

Oh, and we are now up to third in the table behind Port and Buriram. The football experts are waiting to see us blow up and start sliding down the Premier League, but we're seeing no signs of that just yet. Our terrific season just keeps on rolling.

Who's up next?

Attention turns to FA Cup action this Wednesday evening with a home game against Army United in the round of 32. Kick off 7.00 pm. See you there!  

Full fixture list for the 2019 season

Check the current Thai Premier League table


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