Wednesday, August 15, 2007


A tale of two cities

A tale of two cities

You don’t have to spend very long in Asia before you realize just how popular English football is over here. Pinpointing when that attraction began is harder. I recall being in provincial Hat Yai and buying a magazine that had a special feature on Champions Arsenal and this was in 1991, pre premiership.

1994 saw Thais up all night watching the World Cup as they got behind Roberto Baggio. Not only was he blessed with film star looks (so I’ve been told anyway) but he was Buddhist. Put the two together and you have a Bangkok marketing man’s dream. Also about this time a football shop opened in Bangkok’s Panthip Plaza selling various shirts and sundry items. This must have been a gamble because Thailand is of course famous for its counterfeit trade but soon branches were opening in malls throughout Bangkok. Fans were able to buy real Liverpool and Manchester United merchandise as well as rent broadcasts of English games on video.

This was also the time that saw Manchester United dominate. Increased affluence saw people getting cable TV and access to Cantona and Beckham every weekend. Glamour sells and with Old Trafford a raucous racket every week and trophies aplenty people were soon hooked. Some flirted with Blackburn and Aston Villa but their success was fleeting and the support transient. Liverpool’s appeal throughout their trophy drought endured though as a new generation were brought up on tales of The Kop and Keegan.

Teams started touring to cash in on the interest and pretty much most of the big Italian and English big names have trawled through the region promoting their brand and they have been rewarded by Beatlemania type scenes at airports throughout the region. Beckham, Owen, Shearer, Zola, Henry, Bergkamp and Gullit became better known than local athletes and celebrities and everyone adopted an English club. English football was cool.

Given this interest it was only a matter of time before east looked west. Beer Chang, a Thai beer, started sponsoring Everton’s shirts. Mansion from Indonesia got involved with Spurs on a similar level though this has done little to increase the club’s appeal here. Now the investor wants more than his brand on a million shirts worldwide. He wants the club. From the trophy room down to the boot room Asians are looking to reverse the flow of funds and grab some of the cake for themselves.

Thaksin Shinawatra has been trying to buy into the English league since he was Prime Minister of Thailand. Both Liverpool and Fulham have fallen under the eye of the communications baron turned politician before he finally managed to buy into Manchester City. Possibly the wrong club at the wrong time? As a Prime Minister Thaksin was popular with rural Thais who benefited most from his policies. The urban folk were less enamoured with him and street protests led to his overthrow in a military coup. Tanks on the streets of Bangkok may have kept Thaksin away from Thailand but they haven’t dampened his desire for football but the Thaksin of today is not the Thaksin when he started looking to invest. What may have started as a ploy to attract football mad middle class Thais now looks like a desperate gamble by a man seeing much of his money being seized by the government under suspicions of corruption. Manchester City fans are famous for their sense of humour and boy do they need one. Over the years they’ve had a month of false dawns including City legend Francis Lee buying the club at one stage. City are a soap opera based round a football club whose ever optimistic fans studiously ignore the red half in the hope they will actually go away. Indeed there is a section of City’s support who claim United aren’t even a Manchester club and should change their name. But while for many in England City are the back legs of a pantomime horse who have now managed to recruit Widow Twanky as manager, in Asia they are as familiar as Halifax Town. Or Provincial Electricity Authority.

Sven has profile. He also has the baggage carried over from being England boss in a country where England shirts are more popular than Thailand ones. Thais may be aware of City through an incident a few years back when midfielder Joey Barton slapped a teenager in a hotel in Bangkok. Add Sven, a divisive figure like Thaksin and a trophy cabinet that is rarely dusted and you can forgive a wave of apathy sweeping the country. Had bought Liverpool while still PM the country would have been swept up in a sea of hysteria and nationalism that would have dwarfed any cronyism allegations.

Carson Yeung investing in Birmingham City is another story altogether. Yeung is a businessman who has steered clear of politics and concentrated on what he knows best. He’s not controversial and he’s successful. But Birmingham City? They make Manchester City look like serial champions. Birmingham don’t even have a trophy room, they’ve never needed one. But getting behind the second city’s (Birmingham) second club (after Aston Villa) could be a smart move if handled properly. There is room for growth at the club both in terms of support and on the pitch.

One area for expansion is the brand. Both Manchester and Birmingham are little known outside of England. One idea I've seen mentioned is Birmingham themed cafes. I dunno about this. Having the Crossroads theme all nite while waiting for a cover band to cover UB40's covers and being served by Benny doesn't do it for me. Pictures of the A34(M) and Bull Ring anybody?While the Uniteds and Liverpools of this world have supporters worldwide the two City’s are limited by geography and without a successful team on the pitch it is difficult to see where the new breed of fan who will snap up the merchandise is going to come from.


don't want to get into football politics, but what's ur gut feeling about thaksin?

my impression is that he's not too bad relative to se asia's other tycoons / politicians.

i thought the man city hoohah was a bit of a storm in a teacup...
Thaksin got what he could in life, just like every other human, given the chance to come into huge sums of money, i'd take my chance, especially if i was in charge and no one could point a finger at me.

But he passed the fit persons test, and not been found gulity of anything, only after he came n charge he is now wanted back in his home land, if anything, he just wants to run a football club, hurting no one, its upto people he pays to stand up if they don't want blood money?
thaksin got his money through the old fashioned way, influence and corruption. he was a low rankin cop in the provinces when he won a telecommunications caontract to supply the police!

thai society is based on consensus, thaksin blew that out the water when he became pm...he was elected twice and was the first thai om to serve a full term.

3000 people +/- died in his war on drugs and not all may have been guilty

he has always been smart at playing the pr/populist card and owning a club is another example. on ly time will tell if he is in it for the long term but all i can say is i m glad he s not involved with arsenal...
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