Saturday, February 13, 2010


Guest Column - Dale Farrington

As recently as October, 2008 I was at the Thunderdome in a crowd of less than 300 people. And, if it hadn’t been for the two coach loads of SriRacha fans who were also in the stadium, which at the time consisted of just one stand, it would have been considerably less. When you bear in mind that, even though they were top of the league, they brought no fans whatsoever to Assumption for the two clubs meeting earlier that season (unless you count the minibus full of African schoolboys from M. Procurer’s academy) then their rise in popularity is astounding.

There’s no doubt that the unparalleled increase in numbers and rapidly growing fan base is down to the success they enjoyed in 2009 – when they won the TPL title at the first attempt – but is also thanks to shrewd marketing - glossy programmes/magazines, dvds, a wide range of top quality sportswear etc - and the performances on the pitch. They were easily the best footballing side in the top flight last year and, I even went as far to say on one of the Thai football messageboards, that they ranked as one of the top three or four teams in Thailand during their march to the 1st division title in 2008.

However, as much as MTUFC have done to boost the popularity of the Thai domestic game, and make themselves a few quid into the bargain, we need to go back a couple of years to find the genesis of this phenomenon. When my club, Chonburi FC, won the TPL title in 2007 we were amazingly the first provincial team to do so. For years the league had been dominated by the Bangkok based forces and company sides and no-one else got a look in. And hardly anybody turned up to watch. But our success changed all that. It showed that provincial sides could succeed, if managed correctly, and that the locals would turn out in force to support “their” team.

It didn’t happen overnight for Chonburi but the gradual success on the pitch, and rise in attendances off it, helped us to become a role model for other clubs. Even though I’ve been attending Thai football matches since 1997 I didn’t see a matchday programme until Chonburi produced one for the battle of the top two in the Pro League in 2005. Replica kit was also notoriously hard to come by – even for the national team – but Chonburi have had a stall outside the ground for every home game since the start of the 2005 season and also sells shirts and scarves etc at away matches. It took a while for other clubs to catch on but now virtually all the TPL clubs sell merchandise and some even have club shops which are open during the week.

This is one of the areas in which MTUFC have really taken the baton from Chonburi and moved things on to an entirely different level.

Their marketing arm is second to none and I would wager that a lot of clubs in England, where such things have been around for years, would be more than impressed, not to say envious, with the set up. Of course it helps that their benefactor is a media mogul but these things still need to be done properly and so far, from an objective point of view, they seem to be getting it right.

They have also set new standards elsewhere, with well organized and efficient ticketing arrangements – they are selling season tickets!!!! – a regularly updated easy to navigate website – with an English language option - and the club appears to treat its fans with a great deal of respect (I have issues as to how the 5,000 visiting Chonburi fans were (mis)managed last season but that’s a story for another day).

The stadium too now has four sides, with the stands all close to the pitch – like it should be – and is the first purpose built football only ground in the kingdom. It also has executive boxes and a new pitch is being laid in readiness for the start of the 2010 season. Everything about the Thunderdome complies with the stringent AFC guidelines and should be a fine sight under floodlights on AFC CL or AFC Cup evenings. My only real gripe here is that the three new stands are metal structures which were erected in haste for the visit of Chonburi late last season. Maybe this is something that MTUFC will regret in the near future.

After Chonburi’s victory over Melbourne in the AFC CL in March 2008, I wrote to the BKK Post in response to an article praising the club for everything they’d done to raise the profile of Thai domestic football. The crux of my letter was that, as much as I was pleased with what we’d achieved, I didn’t want us to become too big for the league and I encouraged others to go out and support their local teams. Two years on MTUFC are in a similar position. They are in real danger of leaving everyone in their wake. They can afford to pay top salaries and fans from all over the country will always love a successful club – dare I make comparisons with Manchester United at this point. They do deserve enormous credit for reaching the point they are at currently – with the promise of more to come – but Thai football as a whole needs to keep up.

Rather worryingly there have also been one or two signs recently that MTUFC have tried to influence FAT policy – overseas players rules, the starting date of the TPL season etc – and lean on the national team manager as to who he should and shouldn’t pick. There is also a real danger that, as they are owned and run buy the same family who own and run Siam Sport, newspaper and TV reporting won’t be objective. There were certainly one or two high profile incidents last season when television footage highlighted perceived wrongdoings against MTUFC while misdemeanours by their own players were quickly glossed over. These are the kind of things that could backfire on the club and they need to ensure that they keep everything above board.

Jakarta Casual Note - I recently did a piece about Muang Thong United for the SLeague website ahead of their game against SAFFC and asked for some of his thoughts. He came up with this so we decided to put it all on here...Dale has his own blog about Chonburi which you can find here

A lot of smaller Asian leagues need a role model club like Chonburi has been to Thai football. There is a mentality that Europe is Europe and what works there can't be replicated in Asia. When clubs see someone in their own backyard doing progressive things, they are much more likely to emulate them.

In India there is a club Shillong Lajong ( that is really starting to set the bar. I heard the owner hired 3 MBAs to run the club. Hopefully Shillong will prove to be the Chonburi of South Asia.
without the beaches!

shillong is always a place i wanted to visit when i was in that part of the world but never did. a friend of mine cycled there once or twice from dhaka...
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?