Thursday, January 19, 2012


Oh PEA Off!

The idea of football clubs being little more than a license to be haggled over like a flapping fish at a riverside market before sun up is a difficult one for many to comprehend but it does seem an acceptable practice in this part of the world; as long as the right people are doing it of course.

Football clubs in England are licensed by the Football Licensing Authority but the idea that say Rotherham United could go out and buy an English Premier League license from Everton and take their place among thebig boys is a bit too much to take; though Everton fans would have a lot to say about being taken over by a team in red.

Nobody though in these parts seem to bat an eyelid. I guess when promotion/relegation issues are decided based upon guanxi, connections, then who can get excited about mere horse trading among other friends?

The current Indonesia Super League leaders, Sriwijaya, started life as Persijatim East Jakarta before switching to the city of Solo. The government of South Sumatra then bought the license and rebranded the club Sriwijaya to match local heritage and no one thought about any fans the club still had. In Jakarta or Solo!

Thailand is the hub though for this kind of nonsense. Bangkok Glass, for example, took over Krung Thai Bank while Pattaya United took their place from Bang Phra.

Trying to keep tracks of these maneuvers requires a form of mental gymnastics that would appeal to lawyers, serial loop hole finders and other pedants but leave the vast majority of us feeling cold and somewhat ignorant. What about the football we whine pathetically.

A team called PEA won the Thai Premier League back in 2008. Two years later a provincial godfather decided he wished to get involved in Thai football, which was invented in 2009, and having been banned from politics had the time, and cash, to make his wish come true.

He brought PEA to Buriram, re named them Buriram PEA and set about investing heavily in players and facilities, much as Sriwijaya had done. This gentleman is not accustomed to coming second, a careful political career saw him usually on the winning side no matter who won, so of course the team won the league in 2011.

Was it PEA’s second title in four years? For any traditionalists yes but this guy writes rules. He doesn’t worry about how a Thai Rothmans Football Yearbook would record the triumph. As far as he, and the legions of ‘new’ fans are concerned it was ‘their’ first title. There was nothing before 2010 when PEA headed north east.

Buriram’s other team, called Buriram, are in the hands of the same family and they won Division One at a canter meaning Buriram could well have a clean sweep on domestic trophies if PEA, sorry, Buriram PEA win the League Cup to join the TPL and the FA Cup in their newly constructed trophy cabinet.

So we have two teams from this provincial north eastern town? Well, no. the PEA part of the champions has been sold on, and what’s left has merged with the newly promoted team to form Buriram United. What was left? God knows and even he would have difficulties understanding the legalese and small print. PEA arrived, won the league, moved on yet left something behind?! What are they, a bloody cuckoo?

PEA, apparently, were sold off to the southern city of Songkhla who despite finishing fifth in Division One will go up a division. Who needs promotion and relegation, they’re just quaint old traditions and not necessary in the modern age when you can buy and sell among your friends as the mood suits. And Songhkla’s place will go to another team that gets to forsake the old way of doing things.

Is it a coincidence that one of the largest attendances in Thai football last season, which ain’t finished yet but that’s another soap opera featuring the same cast, was between Songkhla and Buriram played down south. Over 35,000 fans turned up out of a population of 154,000…Blackburn Rovers would cut their hands off for those kind of crowds!

Arsenal controversially stayed in Division One after the First World War thanks to the sterling efforts of Sir Henry Norris but even he must be looking down at the Thai way of doing things and nodding appreciatively, knowing he is watching masters at work.

Buriram United now claim Buriram PEA’s place in the AFC Champions League even though they have yet to play a game while PEA, now in Songkla? Didn’t they win the TPL? Shouldn’t they be in the ACL? Is this saga available on DVD yet?

In most countries, admittedly outside of south east Asia, they have Football Associations who rule on this kind of stuff. Thailand? I’ve said many times Thai football has failed to build on the boom it experienced in 2009, just like they failed to build on the Dream Team of 1994, and instead have just sold the game for cheap votes and increased exposure. The FA sits on the sidelines rubberstamping agreements made beforehand knowing that the phu yai they have access to are trumped by the phu yai arrayed against them.

It’s just business as usual of course. Football in these parts isn’t run for the prestige of the game or nation with the possible, occasional, exception of Malaysia. In these parts football is run for the glory and egos of individuals. The tawdry events in Thailand have nothing to do with the game many of us love so much but wrapped in the semblance of legality and hidden in the cloak of opacity there is little anyway in authority can do. And even if they wanted to do something, chances are they wouldn’t. Not for the first time the projection of power trumps logic and common sense.

Until this antiquated, feudalistic way of doing things is cast aside it is unlikely we will ever see a South East Asian nation make an impact on the Asian Cup, the World Cup or the Olympics. All the fine talk about passion and potential will continue to be the fine talk of dreamers and theorists.

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