Tuesday, January 04, 2022


What Makes The AFF Suzuki Cup Special?

To paraphrase someone else, South East Asian football is a game of 90 minutes where some vainglorious official will try to grab the headlines for their own reasons and the Thais will win anyway and so it proved at the just finished AFF Suzuki Cup where Thailand triumphed over Indonesia 6-2 on aggregate proving they remain the strongest football nation in the region and, for me, continuing my love affair with the tournament.

I'm not really interested in international football as a rule. I haven't really bothered with England since the late 1980s and rarely watch World Cup or Euro games but when it comes to the AFF Suzuki Cup I'm there. In fact I'm still gutted I didn't make a single game at the most recent one, the first time since 2007, though I guess some pandemic does offer me an excuse.

So, what is so special about the AFF Suzuki Cup? Well, for a start it means something. Games like Indonesia v Malaysia and Singapore v Malaysia have a meaning that transcends the region. I remember the 2010 Final in KL and  looking on in awe at the thousands of Indonesian fans at Bukit Jalil and they weren't all migrant workers or students. Flights out of Jakarta were carrying numbers of supporters and I remember the chill down my spine as I was waiting at the airport seeing other fans waiting patiently for their own flight north, proudly wearing their merah putih.

Then there is the sheer openness of the tournament. Out of the 10 competing nations only Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Timor Leste go into it knowing they don't stand a chance in hell of even reaching the semi finals leaving six countries believing they can genuinely lift the trophy. That's a pretty high ratio for an international tournament. Look at the AFC Asian Cup for example. Perhaps six teams fancy their chances each competition but most other nations, including those from ASEAN, are just there to make up the numbers.

Another factor that makes the AFF Suzuki up so special is nothing to do with football. Don't underestimate the change budget airlines have bought to the region. When I first arrived inter regional flights cost a small fortune, way beyond my lowly budget most of the time. Indeed, when Air Asia first came on the scene I remember watching some business expert on BBC World saying they wouldn't work because Asians liked to pay lots of money for things - I remember thinking at the time he'd never been in Foodland in Patpong where crowds of shoppers waved fistfuls of money off vouchers or Pizza Hut over the road where students and office workers alike competed to build the highest salad they could at the buffet counter.

It's a cliche but budget air travel really has brought ASEAN closer together. Again, when I arrived in Jakarta from Bangkok there was perhaps seven or eight flights a week between these two capital cities operated by flag carriers. Before Covid, there were five or six a day! And football fans grasped the opportunity with both hands, taking advantage of cheap fares to travel the region watching their nation do battle in the biennial competition and doing so fairly cheaply.

The rise of the internet has also helped increase awareness of the players involved. What self-respecting football fan in the region doesn't know of Chanathip or Safee Sali or Hasan Sunny?

Some may argue the AFC Asian Cup is more prestigious but is it? The Thais are the strongest team in ASEAN and have been for yonks but they have only got out of the group stage once, in 2019, and before that had failed to qualify in the previous two tournaments. What kind of prestige is that? Should fans be grateful they got to the knock out round before losing? What influential politician or federation official is going to want to be associated with 'honourable defeat'?

My Indonesian in-laws don't like going to air conditioned shopping malls. They are happy to do their shopping at a local market and get their food from a nearby warung or kaki lima. They don't feel a glitzy shopping mall rammed with shops selling overpriced scents and coiffured hi-so ladies is for them and they are happy in the familiarity of their own world. In a way that is ASEAN football. The AFC Asian Cup is for the likes of Japan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Korea, Qatar, Iran and Australia, nations with the resources and facilities to aim high. Where's the prestige in being whipping boys for the rich and powerful?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


Sorry Stags Sunk By Rampant Sailors

Ok, truth be told I haven't been watching as much South East Asian football over the last few months. In fact ever since I reduced my commute from waking up and going downstairs to work to waking up and walking from one end of my bedroom to the other my eye has totally gone off the tropical football that was so much a part of my life for a decade and a half.

Today however with a minimal workload in what passes for my day job I actually found myself on the sofa at the same time as a game  from Singapore and with it being a juicy clash between Lion City Sailors and Tampines I had no excuses not to tune in.

LCS started the day five points and a game in hand on the leaders and reigning champions Albirex Niigata and if they were to stay close to the Japanese backed side in the final few games they needed a good result against the Stags or we could see a foreign team winning the title for the seventh straight season.

The Stags themselves started the day in fourth place but out of the running for anything beyond a respectable finish - in recent weeks the wheels have well and truly fallen off their season.

They collapsed today against LCS in a second half horror show that saw them ship goals almost every time the newly minted Sailors surged forward but the 6-1 reverse is only the latest in a string of heavy losses that must be having the east coast side tearing their hair out. Last week they lost 7-3 against Hougang United, last month they lost 5-2 against Balestier Khalsa. In their 19 league games they have let in a cool 50 goals!

And let's not even look at their AFC Champions League campaign where their six group stage games saw them let in 27 goals and score just one.

A season that started with such promise for the Stags isn't in danger of disintegrating. It imploded weeks ago and till now the vastly experienced squad seem unable to stop the hemorrhaging. 

We could of course be praising Lion City Sailors for their exhilarating second half performance, with top scorer Stipe Plazibat missing, but with the Stags defence offering up so little resistance questions need to be asked of Tampines, the most successful Singaporean football club of the modern era.

Five times champions, eight times runners up, Tampines were once the nearest thing Singapore had to a glamour club but that mantel has been snatched from them by LCS while Hougang United are now making an impact of their own domestically. 

They are guaranteed fourth place but they can still play an important role in the destination of the 2021 Premier League. Next up they face Albirex Niigata and should they win that game Singapore football will offer up a deep sigh of relief but on today's showing you sense Albirex won't be fretting that much.

Friday, June 11, 2021


It's Celebrity Takeover

🇮🇩⚽️ Indonesian football has all the characteristics of a soap opera and that's what makes it so difficult to write about. Today's headline will quickly be replaced by tomorrow's sidebar which completely changes the nature of the story.
In 2019 PSG were based in Gresik.
In 2020 their licence was bought and the club shifted to Pati and rebranded PSG Pati.
In 2021 a local celebrity took over the license and later intends to rebranded the club AHHA PS Pati.

This is just the latest in a series of clubs being bought or taken over by people famous for being on TV or having large social media followings.
While anything has to be an improvement on petty provincial potentates who have till now ruled the roost it remains to be seen how string these celebrities commitment is to football.

JDT became successful by marrying star names with the unglamorous but important work off the field - will this new breed of owner in Indonesia bring that same desire or are they just after a quick buck and when it fails to materialise lose interest and start plugging their next soap opera?

Saturday, May 29, 2021


RANS Cilegon

This here blog is now in its 15th year and in that time there have been some quite seismic changes to the Indonesian football landscape. The years of plenty for example when we had two parallel leagues to the suspension by FIFA are enough to fill a book as well as this here blog but another change has occured that may be less dramatic but in the long term could prove to be way more beneficial to the game.

Politics is never far from the back pages and when I started Jakarta Casual nearly every club in the top flight owed its existence to politics and a club's success or failure ultimately depended on how invested local politicians were in football and how much of local taxpayers' money they were willing to splurge on their local team and local state owned enterprises were 'encouraged' to sponsor their local club.

I have written at length previously about the consolidation that has been happening as private money has moved into the game and taken over moribund clubs (Persisam - Bali United, Pelita Jaya - Madura United, Persikubar - Bhayangkara Solo and so on) but we now have a new player on the scene and, if handled correctly, could provide a far bigger football revolution than any narrow minded political adventure.

Bali United have gone out of their way to develop themselves as a football club. They look and feel like a traditional football club with all that entails. Bhayangkara also do a lot of good things. They have a good mix of youth and experience, they play football the right way but they will never be seen as anything other than the club of the police force and will struggle to attract a mainstream fanbase because of that link.

The football traditionalist in me was sad to see Cilegon United all but erased from the landscape. I always enjoyed my trips down the Tangerang - Merak toll road to see the Volcano play at their quirky Krakatau Stadium and they always seemed to boast a decent support. They are no more now though after being bought by an entertainment company. For now they have been rebranded RANS Cilegon but don't be surprised if that changes; their logo, club colours and home base already have!

The whole celebrity thing is massive in Indonesia. People become famous pretty much for being famous, for looking sad on sickly soap operas or singing soppy love songs to screaming fans. And they have alot of fans. Barcelona for example have almost 97 million followers worldwide on Instagram. Raffi Ahmad and Nagita Slavina, the RANS behind the new look Cilegon club, have nearly 53 million followers on  Instagram - and most of them will be in Indonesia alone!

The new owners have brought in the experienced Bambang Nurdiansyah to coach their team of 'galacticos' with former international M Nasuha, pictured above scoring for Cilegon United, as his assistant. On the pitch they have signed Cristian Gonzales, Hamka Hamzah, Patrich Wanggai and Asri Akbar as well as brought Tarik El Janaby and Syamsir Alam back in the game.

For now they are making all the right noises but will anyone want to go and see them? Will they be able to convert their massive following into football supporters? It is one thing for teenagers to goofily wave their arms in the air to tear-jerking ballads in an air-conditioned TV studio but are they likely to make the move from a comfy sofa to a humid terrace? And does is it even matter? RANS Cilegon have announced a pre-season friendly against Arema early in January and fans will be able to watch the game live on YouTube for rp20,000!

Does a club like RANS Cilegon even need match going fans? Given their large following across the country the club could probably play each home game in a different stadium across the country and still draw a decent crowd.

There is no denying entertainment groups such as RANS can bring a lot to football, hopefully dragging the game into the late 20th century, but hopefully they remember that football is not a TV show, football's soul, and especially Indonesian football's soul, is found on the terraces across the country and where ever RANS Cilegon make their home home they set about building and developing a fanbase and, just as importantly, sticking by their supporters

Saturday, March 20, 2021


Piala Menpora 2021 Fixtures

After an absent of 12 months Indonesian football returns tomorrow with the  pre-season Piala Menpora. 

There have been that many competitions like this over the years I won't bore you with them all, suffice to say the last time one was held under this name was 2013 when eight teams entered including Central Coast Mariners, Loyola Meralco Sparks (Philippines) and Malaysia U23. Hosts Arema won beating CCM in the final thanks to two penalties from Keith Kayamba Gumbs and they kick off the tournament this year against Persikabo 1973 at the newly renovated Manahan Stadium.

The draw was 'fixed' so the Big 4 of Arema, Persebaya, Persib and Persija were kept apart just in case any rival fans saw an excuse for having a pre-season, non socially distanced tear-up for old times sake. All games are to be played behind closed doors but that hasn't been a problem in the past!

One notable absence from the draw is Persipura. They took offence to something from the organisers so withdrew apparently! 

Not sure if the games will be streamed for overseas or not. Keep an eye on my Twitter account for updates!

21 March (Manahan Stadium, Solo)

22 March (Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang)

  • Bhayangkara Solo v Borneo Samarinda 
  • Persija Jakarta v PSM Makassar

23 March (Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Soreang)

  • Madura United v PSS Sleman 
  • Persebaya Surabaya v Persik Kediri 

24 March (Maguwoharjo Stadium, Sleman)

  • Persiraja Banda Aceh v Persita Tangerang 
  • Persib Bandung v Bali United 

25 March (Manahan Stadium, Solo)

  • Persikabo 1973 v PSIS Semarang 
  • Barito Putera Vs Arema 

27 March (Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang)

  • PSM Makassar v Bhayangkara Solo 
  • Borneo Samarinda v Persija Jakarta

28 March (Si Jalak  Harupat Stadium, Soreang)

  • PSS Sleman v Persela Lamongan 
  • Madura United v Persebaya Surabaya 

29 March (Maguwoharjo Stadium, Sleman)

  • Bali United v Persiraja Banda Aceh
  • Persita Tangerang Vs Persib Bandung 

30 March (Manahan Stadium, Solo)

  • Barito Putera v Persikabo 1973 
  • Arema v PSIS Semarang 

31 March (Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang)

  • Borneo Samarinda v PSM Makassar 
  • Persija Jakarta v Bhayangkara Solo 

1 April (Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Soreang)

  • Persik Kediri v PSS Sleman 
  • Persela Lamongan v Madura United 

2 April (Maguwoharjo Stadium, Sleman)

  • Persita Tangerang v Bali United 
  • Persib Bandung v Persiraja Banda Aceh 

3 April (Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Soreang)

  • Persik Kediri v Madura United 
  • Persebaya Surabaya v Persela Lamongan 

7 April (Si Jalak Harupat Stadium, Soreang)

  • Persela Lamongan v Persik Kediri 
  • PSS Sleman v Persebaya Surabaya 

Thursday, March 18, 2021


Kapan Persis Bangkit?

It must be so frustrating being a Persis fan. On the one hand they have been starved of success as decades of mismanagement has see the team firmly ensconced in the nether regions of the football pyramid while their city plays hosts to full internationals as well as nomadic clubs who find the facilities of this central Java city to be perfect for a professional football club.

The news that Bhayangkara, 2017 Liga 1 champions, will be calling the Manahan Stadium home and tweaking their name (Bhayangkara Solo) to show their attachment to their new host won't have surprised the football daft for they are just the latest in a long line to try and call Solo. Arseto, Persijatim, Solo Ksatria and Pelita Jaya are just two of the teams to have flirted with the Solo faithful before moving to pastures new or just simply folding. And, lest we forget, the Pasoepati originally identified themselves with Pelita Jaya.

So when a leading official from the Pasoepati came out and with due solemnity it was fine for members to support the new kid on the block I just shrugged my shoulders. I've long since given up trying to filter Indonesian football through an English filter; it's a waste of time but at the same time I do miss out on some of the WTF moments that takes the game to such dizzying heights! So yeah, fan group says it's ok to support another club. OK. I mean this is Indonesia where two team cities are pretty rare and where they do exist, Tangerang for example, the rivalry can be deadly but I just assumed people had been talking behind the scenes and come to an arrangement so the new club would not have the embarrassment of playing in front of empty terraces.

The thing is Persis have been in the news a bit recently with suggestions a relative of the nation's president being linked with buying the club. Were this to happen it could certainly propel the famous old club to a totally different level. But if it were to happen where would it leave Bhayangkara Solo who have of course their own influential backers?

Persis are one of the oldest clubs in the country but the last few years have seen them overtaken on the national stage by younger upstarts like Arema and PSS and more recently of course Bhayangkara. For me, as a football traditionalist, seeing Persis back in the top flight, well funded and of course well supported would be a thing of beauty and would add shine to Liga 1. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. 

But given how often Solo has laid out the welcome mat for other clubs it would be nice, for once, for the city to take pride in its own club and focus on revitalising a wonderful old football club.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021


Impatient Sri Pahang Shunt Dooley To One Side

A new era is supposed to be dawning on Malaysian football, an era of professionalism from top to the bottom of the structure. No more state run associations packed with jobsworth mates of provincial petty potentates but football clubs run by people with know-how and expertise.

God knows, Malaysian football needs it. Johor Darul Ta'zim have long outgrown the league while at the same tie being the benchmark for other clubs to aim for but too often the rest of the league seems to just throw their arms in the air and say 'we can't compete'. Is the 2021 season when the rest of the league says 'we're gonna give it a go'?

Maybe. Or in the case of Pahang on the east coast of the peninsula maybe not. The Tok Gajah have come closer than anyone to upsetting the JDT behemoth but have always come up short. 

Malaysia Super League Runners Up - 2017, 2019

Malaysia Cup Winner - 2013, 2014

FA Cup Winner - 2014, 2018 (Runners Up 2017)

Aiming to improve on a disappointing 2020 season when they finished 8th, Pahang changed their name to Sri Pahang and appointed American Thomas Dooley as coach. Dooley, who I first came across when he played for 1FC Kaiserslautern in 1992/93, is no stranger to the region having coached the Philippines national team (2014-2018) and no doubt expectations were high on the east coast he had a squad ready to challenge for honours.

One player added to the squad was Lee Tuck who was so influential with Terengganu in the 2020 season as they finished third and get to compete in the AFC Cup this season.

Unfortunately the season has started as well as the management were hoping. They lost their opening game 3-1 away to Selangor and things didn't improve in their first home game, losing 2-0 against Kedah and that's when the mumbling started. The club are saying nothing, their official website is worse than useless, but on Saturday Dooley wasn't in the dug out. Instead it was veteran Dollah Salleh and it has been hinted he would remain in charge for the next couple of games as well.

Dooley himself hasn't said much beyond expressing disappointment at the decision to 'rest' him. Speaking to the Star he said I cannot divulge much information. I totally disagree about this situation but I need to respect it. I have a different view compared to others. Right now, I can’t be involved with the team''.

Today Sri Pahang host Sabah, another winless side, and club management will be hoping Dollah, who has coached the team on two  previous occasions, will be able to inspire an immediate return to form in Kuantan.

But for Sri Pahang to challenge consistently the old thinking needs to be ditched. Kuantan wasn't built in a day and a football team isn't built after two games. If the coach was good enough to be appointed then surely he is good enough to be given time? Pressing the panic button after two games and saying nothing officially are not the hallmarks of a professional football club.

Friday, February 19, 2021


Langkawi City

There is something so tempting about the third tier of Malaysian football. Now known as M3 League it offers up a mixture of private companies and private companies which, in the main, have little in the way of footballing history. Whereas Indonesia's Liga 3 can boast teams with pedigree like Persikabpas and Persikab, Malaysia offers up the mighty Syarikat Air Melaka Berhad (SAMB) or Ultimate. Clubs with little or  no past struggling to survive beyond a season or two.

Then we have Langkawi City and who would not want to go to an away game there! Langkawi is an archipelago located in the north west of the country and, since I guess buying the licence of KL based Glory FC has been home to a ambitious football club. Well, I don't know if they are ambitious but they do have a famous name in the coaching hot-seat - former Kedah legend Nelson San Martin.

All this is fine. Tickety-boo. My gripe though lies in the name. Why opt for the Anglicized suffix of City especially when there is no such city as Langkawi? Why slavishly follow in the footsteps of an English tradition dating back to the 19th century?

Club names are important. They are part of a identity fans can identify with and in most countries they relate to local circumstances because that is what a football club is - part of a local community.  In Germany we have the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen. England as Aston Villa, Burton Albion, Bristol Rovers. 

But why do South East Asia teams feel the need to adopt such suffixes? We have seen it in Thailand with the likes of Muang Thong United and Buriram United and in Malaysia with Petaling Jaya City and now Langkawi City. Surely the Philippines plunged new depths with United City Football Club! How can a football club truly represent its local community when half of its name has been imported in a vain bid to appeal to local who prefer English giants to their own local team? And let's face, many 'fans' of a City or United are basically glory hunters who attach themselves to a team that is successful. Are they really the future hardcore support a club can relay on?

As ever, when it comes to South East Asian football it is Indonesia which leads the way. Arema, Barito Putera, Bhayangkara, Badak Lampung, Borneo, Deltras, Sriwijaya all have names with links to their local community (or roots) and they are rightly proud of those links. It's not perfect - look at Madura United and Bali United - but it is surely the right way to go.

I wish Langkawi's football club well. I just feel that adopting a name that better reflects its own origins and area is a better way to go, in their case Pulau Langkawi?

Saturday, January 30, 2021


My Thai Football Journey

 I grew up an Arsenal fan. In fact I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t an Arsenal fan, except for a few hours in the 1970s when we let slip a two goal lead against Derby County and I loudly told my mates who I was having a kick around with in the local park, the nearest we had to social media at the time, that I was so disgusted I wanted them to know I now supported Sunderland.

I started going to home games in the early 70s then, as I got a paper round and then a job in the local record shop, ventured further afield following the Arsenal. And when I went to Australia I 1987 I was convinced I’d be gone for 12 months and would return to my spot on the Clock End terrace.

It didn’t happen that way of course and in the early 90s I fronted up in Thailand hoping to broaden my mind as an English teacher. Between Australia and Thailand I’d been in Germany watching the likes of 1FC Koln, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munchen when I could. I wouldn’t say I was a football snob, I was also happy going to see non-league games in England or National Soccer League games in Australia, but I didn’t really take much notice of football in my new home.

I was dimly aware the national team were playing in the Asian Games and saw enough to be impressed by the likes of Tawan and Kiatisuk and occasionally I would have a look round the Thai Farmers Bank store in Siam Square thinking I would like to get a souvenir and catch a game but every time I read the in depth football columns in the Bangkok Post, and they were superbly written, while sat in the teacher’s room on Saturdays I could never see the attraction of leaving a bar for long enough to traipse across Bangkok to see SET v PAT, BBC v RTAF or TTM v KTB.

So instead I joined the library at the British Council and in those dark days between my money running out and pay day I would sit in my dimly lit room off Rama 4 and read about people like Chidchobs, Kuenplums and Sila’parchas. Little did I know but this background reading became essential to understanding local football.

When I saw the name Chonburi popping up in the Post on Saturdays I immediately thought of the Kuenpluem family, one of whom I used to teach TOEFL primarily because nobody else fancied 7am starts. The second thing that struck me hell, was Thai football moving beyond a bunch of SOEs and government departments based in Bangkok before returning to more important matters like Bobby’s Arms, Cosmos, My Other Office, Country Road and Thermae. The 90s were something that happened to other people.

I started Jakarta Casual in 2006, primarily as a way to keep me on the straight and narrow after getting married but it soon snowballed and within a few years I was covering Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean football. It was only a matter of time before I added Thai football to the blog. With teams like Muang Thong United, Bangkok Glass and Chonburi it was beginning to resemble a proper league and thanks to the message board there were other loonies just as football daft as I was and just as interested in the local burgeoning scene.

So, 2009 and the holidays. ‘I’m going to Bangkok for a few days to see some football,’ I told my wife. Yeah, right I could see her thinking. Bangkok, football, that’s a new one!

I holed up in my old manor and took a taxi out to Ekkamai before boarding a bus to Sri Racha where I was going to meet Dale. The plan was I wanted to experience a Thai style awayday so we met up, had a few beer before joining a supporters club bus to take us…into Bangkok. In fact, to a ground a mile and a half away from where I was staying!

The ride from Sri Racha to Klong Toey took about 10 minutes as me and Dale discussed Thai football, English football and punk rock. I’d only see Oldham play a handful of times but it turned out Dale was at each of the games I went to including a Friday night game at Brighton and my last ever game at Highbury, a League Cup tie in 1994. We also had both seen a game between Thailand v South Korea in 1997, we both popped out Thai football cherry that night.

As awaydays went it was pretty lame, especially if I were to compare with similar trips I’d made in Indonesia but 2009 was the year Thailand discovered football so there was little in the way of history or rivalry to hang your hat on.

But it was a fun day out. Chonburi won 2-1 and I bought a Thai Port in the club shop and even got to chat with Kosin, the Chonburi keeper who had spent a period of time on loan with Persib in Indonesia. I asked him what he thought of Persija and he spat on the floor. Brilliant thinks I, the Persib fans will love this when I post it on You Tube. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to press record on the handycam!

After the game I took the 47 bus back to my hotel. The next day I went to see Chula United v Pattaya United and, um, to be honest it was crap. A few drunken foreigners had turned their backs on their favourite beer bar for a trip to the Big Durian but they produced little in the way of atmosphere, they were too busy either trying to not spill their beer or snoring.

I was interested enough though by the first game to return later in the year when Muang Thong United hosted Chonburi. A large crowd was expected so me and Dale and his missus entered the ground some four hours before kick off and tried to make ourselves comfy on the stone steps. Good atmosphere, good game, I was tempted enough to return a number of time over the following years to catch games but for me the novelty soon wore off and looking back I can see a few reasons why my interest waned.

First, the Chidchobs got involved. While the Kuenpluems didn’t seem interested in throwing money at the game, Chidchobs were people who didn’t lose be it politically or elsewhere. Then the Sila’parchas got involved in Suphanburi, or as I used to call in in the 90s Banharnburi, and football was rapidly becoming a playground for phu yai and their egos. I couldn’t see how the domestic league could develop with only one team winning the league every year, who was going to support a provincial club with no history and no hope of winning the title? The early boom years weren’t sustained and attendances soon levelled off as Thais discovered a new ‘latest craze.’

I would still book trips to Thailand but increasingly I wasn’t even bothering with the games. I went to see Bangkok United and Army United and wondered why I was bothering spending all that time and money. Yes, I know people like to say the Thai league is the best in the region but I’m not even sure what that means. Undoubtedly they have some of the best players and some of the best role models and their marketing used to be second to none but the quality was spread very thinly.

Thai football is obviously in a much better place than it was when I first read those superbly written Bangkok Post articles a quarter of a century earlier and one of the reasons for that is the early success of Chonburi in pushing the game beyond government departments and reaching out to local communities. Part of me still thinks it would be fun to go back and zigzag across the country catching games in distant provincial towns and cities, riding local non air conditioned buses, waiting in dusty markets for them to fill up, sitting next to old buggers stinking of Sangthip as they gently caress their crowing cock. As a footballing experience the Thai game is a long way behind its Indonesian brethren but as an appendage to an all encompassing Thai experience it can’t be beaten!

SOURCE - This first appeared on Dale's It's A Habit That Sticks blog


Thursday, January 28, 2021


AFC Cup 2021 Preview

In these dreadful times it is heartening that at least a pretense of a normal life is going on in football. I speak of course of the draws made yesterday for the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup. It seems mad that just 12 months ago I was able to book flights to the best region in the world and go to Jalan Besar Stadium to catch AFC Cup ties when now I'm being discouraged from catching a train to Nottingham, just a 30 minute ride away!

How little we knew then, how naive we were as I took in ties between Tampies Rovers and Bali United followed by Hougang United v Ho Chi Minh City. Two top games!

The competition of course would  be cancelled because of the pandemic while the Champions League would be held later in the year in Qatar. Undoubtedly, the Champions League is the AFC's diamond, the competition that brings together the best teams in Asia to do battle for the ultimate trophy but for me it lacks the eclectic appeal of the AFC Cup. I can't get too excited at the prospect of watching Al Nasr v Al Ittihad for example but the prospect of seeing Boueng Ket v Geylang International has me salivating over and dusting off my passport!

The AFC Cup is due to start in April, and fingers crossed it does, so as being a football fan is all about dreams, let us dream!

There are a number of play offs to be negotiated before the group stage starts and what better way to begin a competition than with two ties like these in the South Asia section:

Nepal Army Club v Sri Lanka Police

Eagles (Maldives) v Thimpu City

The winner of the first tie gets to meet Bengaluru while Abhani Limited Dhaka await the winner of the second tie and how cool is it that Bangladesh could have a couple of teams in the AFC Cup?

Moving to ASEAN and a few weeks later their play offs begin with a couple of times:

Lao Toyota v Kasuka (Brunei)

Visakha v Lalenok United (Timor Leste)

Some  new names there including Cambodia's Visakha who have an Irishman, Colum Curtis, on their coaching staff and boast a Canadian international, Marcus Haber, in their ranks. Haber has previously lined up for St Johnstone, Stevenage, Notts County, Crewe, Dundee and Falkirk as well as numerous Canadian teams and is still only 32! It's mad, innit? Here we are in the middle of a pandemic yet this lad is happy to uproot himself from Canada to Cambodia to kick a ball around!

The winners of those ties face tricky opposition in the next round with Visakha potentially facing Persipura in May. Lao Toyota or Kasuka will face Hanthawady United.

The group stage, no dates have been set yet, will look something like this:

Group D - Mohun Bagan, Bashundhara Kings, Maziya, South Asian Play Off Winner

Group G - Hanoi, Bali United, Boueng Ket, Winner of ASEAN Play Off Lao Toyota/Kasuka/Hanthawady United

Group H - Kedah, Lion City Sailors, Saigon, Winner of ASEAN Play Off Visakha/Lalenok United/Persipura

Group I - Kaya Iloilo, Shan United, Terengganu, Geylang International

Wow! Boueng Ket v Bali United, that would be the first game on the list while I would be severely tempted by Basundhara Kings v Mohun Bagan as well!

I'm not going to go down the tired, cliched route of a group of death, last time I checked each group will have two teams knocked out, but there are some intriguing match ups to be had. 

Singapore's Lion City Sailors will be emulating the incredibly daftly named United City in competing in Asian club competition in only their second season and they will come up against a Kedah side which will have a familiar name in the dug out...Aidil Sharin was part of the successful Home United side coached by Steve Darby in the early years of the 20th century and moved to Malaysia at the end of 2018 which means by my calculations he has survived two seasons at the same club which ain't bad, is it? Helping the team win the Malaysia Cup in 2019 would have helped of course!

In Group I Terengganu have invested smartly during the preseason, taking advantage of the stasis in Indonesia to hoover up Makan Konate and David da Silva as well as bringing in Australian Chris Herd who boasts Aston Villa on his resume as well as teams in Thailand, India and Bangladesh in recent years.

After finishing third in the Super League last season, Terenggau set about trying to improve on that talented squad and that included not renewing the foreign players. Their ambition is to be rewarded. They are never going to be able to compete domestically with Johor Darul Ta'zim but that hasnt stopped the club backing its coaching staff to have an impact elsewhere and it will be interesting to see how the Turtles get on both domestically and internationally.

Yep, for me the AFC Cup is the place to be. Here's looking forward to a thrilling competition!

Friday, January 22, 2021


Young Indonesians

While much has been made of the exodus of top players from Indonesia over recent weeks owing to the uncertainty of the status of the 2020 season, now cancelled, we should remember there are still a few young players trying their luck overseas even during the pandemic. It has long been a bugbear of ine. Undoubtedly one of the reasons why Thai football has become so preeminent in the region over the last 25 years or so is down to the willingness of the likes of Kiatisuk Senamuang, Therdsak Chaiman and Tawan Sripan to remove themselves from their comfort zone and embrace new cultures.

Indonesian footballers have also done this but all too often they have swapped the nasi goreng of Indonesia for the nasi goreng of Malaysia, hardly the most challenging of culture shocks. No, for a player to be really challenged as a person they need to leave their kampung far behind and embrace a totally alien way of life. That's easier said than done.

The news the that Asnawi Mangkualam has signed for second tier Korean side Asnan Greeners has to be good news for Indonesian football. The versatile 21 year old was born in Makassar and previously played for Persiba, where he made his debut as a 16 year old, and more recently PSM and has featured in the various national teams since then.

Undoubtedly Shin Tae-yong, the national team coach, has been influential in the switch but we can at least be assured this move will be more for football reasons than anything else. We have seen on numerous occasions in recent years where players have signed for clubs overseas on the say so of club owners looking to burnish their reputations domestically rather than genuinely develop promising footballers.

The news that Asnawi has put the icing on a couple of profitable days for young Indonesians trying their luck overseas. In Poland, Eky Maulana scored for Lechia Gdansk in a friendly while further south Witan Sulaeman scored his first goal for Croatian side FK Radnik Surdulica, also in a friendly.

No one is expecting this talented trio will go on to take their new leagues by storm but there can be little doubt they will grow as people and footballers from their adventures. And hopefully they can act as pioneers, mentors, to other young players who are unsure whether they should try their luck overseas or have a domestic career where they are shunted around the country from club to club at the whim of rapacious club owners.

Thursday, January 21, 2021


Lion City Sailors Think Big With Lopes Signing


Talk about the road less travelled. A Singapore football club have spent real money to sign a player. With the new season just weeks away, possibly, Lion City Sailors have splashed out almost $3 million on Diego Lopes from Portuguese side Rio Ave. The 26 year old is Brazilian and wears the number 10 shirt and let's be honest, that has been enough for clubs in the region to swoop.

But this feels different. Singaporean clubs tend not to pay transfer fees and players at the peak of their career tend not to mark down the city state for the next step in their football career. But here we are. Lion City Sailors are privately owned, have deep pockets and have big ambitions. They signed the prolific Stipe Plazibat halfway through last season from Hougang United and with Adam Swandi and Gabriel Quak also in the team there is an aura of a tropical 'Galacticos' in sunny Bishan.

Singapore football has been crying out for investment for years now so to moan about this would be to take churlish to levels not even Jose Mourinho dares visit. The league has been moribund for so many years now that when Albirex Niigata won the title last season, for the fourth time in five years there was little outcry. Angst had been replaced by shrugged shoulders and, even worse, apathy. 

Can we expect to see Lion City Sailors go down the road of Johor Darul Ta'zim across the Causeway and blow everyone else out of the water? I hope not. Small leagues dominated by a single club or two clubs, be it Scotland or Malaysia, tend not to be strong leagues and Singapore football would be the better were we to see Tampines return to their own glory days doing battle with the likes of LCS and Albirex. Hopefully, other clubs can attach themselves to LCS's coat tails and enjoy the ride rather than be content to be cannon fodder. Certainly, in Malaysia JDT are literally in a league of their own but even their staunchest fans would admit the league would be stronger were other clubs blazing their own trails?

LCS and Tampines Rovers did push Albirex all the way last season but the Japanese backed side were too strong and too experienced. Hopefully a year older and a year wiser a local side can wrest the title home for the first time since 2014 but to expect Lopes to win it by himself would be to put too much pressure on his shoulders and to under estimate the challenges that lie ahead and not just on the pitch. 

Any title bid will be hamstrung from day one as both the Stags and the Sailors will also be expected to face the rigours of AFC Cup competition, and while they will be jetting around the region collecting airmiles history shows they won't be getting much sympathy from Jalan Besar.

Lopes will soon notice the Singapore football scene is a lot more 'genteel' compared to what he has been used to in Portugal and Brazil but beneath the bon homie of chilled Tiger Beer and roti pratha the satay sticks will be being sharpened and when he doesn't produce immediate results they will soon find their mark. 

For me, I hope Lopes is given time to settle and make an impact just like I hope to see Tampines Rovers challenge for the title and for Hougang United and Geylang International to kick on. Anything that gets people talking about Singapore football and raises its profile has to be a good thing, right? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


Ambitious Rudy Brings Parisian Flair To Provincial Pati

Over five years ago I was based in the Middle East and one weekend I decided to head to Bahrain for a beer, a passport stamp and, of course come football. It helped there was a young Indonesian coach who was working there at the time so I reached out to Rudy Eka Priyambada on line and we arranged to meet at the Sherlock Holmes, a popular watering hole on the island. Rudy's story fascinated me and many others and his journey into coaching can be found here.

I've followed his career off and on over the subsequent years and have been intrigued as he develops a little known piece of real estate in the shadow of Mount Muria into a footballing hotbed.

With the help of local business people, Rudy developed his own academy, a popular go-to option for football people in Indonesia where the industry is notorious for its short career span. While I understood the logic behind this decision I always hoped Rudy's determination and experiences would not be lost to the professional game so I was delighted to hear Pati took over the license of Liga 2 side Putra Sinar Giri, formerly based in Gresik, East Java.

The new owners have moved quickly to rebrand PSG as Putra Safin Group Pati (PSG Pati) partly to recognise one of the driving forces behind the develop of football in Pati but also of course to tap into the local football community. The Parisian PSG influence though is evident through a similar colour scheme in the branding but any attempts to winning over local fans will face other challenges beyond aping a well known foreign club.

For starters there is already a Pati based local side. Persipa have a history going back 70 years which makes them quite old  by Indonesian standards and a fan group known as Patifosi. Will Persipa survive the arrival of a new, better funded club? Will Patifosi switch allegiance?

Indonesian fan groups know from experience how transient football clubs can be. Pasoepati, in the football daft city of Solo, started life following Arseto and were quick to embrace the short lived Solo Ksatria in the rebel LPI in 2011. Many elder Jakmania broke their terrace cherry cheering Pelita Jaya. For so long it is the supporters who have been the forgotten people as clubs over the years happily swap cities at the drop of a hat so you cannot blame them for tie their affections to a shiny new club that looks and smells like a football club rather than follow a club that may or may not even compete in the league, depending on the whims or ambitions of local leaders. How many Bali United fans, for example, followed Persigi or how many Madura United supporters went to Perseba games on a regular basis?

As I wrote in 2019, Indonesian football has long needed a period of consolidation where older, more established football clubs which have long been poorly run are replaced by newer, more ambitious folks ready to embrace ideas from the 1990 like club shops and sponsors. Will PSG Pati be the latest to join the list of ambitious, privately owned clubs?

In some respects PSG Pati will be going down the trail blazed by the mega rich Johor Darul Ta'zim with their investment in youth and infrastructure. It's too early to well whether the club will be looking to snap up expensive players like JDT but with a smart football 'ecosystem' being put in place by Rudy and his team perhaps they won't need to. They have all the facilities to entice promising young players to head for Central Java and offer them a clearly laid out career path under the guiding hand  of a man who is happy to place his trust in youth.

With other leagues already into their 2021 seasons or soon to start them the foot dragging Indonesian league still has no idea whether it will finish the 2020 season,, restart as the 2020/21 season or just start afresh with 2021. With such apathy and lethargy in the corridors of power we are still a long way from knowing what a PSG Pati will look like when they finally take the field but off the field the club are putting the right building blocks into place for a rosy future!

Friday, October 16, 2020


Tampines, Lion City Invest Big Ahead Of Restart

Roll on tomorrow as the Singapore Premier League returns after a lengthy covid induced hiatus. For those who can't remember, which includes me, the last game was played in March when ten man Tanjong Pagar United drew 2-2 with Albirex Niigata at Jurong East Stadium.

The season restarts on Saturday with two games as Tanjong Pagar welcome Balestier Khalsa and leaders Tampines Rovers host Hougang United. 

The Cheetahs look to their first game minus their talismanic striker Stipe Plazibat after the 31 year old signed for Lion City Sailors in September. His absence will leave a large gap in Hougang's armoury as he netted nine times in six games before the break. Stipe isn't the only big name arrival at the team formerly known as Home United. Aussie coach Aurelio Vidmar has also bought in Hassan Sunny, Shahdan Sulaiman and Gabriel Quak and he will be looking for a quick return on that investment. Prior to the season halt, Lion City Sailors had drawn and lost their opening two games including a humiliating 4-0 reverse against Tampines.

Talking of the table toppingvitals, they too have been busy recruiting ahead of their opening game, adding experience with players like Baihakki Khaizan and Fazrul Nawaz, both in their mid 30s. 

Singapore being Singapore they have copied/adopted 'protocols' from bigger leagues around the world to handle the ongoing covid shit. Teams can use up to five substitutes per game and there will be a water break allowed in each half. Players will be tested fortnightly and there will be no spectators at games with less than 100 supposedly essential workers on duty. Cynics might say that means nothing much has changed on that front but fortunately I'm no cynic!

17th October
Tanjong Pagar United v Balestier Khalsa
Tampines Rovers v Hougang United

18th October
Lion City Sailors v Geylang International
Young Lions v Albirex Niigata

Saturday, October 10, 2020


Kyrgyz League Ends After Upheaval?

The final round of games in the Kyrgyzstan Premier League were due to be played on Tuesday. I was planning to go to them but with the unrest and the fact there is a Russian military base near the ground i bottled it and stayed home, hoping to catch on TV
Come kick off time and the channel was showing a film about Nelson Mandela and the you tube channel had cancelled its streaming.
The FC Dordoi twitter account had posted videos of the team arriving as well as an info graph showing their line up...then silence. Likewise the KPL account on Instagram.
Finally the Dordoi social media team kicked into action on the Wednesday, or was it Thursday, suggesting the games had been put back 24 hours. Or was it 48?
I have no idea where we stand regarding the Kyrgyzstan Cup, which offers the winners a place in the AFC Cup next year, which was due to start yesterday. There may be a curfew and a state of emergency in place, I saw a post saying there are military roadblocks on the approaches to Bishkek and under the terms of any state of emergency all events are cancelled.

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