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!

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