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Thailand – Where football takes on a whole new meaning

If you’ve been a visitor to Total Football for a while, you’ll know we are interested in all things football-related from around the world – matches, players, teams, tournaments, nations and fans.

Ah yes, the fans, they make football tick. And in Thailand they are crazy about the beautiful game – but, well, let’s just say that they do their football differently over there.

So Total Football tracked down Matt Riley, a Thai-based football writer for www.thaileaguefootball.com, who we have somehow managed to persuade to bring us regular updates from this most passionate of football supporting nations.

And to kick-off this new series, Matt breaks it all down for us in this handy A-Z guide to football in Thailand...

Your first Thai game A to Z

Going to your first Thai football match is often a surreal and joyous event. A friend of mine sharing a beer outside our local stadium noticed two gangs of opposing fans heading towards each other and brought it to our attention.

When they met, bowed to each other and shared their (huge) reserves of whiskey he was astonished. He was expecting a battle scene and got a love fest. He does come from Grimsby after all.

Arrival time for games

Let's say it's a 6pm kick-off. Allowing time for traffic, if you drive past the ground four hours or so before kick-off you'll find an increasing group of fans tucking into food. If you drive past six hours before the start you'll see knots of people gathering. For away matches, the game is often the centrepiece of a weekend away, so picnic blankets populated with football shirt wearing families dot the locality throughout the day.

Beer

Whilst it lurches an English day out from high spirits to fist fights on local High Streets, the oceans of beer drunk at all Thai games very rarely lead to strife. Queuing at BG's Leo Stadium last season, the man two places in front of me was barred entry for his plastic water bottle whilst the man in front of me, armed with a huge cool box of whiskey and mixers was welcomed in.

We ended up standing next to him at the top of the cavernous home stand and the toxic local brew was joyfully shared amongst the fans, leaving the perverted water user to reflect on his error.

Cheerleaders

In the early days girls seemed to have just finished their shift at Nana Plaza, as tummy tattooed bump and grinders got straight into character whilst you tried to divert your children's attention (and sneak a purely scientific peak).

Nowadays, the cheerleaders are much more glamorous. From the knee trembling come hither looks of the Bangkok Glass Bunnies, the Muang Thong United Divas and the assorted beauties peppered around the grounds, they make a happy man feel very old.

Diving

Be warned: this is central to the game. Around a dozen times a game players draw a challenge, avoid it but are shot by a mystery sniper in the stands. Don't get too angry about it or you'll go crazy. Thai fans will occasionally shout their frustration, but most realise their team do it just as much, so accept it as a tactic.

Eating at games

The standard of food varies greatly. My local team Muang Thong have a popular Irish Pub and Subway two minutes from the ground, Chonburi has a very pleasant Shark Restaurant and Thai Port are a taxi ride from the popular Sportsman Pub. But for some clubs, like Osotsopa, if you don't like hard core Thai dishes with nuclear spice levels or fluorescent meat products, it's best to bring your own.

Fixture changes

This is another chance to work on your Zen moment. Only this week MT changed their first fixture to Sunday, it made Saturday perfect for a Thai League Football social and, in the interim, they changed it back. Things have got better, but don't plan more than a week ahead or you'll end up with egg on your face.

Greeting opposition fans

To some these love ins are cheesy and naive, but growing up in England watching paving slabs thrown from overpasses onto opposition fans and climbing thought toilet windows to escape cross city rival Birmingham fans, I love them. As a westerner you are likely to be walloped with an extra dollop of love, particularly from clubs with very few foreign fans. See it as your Andy Warhol moment.

Half-time rituals

These are part of the ongoing love in, where fans from both sides meet on the pitch to exchange gifts and greetings. Often, as a foreign fan, you'll be asked to take part. I would advise playing this joker during the away game at the Leo Stadium to get that bit closer to the sublime Bunny Girls.

Insults

There will be sporadic choice words spat out at gormless officials, but it's very rare indeed for fans to insult other followers. Indeed, fans have a clear charter which, oddly has a sign showing the are to be no bananas.

This is a sample of the incredibly polite rules for fans. Good luck trying this at The Den:

- We will refrain from yelling out obscenities or using vulgar speech within the sports ground

- We will not insult or verbally abuse the opponent's team players

- We agree to show respect, goodwill and friendship to opposing fan groups, both at home and away matches

- We will not resort to hooliganism at matches, whether at home or away matches or under any circumstances

- We will cheer our team on to show support for the players and team staff

- We will offer token gifts to the opposing fans at home and away matches

Joy

At home, when one team scores the fans will often use it to taunt the opposing crowd or use various rhythmic hand signals, but here a goal is pure joy for its own sake. Devoid of aggression, for a nation that tends to be reserved, it is a sight to see. Having said that, if you missed the game and turned up as people were leaving, the kreng jai of a Thai means you probably won't be able to guess who won.

Kick-off times

Please join me to run naked around Siam Square if a single week goes by when all fixtures kick off as advertised. To a Western mind it is maddeningly frustrating, but see your reaction to it as your chance to reach Buddhist Enlightenment. In four days, Thai Port will either play at home at 4, at MT at 6 or the National Stadium. Try organizing your day around that and good luck to you.

Language

As an English speaker you will be very much in the minority, but armed with a knowledge of the players, an ability to survive Mekong whiskey and some basic phrases, you'll fit right in.

Mascots

There are some truly bizarre ones. From the Buriram Gimp to Bangkok United's homage to Monster's Inc, they don't get a right hook or kick up the behind. Thai fans love them and they add to the family atmosphere.

N Zone

My local team have fans in the North Stand who take obsession to a new level. Some are tattooed with the club crest and most drink whiskey like a dying man drinks water in a desert. They are more raucous and less choreographed than their opposing South Stand and, whilst the atmosphere is just as friendly, these great people are rough diamonds rather than polished gems.

Offsides

Another Zen preparation moment. With their lack of training and proximity to high ranking politicians in the dugout, many an assistant referee's flag will develop tourettes in one half and attract five times natural gravity in the other. You can't blame them, and at least you are now actively encouraged to drink in the stadium to damp down the frustration.

Politicians

Unlike V and VVIPs from sponsors, politicians really don't want to be seen, but quietly give something back to the community. Whilst they do so much for charity and underwrite all expenses of the club you love, that doesn't mean they want your vote in the local elections coming up in three weeks time.

That his manifesto centers on getting your club to the Champions League in two years doesn't mean he wants to be treated any differently from any other fan at the game.

With an entourage, their own VIP box, the TV interviews with his staff doughnutting around him and the cameras revisiting his humble face every three minutes, his only wish is to be left alone to enjoy the game.

Queues for beer

Another Zen moment. There is only Leo available at most stadiums due to their sponsorship and there are key times in the day (before, during half time and after the game) when hordes of thirsty people will come to the stalls, carefully review what's on offer and select... Leo. To make things simple there is only one size of cup on offer.

However, when you arrive you will often be asked for your order (Leo please) which will then be poured slowly from a large cool box, the froth laboriously scooped from the top and left to settle before being topped up. Yesterday I was filming at, of all places, the Leo Stadium. There were five jugs of freshly poured amber and two cool boxes standing by in suspiciously organised readiness. When I asked for one they told us they were not for sale as there was a meeting on.

I explained that I understood the rules of commerce that dictated I would need to offer coin of the realm in exchange for their beer, but this appeared an irrelevant argument. So I had to hoof it to the Tescos down the road and buy a Singha just to make a futile point and leave the empty cans by the side of the pitch.

Referees

Where to start? Undertrained and underpaid. Try to think the best of them and imagine what you'd if someone gave you a job you weren't equipped for.

Stretcher counts

During boring games it is a diverting pastime to put 100 Baht into the pot and pass it round each time someone is so injured they are unable to remain vertical. If a player is unable to return you keep the pot. Be warned: if you have the pot with five minutes to go there's still time for a couple of laps.

Ticket touts

There are two strange and welcome parts to scouts (or scalpers) in Thailand. The first is that they will ply their trade in a game that isn't even full. When I recently went to the King's Cup the 65,000 stadium was at least 90% empty, but touts still plied their trade in hope more than expectation. The other great thing about them is that they often sell their tickets for at, or near, the face value.

Umbrellas

For those with kids or light skin (or both of course) this is vital. At a four o'clock kick off you will be the proverbial egg in a frying pan without one and, during the rainy season, it stops the top of the head getting wet as the rain slams down off the concrete floor and gives you a floor up shower experience.

VIPs (not to be confused with VVIPs)

The key clues are heavy duty Brylcreem, black jackets, sunglasses (worn inside for VVIPs,) black dressed bodyguards ( with metallic lumps in their jackets for VVIPs.) if they shake your hands it will be whilst looking away for the next flesh pressing opportunity.

Whisky

You will often see a beer tower placed in the middle of a table. It's filled with nuclear strength whiskey and, as new people arrive, they add their corrosive contributions. Be afraid; be very afraid.

X-rated challenges

Like Leesaw's low level throat clutching Kung Fu kick for Thailand against Oman they happen, but it is rare and more often than not the rating will have moved up from a 12A to 18 thanks to fine acting by the receiver.

Year dot

The time when some of the foreign fans will tell you they have been supporting Thai football since. When less than 22 people would watch the games and there were jumpers for goalposts. It is best to smile sweetly and let them unburden themselves.

Zzzzzz

Have a snooze during talk of Thailand hosting the World Cup, the ‘ongoing’ lawsuit against Lord Triesman and the inability of the national team to remember passports for players. Ignore the FAT Heads and get on with enjoying the game. There's plenty to love.

For more about football in Thailand click here


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