Officially, I’m currently in Bangkok to visit my wife, who is approaching the midway point of a 9-week teaching course. Unofficially, I’m here to watch football. Lots of it.
From November 1st until 18th, the Thai capital, along with the provincial city of Nakhon Ratchasima, will play host to the FIFA World Futsal Cup. There’ll be more on that to come, because first was the end-of-season Bangkok derby between BEC-Tero Sasana and Muangthong United.
If those two names are familiar to you, it’s likely because one (MT Utd) is where Robbie Fowler made his first- and only, so far-foray into management, and the other (BEC-Tero) is the current employer of Sven Goran Eriksson, where the Swede is Technical Director.
There was to be no Super Sunday, no remember ‘that afternooon in Bangkok’ moment here. Everything had been decided weeks ago. Muangthong had already tied up their third Thai Premier League (TPL) title with plenty to spare; they were 13 points clear and unbeaten in all their previous 33 TPL matches going into this match. The trio of relegated teams was also already confirmed. BEC Tero’s third place wasn’t yet guaranteed, but a point would be enough.
With just a vague idea of where the stadium should be, I got to the ground in plenty of time, some two and a half hours before kick-off. Thephasadin Stadium was exactly where Google maps said it would be, and, in fact, was even closer to the National Stadium MRT station than it looked on my iPad.
Thais love football. I’d learned this on my first visit to the country a few years ago when, after practically a whole day’s build-up, I got to see Liverpool’s 4-1 win at Old Trafford projected onto the side of a restaurant/bar on the Khao San Road (as a United fan, the building-high version of Andrea Dossena’s lob was particularly galling), and had it re-confirmed by a Manchester United-supporting taxi driver on the first day of this trip. In fact, the first of the several promotional stalls that I noticed outside the ground was using these two great clubs to advertise the popular Honda motorcycles.
Close-by, just behind an already fairly-large congregation of Tero fans, I saw the club shop I’d seen on the internet. Being the last game of the season, everything had to go. It was the shirt-collector’s drink-the-bar-dry, if you will. I hadn’t planned on purchaing a Tero shirt, but at just 650baht (about £13), it was almost rude not to. Being a Welsh Manchester United fan, I have no shortage of red jerseys, so I opted for the yellow third edition (and, apparently, first choice goalkeeper jersey, too). The gentleman in charge of the names and numbers section wasn’t helpful when I asked who was good, so I went for #23 CLEITON who, along with #7 RANGSAN, seemed like the popular choice among fans outside. “Top scorer” responded the man, finally coming to life, and I knew I’d made a good purchase.
With my new football shirt, I went in search of tickets and got a seat in the Fire Dragons- Tero’s nickname- Stand for the excellent value price of 80baht (£1.60 if you can’t be bothered to make your own calculation). The area around the Fire Dragons Stand was a see of red. The BEC Tero fans in their red shirts with white trim and the Muangthong fans in black and red stripes could hardly be said to be mixing, but both sets of supporters were certainly enjoying the same area without even an eyebrow raised in anger.
Queues began more than an hour before kick-off, as both home and away fans tried to get the best view in the low-rise stand. The early entrants climbed to the top and took their place on the concrete wall at the top of the stand, while I made my way towards the corner flag, away from the Tero Ultras.
The game began in frenetic fashion with the referee allowing all kinds of contact to go unpunished. When he eventually called a foul in favour of Tero’s tricky Chanathip Songkrasin, the resulting free-kick was bundled across the line by centre back Nataporn Phanrit.
Muangthong, currently managed by former Chelsea player in Slaviska Jokanovic, played a slightly more controlled brand of football than the hosts and began to take charge of the match, but the game continued at its quick pace. After several chances for both sides, half-time was upon us and Muangthong were now leading 2-1.
Both goals were scored from quick breaks down Tero’s left. The first saw the ball cut back to the edge of the box for a delicious, low strike from twenty yards by Dutchman Adnan Barakat. The second saw Teerasil Dangda played into the area and then felled as he rounded the keeper. With plenty of defenders in the box, the Tero keeper, was only booked, but Teerasil- who was to end the evening with the TPL Player of the Year trophy- hammered in for the lead and went one goal clear of Cleiton in the race to be the TPL’s top scorer.
Muangthong continued to seek to control the game and try to protect their lead and their unbeaten season. BEC Tero, though, had other ideas and really took the game to the visitors. Twenty minutes into the second half, their enterprise was rewarded when Cleiton rose high to head home Rangsan’s corner for his 24th goal of the season and take him back level with Teerasil in the scoring charts.
Suddenly the game was being played at a similar tempo to the first half, even though the draw ultimately suited both; Muangthong were looking to finish a great campaign on a high, while BEC Tero were looking to become the only team to defeat the Champions. In the final minutes, there was time for the Tero keeper to almost concede from a comical spill, and then for Cleiton to fail to connect to the low cross from Koomson, the teenage Ghanian finally beating his man and delivering a dangerous ball from the right.
The drama continued right until the end, with Muangthong’s Macedonian midfielder Mario Gjurovski reacting badly to an injury-time trip that ended his final burst towards goal. The ensuing almost-melee resulted in red cards for him and Tero captain Rangsan. When the resulting the free-kick was headed clear, the final whistle sounded. Both teams ended the day as they had begun; Bec Tero in third, and Muangthong unbeaten and Champions.
To their credit, many of the Tero fans stayed for the trophy presentation- although those who left did not go far as their singing could easily be head during lulls in the end-of-season proceedings.
It was a great evening of football for this football tourist. I hope Thai football is always this much fun, but given this was the final game of the season between two of the league’s best teams, the entertainment value surely can’t always be this high.
With the trophy presented, it was back to the MRT and back to the official duty of spending time with my wife…and Chelsea-Man Utd was on the telly, too.
HIGHS: Good atmosphere in and around the ground; cheap tickets and End of Season Sale goods
LOWS: No sign of Sven, but that was generally it on a fun night for football tourism.