Football Experiences in Thailand
As mentioned on last week’s show I’ve just had a rather pleasant two weeks in Thailand. Like most of South east Asia it has a huge football fanbase (the sport vies for most popular along with Muay Thai boxing, a martial art that would make Simon Head quiver behind his UFC bed spread) and as such the sport is pretty prevalent in the country in the form of TV coverage, replica shirts and merchandise. But the Thai people indulge their passion for the beautiful in different ways to your average bloke in Northwich, Medway or Lancing…
We’ll start with the sweets…those lovely sweets that I brought back with me only to have them shunned by the rest of the Pubcasters. There were the referee whistlepops, horribly sweet and making a very poor whistling noise, and there were the marshmallow Man Utd players…where to start on those? Apart from the fact that they tasted like a packet of Canderel crammed into a sponge and looked rather bizarre they were quite nice. Oh, and they were made in Sidcup, so quite why the people of Ko Tao (an island of around 1,000 people) had them shipped over I’m not sure.
When you’re out and about in Thailand you’ll probably see a plethora of replica (and not always authentic) shirts. The four biggest teams in terms of fanbase are seemingly Man Utd, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona, with Chelsea also growing in popularity, but they’re by no means the be all and end all. I saw a few Arsenal shirts, a couple of Everton shirts, Inter and AC Milan and even an Ivory Coast shirt. There were no signs of Man City shirts, possibly due to the uneasy relationship (to say the least) between the much loved Thai Royal Family and former Premier (and Man City owner) Thaksin Shinawatra but more likely due to City being a tiny, tiny club…
However the most bizarre shirt I saw in Thailand however was the first thing that greeted me at Bangkok Airport…The duty free shopping at Bangkok is run by a company called “King Power”…as in the “King Power Stadium”…as in the owners of Leicester City. As such, each terminal has a few sports shops (and you’d be surprised how many there are, the shops repeat themselves with the frequency of a background from an episode of “The Flintstones”) and each one of these have what I would describe as a “Leicester City” annex. You can buy home and away shirts, leisurewear, caps, footballs, DVDs (they were showing Leicester 1-1 Birmingham on loop…) and other collected tat and, bafflingly, it didn’t seem to be selling very well. Still, somewhere in Koh Phi Phi there’s probably a little kid who idolizes Neil Danns.
Beer is one of the best things about a short holiday in Thailand (apart from, y’know, the culture and natural beauty and that…) and inevitably its almost synonymous with football. There’s three (authentically Thai) beers on the market and one of them, Leo, doesn’t seem to be so popular (which is strange as its rather palatable). In the white and brown corner you have Singha…the official beer partner (in Thailand at least) of Manchester United and Chelsea.
At the moment Chelsea players are plastered all over their cans (it makes drinking beer difficult when you have to wrap your lips around John Terry’s face) while Man Utd seem to be all over the promotional hoardings outside bars (it makes drinking beer difficult when you have Wayne Rooney gurning down at you). There was also a lovely promotional video on my flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui with Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville, Ji-Sung Park and Ryan Giggs extolling the virtues of Singha. Given that three of the four have now departed and Ryan Giggs didn’t play last night I guess we can’t blame that for the woeful performance.
In the green and gold corner you have Chang; 6.4%, can lead to hallucinations…lovely stuff. You probably know Chang as the sponsors of Everton, but surprisingly Phil Neville and Leon Osman are shunned when it comes to promotional material in favour of the Spanish heavyweights…Barcelona and Real Madrid. Funny that.
Leaving Thailand has left me torn on the globalization of football. On one hand I was delighted to be able to speak the universal language of “Manchester…Wayne Rooney!” and sample the delights of marshmallow footballers. On the other I struggled to imagine the people in this tropical paradise having any sort of connection with the people of Salford or Anfield or Fulham. Still…Leicester City, big in Thailand…maybe they’d stand a fair chance at success if they moved there.