A Wet Wednesday Night in Chiang Mai
(aka: Going to the football in Thailand)
On Monday I found myself in the middle of a lazy week in Chiang Mai, the main city in the North of Thailand, one that is widely considered to be its cultural and religious centre (it is home to a lot of temples).
The thought came into my mind that I hadn’t watched any sport for a while, so I started searching the web for any football matches that might be on. Surprisingly, and rather conveniently, the local side – Chiang Mai FC – were due to play in the Thai League Cup against Chonburi FC on Wednesday evening.
Tentatively I suggested to my girlfriend, Caroline, the idea of attending this sporting event. She was keen.
I was immediately excited at the prospect of getting tickets, which I assumed would be a straightforward process.
I set about trying to buy tickets online, which was a fruitless task. There was no option to purchase tickets through the club’s official website, and nowhere else appeared to be offering them.
Other than a vague account of advanced tickets being sold at some 7 Eleven stores, there was very little in the way of ticketing information anywhere.
I decided it might be a good idea to just go to the stadium and buy tickets on the door.
A quick check of Wikipedia and a local fanzine site established that Chiang Mai play their home games at 700th Anniversary Stadium, which sits roughly 10km north of the city. We decided to motorbike out to the stadium to see if we could buy tickets the day before the game.
It turns out we couldn’t. The following occurred:
- We took a wrong turn and landed at an exhibition centre. The gate security said there were no football matches there, but instead we should go to the boxing tomorrow anyway.
- Back on our journey, the scooter we were riding broke down half way up route 121. After a sweaty wait by the roadside, a replacement was brought to us.
- We eventually arrived at the 700th Anniversary Stadium. There was no security. We entered, parked, had a poke around inside. Spoke with a maintenance man who seemed to suggest (in broken English) that there was no possible way we could acquire tickets for the football match tomorrow.
- We found a ticket office across the car park. Staff there kindly informed me that there were no matches there tomorrow. They suggested the game was instead to be played at the smaller Muang Chiang Mai Stadium, which was 10km away (back in the city).
- We gave up a bit.
On the day of the game, we were poodling around the city on our bike – travelling from temple to waterfall to cat cafe – when we decided to pay an impromptu visit to Muang stadium.
Outside the main entrance we were directed towards a small gazebo, where a young Thai lady was selling tickets. Actual tickets to the game that night! We had a choice of £2 tickets, for a seat in the uncovered East Stand, or £3 tickets to sit in the West Stand, which had a roof. We’d observed that it had rained heavily every evening so far, so opted for the latter.
We had 2 tickets. We were going to the game!
A short interlude to provide some background on both clubs, for context (skip this bit if you hate context):
Chiang Mai FC sit roughly mid-table in Thai League 2, the second division in the Thai Professional Football League system. They are currently in 7th place (out of 18 teams), but points-wise are closer to 14th place than there are to the teams immediately above them. So we could perhaps consider them the equivalent of last season's Derby County (who finished 9th in The Championship).
They’ve won 9 of their 21 league games this season, and their recent form (last 5 games) is WLWWL.
By contrast Chonburi FC – based near the coast south-east of Bangkok – are in Thai League 1, the top division. They currently sit 6th in their league, a few points adrift of the top clubs. We could therefore consider them to be Everton’s equivalent.
Chonburi have won 13 of their 23 league games this season, but lost the last two games on the bounce. They were due a win.
So essentially we were going to watch Derby County play an out-of-form Everton in the first round proper of the League Cup.
There was a festival atmosphere outside the stadium.
Most fans turned up on motorcycles. Traffic police manically waved and whistled at passing traffic. Speakers blasted out music. Drums were beaten. Thai streetfood was sold from stalls. Supporters drank beer in little roadside shacks. A “club shop” tent sold official home and away shirts for about £20 each (plus a free scarf).
We had a portion of noodles each, then grabbed a bucket of popcorn and some beers to take into the stadium. The whole thing cost £5.
I asked some supporters outside what they thought the result might be. “Chiang Mai, two-zero,” said one. “No, three-zero!” replied another.
I asked who their best player was and the answer was unanimous: Bruno. I Googled him: Wellington Bruno, 31, is a Brazilian attacking midfielder who has played for various clubs all over Brazil and Thailand.
We found somewhere to sit on the concrete terrace steps inside the West Stand. I chatted to a group of young Thais next to me who also declared, without hesitation, that Bruno was their best player.
I told them I supported Arsenal. They preferred Chelsea and Manchester United.
They took a group selfie with me and Caroline in the background.
The players warmed up in the pitch: passing drills, shooting drills, sprints, jumps and stretches.
Bruno wore number 10. He had a pretty slick hairdo. He looked the part.
Groups of fans with megaphones either end of the stand started to lead the singing and chanting. Two huge drums were beaten. The crowd clapped in time. To the tune of the 2010 World Cup theme Wavin’ Flag, they proudly sang: “We are Chiang Mai, We are Chiang Mai…”
The only moment of silence for the rest of the evening was after the players lined up for the national anthem and paid due homage to the Thai King.
Both teams set up in a pretty standard 4–4–2 formation. I kept my eye on Bruno, who lined up for Ching Mai as one of the front two, but he sat as the deeper striker behind Hristijan Kirovski, the big Macedonian number 9.
After some decent opening play by Chiang Mai, it was Chonburi who scored first on 15 minutes. A long ball to the left flank was knocked down tidily to the left winger – Kroekrit Thaweekarn – who cut inside and delivered an in-swinging cross with his right foot. Brazilian striker Thiago Cunha got behind the defence at the far post and toe-poked the ball past the stranded goalkeeper.
A few minutes later it started raining.
Not just normal rain. Fully tropical monsoon storm sideways rain. Thunder. Lighting. The pitch was immediately waterlogged. Fans on the front few rows of terrace all crammed backwards to the rear rows, taking shelter beneath the inadequate roof.
Players started to slip and slide all over the pitch. The ball bounced awkwardly, skimmed off the turf, stopped dead in puddles. Players couldn’t control it. Couldn’t dribbled with it. They fell over. Mis-kicks and air shots galore. For the remainder of the first half there was much calamity and very little actual cohesive football.
Twice Chonburi managed to get a runner behind the Chiang Mai defence. Twice as the player ran into the box with the ball it stopped dead in a puddle and the player slipped over.
The height of absurdity came just before half-time when a Chiang Mai player shot from the edge of the box. As the keeper dived to save it, the ball skimmed along the surface towards the bottom left corner and then abruptly came to a complete stop 2 yards in front of him. In comic fashion he sprung to his feet and gathered up the stationary ball. The crowd saw the funny side.
Bruno was inconspicuous.
The half time whistle was welcomed by all, except for the crew of six men in ponchos and straw hats who had to brave the rain in attempt to rake excess water off the pitch. It had little effect.
Chiang Mai started the second half brightly. Just five minutes in, midfielder Teerapong Deehamhae took a free kick from just outside the box on the left side. His in-swinging cross/shot curled towards the top right corner, but was miraculously punched away by Chanin Sae-ear. The crowd came alive again – drums louder than before, in one voice the excited mob sang “We are Chiang Mai, We are Chiang Mai…”
On the hour, Chiang Mai made personnel changes. Peerawis Ritsriboon came on for for Kim Hyo-Jin and took up the right wing. Kirosvski was replaced by Costa Rican striker Yendrick Ruiz (who, incidentally, is the brother Bryan Ruiz, the former Fulham striker).
The next 20 minutes saw more end-to-end calamitous nonsense. Amongst the chaos, Chonburi had several shots saved by the keeper, and Thiago was denied a second goal by a Teerachi Thampien’s great last-ditch sliding tackle. Chiang Mai had occasional joy on the counter attack, with Deehamhae pinging balls out to either flank.
After a spell of heavy pressure, Chiang Mai equalised via a header on the 76th minute. I didn’t quite see how it happened or who scored it, but the celebrations were wild. A few minutes later they added a second. A corner led to a goal mouth scramble and Ritsriboon, the substitute, was able to stab the ball home. Cue further wild celebrations and drums and confetti and high-fives.
We entered injury time and both teams made some last minute substitutions.
On the 94th minute, Chonburi were controversially awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Chiang Mai’s keeper tipped the dangerous shot over the bar, but from the resulting corner Thiago headed in the equaliser. 2–2. Hearts were broken. Extra time loomed.
In the first half of extra time, Bruno came alive. Several times he got down the left side, beat his opponent with pace or a skillful flick, or cut inside to shoot or deliver a cross. For 15 minutes he looked every bit the player described to me before the game. But ultimately it came to nothing. No real clear cut chances to speak of, and no goals.
Deehamhae continued to cover every blade of grass. Every time Chonburi attacked and the ball broke loose, he was there to collect it up. Every time Chiang Mai broke forward, he was at the centre of play. He took every set piece for his side and more often than not his delivery caused Chonburi problems at the back.
The tension mounted. A supporter in a pink shirt – who had screamed abuse at everyone throughout the entire game – continued to almost have a heart attack as he vociferously berated his players, the opposition, the referee and the linesman.
The second half of extra-time descended into a scrappy long-ball fest. Several players went down injured. They were tired. I was tired.
The only player who appeared to have anything left was Bruno. He continued to do well down the left, linking up with Ruiz to send the Costa Rican through on goal, but his placed shot sailed just wide of the far post.
Chonburi had no real chances to speak of. After 120 minutes the score remained 2-2. We were heading for penalties.
Bruno confidently stepped up first. After a horrendous, stuttering run up he ballooned his shot approximately 10 yards over the bar. Renan Marques then scored for Chonburi with a deft flick to the bottom left corner. (0–1)
Apiwat Pengprakone drilled into the bottom corner for Chiang Mai. Thaweekarn casually chipped straight down the middle for Chonburi. (1–2)
Sahara Pongsuwan’s tame shot to the bottom left was saved comfortably by Sea-ear, before giant Ivorian midfielder Fodé Diakite curled his shot around the keeper and into the top left corner. (1–3)
Refusing to buckle under pressure, Ritsriboon fired a bullet straight into the bottom right. Nurul Sriyankem made that bullet irrelevant as he coolly slid home to ensure Chonburi won the shootout 4–2.
Man of the Match: Teerapong Deehamhae
(worked hard, showed good passing ability, plenty of slide tackles and interceptions, dangerous from set pieces)
After the game Chonburi players did a victory lap of the pitch, which was roundly applauded.
It took us about 4 minutes to get out of the stadium, onto our bike and out of the car park. We both agreed that it had been a very pleasant evening and one of the most entertaining sports matches we’d ever seen.
Chonburi march on to the next round of the Thai League Cup. But first, on Saturday they face a home league game against Suphanburi.
Chiang Mai FC will look to recover when they play relegation-battlers Songkhla United on Saturday.
We rode home in traffic to our cheap guesthouse, where we went to sleep in our bed that didn’t really have any proper sheets, but did definitely contain at least 3 fleas.
Caroline had a Thai massage on Thursday.
On Friday we took the night bus back to Bangkok.
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