An Outbreak of Football
Watching Chonburi’s one nil defeat to Army on May 4th showcased Thai football’s shortcomings. Effectively the game only lasted for 45 minutes with officials powerless to prevent the pantomime of perpetual fake injuries and time wasting tactics. As fans we’ve become wearily accustomed to officials being manipulated and bullied through a staccato game of false stops and infrequent starts. That’s why Chonburi’s tub thumping triumph last night was such a life affirming lesson in the concept of karma.
Watching last night’s carnival of football was exciting but strangely dispiriting, highlighting the years of inaction by the custodians of our beautiful game. Both teams came into the game needing to win. For Chonburi their earlier poor away record and for Buriram their need to ramp up pressure on the leaders, Muang Thong gave us a promising background. Buriram’s early goal forced Chonburi to increase their intensity (not difficult after a semi conscious opening.) More dropped points would put a serious question mark over their title credentials, especially with upcoming AFC quarter finals, which often cause teams to drop points domestically.
Whilst the setting was ripe for success, the Japanese officials brought the promising elements into sharp relief, ensuring a football slugfest reminiscent of a classic FA Cup third round tie. The officials had clearly briefed players about simulation ( Frank Achaempong was, perhaps harshly, carded for this) and time wasting ( even when winning and in injury time, the Chonburi goalkeeper Sinthaweechai was clearly aware of the insistent eyes on him and scampered to take every goal kick.) There was no contact with officials, no surrounding the referee and very little ( if any) dissent. Obstacles to football were efficiently dismantled, revealing an occasion of rare beauty.
The officials didn’t invite a relationship with the players, or open a dialogue ( this may have been a language issue) but ruthlessly and scrupulously enforced the rules of the game. Their body language was completely neutral, neither aggressive nor passive but controlled. Referee Murakami Nobutsugu was consistently decisive and his assistants, Tajiri Tomokazu and Nagano Taku, worked seamlessly as a team. When a player went down he immediately made it clear his watch had stopped for the duration of the interruption, what he considered a fair challenge was unambiguously waved on and direct eye contact with appropriate sanctions confirmed who was boss.
If we sift through last night’s game we will find errors in marginal situations, but the players clearly understood their boundaries and, the best compliment for any group of officials, they became less noticeable as the thumping, barnstorming game wore on.
So what next? Giving high class officials only to high profile games is a short sighted false economy. Have all TPL games refereed by Japanese and Korean officials for one month, studiously observed by Thai TPL officials, then keep them here for another month whilst they observe Thai referees applying what they have learnt from their mentors. Thai officials deserve a chance to be trained and improved. This is one genie that must never be forced back into the box.