Omnishambles: Exclusive Access to The Thai FA
Like Charlie Bucket clutching his golden ticket, I found myself standing outside Worawi Wonka’s Dream Factory on a balmy Tuesday morning, waiting to see his secretive Umpa Lumpas create their special brand of sweet FA.
I arrived unfashionably on time at their office inside the Supalachasai Stadium. The first impression was not positive. Finding somewhere to sit amongst the riot of oversized boxes spewing packages of fading pennants, superseded kits and general football flotsam and jetsam was the biggest challenge. The entire FA Committee could have been waiting to greet me, hidden somewhere within this cardboard maze. If a casual visitor didn’t know better, they might think the place was a disorganized mess.
Having only one day to spend at the home of Thai football, I determined to have a clear agenda and set of questions to navigate how a league which, only a short time ago, was a footnote in an afterthought had burgeoned to a multi million dollar enterprise. But first I had to wait. And wait…
In danger of becoming another remaindered football artifact in the Thai Elephants’ graveyard, I heard signs of life up a narrow set of cluttered stairs and went to investigate. Squeezing past more football detritus, I found two women in a small office Charles Dickens would have licked his lips to describe. Little did I know then, but I was entering the nerve centre of the organisation, where an exhausted looking laminating machine, a floor strewn with long forgotten papers and an air of perpetual crisis was flanked by two empty offices that occasionally contained their bosses. The women displayed the pallid complexions of a snooker addict in this windowless arena, as worrying thoughts of Narnia and purgatory began to coalesce. If only I’d laid a trail of breadcrumbs on my way up. Kind and friendly, it was clear the women were trained with the old US military approach to homosexuality. You don’t ask and we won’t tell. Whilst they were clearly pleased to see another human, they couldn’t help me find answers to my questions. I offered to take a seat in their bosses’ office as I waited for the hour after my appointment to arrive, but they exchanged glances suggesting they really didn’t relish hefting my heavy frame back down the stairs in a state of starvation induced decomposition.
For a Westerner faced with a meeting that was prepared for, agreed and confirmed, it induces rising frustration leading to anger and a determination to make someone pay for your wasted time and effort. The process starts with phone calls. First to the numbers you were given then, when they remain unanswered, to friends for counseling that this is in fact the date you thought, the time you planned for and the planet you inhabit. Step two is the need to stand. For some reason it seems to lend weight to your argument and illustrate how you have other things to do but, in reality, it only adds to your powerlessness. If you were really that busy you wouldn’t have wasted your time coming here in the first place. You know it: and so do they. Cowed into submission, you sit back down, but in a more agitated state betrayed by rattling fingers and shallow breaths. Checking your phone for nonexistent messages adds to the gathering gloom whilst gripping your left wrist with your right hand whilst meaningfully checking the time for the third time that minute simply hammers the nails further in. Leaving now seems logical but, like the tardy but stylish arrival of Wilson Picket in The Commitments, you could miss by seconds the chance to be invited into the FA Family. Fighting is pointless when there’s no one to fight against. Quizzing the women who sit by long extinct phones is like kicking the cat; a momentarily enjoyable release of frustrations followed by a deep sense of remorse. So the noose tightens.
After another thirty minutes a blazer wearing a man arrives and this is clearly someone in authority, as the women greet him with respect and aim to hide their surprise. As he sees me stewing in the corner a tiny flicker of remembrance flashes across his eyes and he half heartedly moved to check his watch. Instead he checks himself knowing that it, like mine, is set to the correct time. Shifting gears to the empty eyed glare of a politician, he gauges my mood with a confident smile but, seeing the dark thoughts building in my seething brain, averts his eyes like a collared shoplifter and scuttles into his office attending to Vital Business. I am asked to wait in the other free room to prepare for my meeting, a tactic aimed to suggest progress but, having fallen for this before, the flight instinct builds. Against my better nature I let myself be herded into a different void with the sop of sweet coffee.
Noticing they shut the door behind me, my senses become alert to movement outside my new waiting room, but passing time cows me into frustrated impotence. Dulled by tedium and buoyed by caffeine, my ears latch onto a strange ruffling of the papers littering the office floor and, I am am sure, I briefly spot the top of a Brylcreemed head at the height of a man on all fours heading towards the door. I cannot dramatically spring open my door to challenge this and make him lose face in fear of losing my press accreditation. Instead it is I who, after a suitable time elapses for a man to descend a set of stairs on all fours, must heartily apologise for getting the wrong day, thank them for their coffee and, pocketing a futile pennant celebrating the “Thai Wordl Cup Bid 2030,” return blinking to a world that makes a little more sense. One day I will learn, but clearly not during this one.