Thai Football’s Brief Chance to Reboot This Fraying Season.
Sunday sees yet another tempestuous EPL season draw to a close. Even when most teams outside the top four could be in holiday mode, last weekend Norwich fought back to draw at Arsenal and comfortably placed West Brom came from two nil down to draw away at Bolton. Looking at the money the players earn, a cynical eye suggests that’s what they’re paid for. I was offered the company of, eh , Vincent Kompany for two days of self promotion next month. All I had to do was stump up $150,000 ( that’s American, not Zimbabwean ) and he would press flesh and kiss babies. But the child in men places the chance to meet the City colossus above money.
When the light blue streamers seep into the cold Manchester rain of a dank Manc Monday morning and fuzzy headed city fans reflect on their team’s first title since Fred Flintstone was a lad, at least they have the Euros to tub thump over before the usual masochistic press fuelled self destruction. I love my summer visits to England after a major tournament. It’s the perfect time to stock up on national flags and paraphernalia to be found two steps down from the bargain bin. After the last Euros, my local sports shop put England flags outside the store, away from security cameras and staff. Even passing pickpockets walked on and shamefaced teenage staff at the end of each shift scooped up the last things I’ve seen on sale for two pence. And seemly overpriced.
Next week is the key time in Thailand to scoop up match starved fans still resonating from the heavy vibrations of the English game. Make May 19th the TPL showcase. Put the Buriram and Chonburi game on Truesport 1 and have both Thai and English commentary. Before the game, get The TPL anchorman Tang Mo to use his perfect English to film a prematch show in the style of Football Focus. Both these teams are honest, but bring in Japanese officials with a zero nonsense policy. Before the game, players from both sides need to be told in no uncertain terms that the English speaking football world is watching and their actions reflect on everybody.
In the week leading up to the match, the game needs to be promoted like a cup final to the widest possible Thai and English media. All the ingredients of a successful event are already in place, with an excellent stadium that will be full, two teams out to play attractive football and plenty at stake with one team determined to end a poor run of away form and the other just happy to get a game. Part of the media campaign needs to offer match day experiences to new fans at clubs that struggle for support. Match day packages or season tickets at TOT, Terro or Thai Port would be well received by both parties and help to create a successful viral marketing campaign.
Like pumping up a tyre with a hole in, every game after the nineteenth must be played, officiated and reported on as if it was the Buriram and Chonburi showcase. The cliche of being as strong as your weakest link was rarely more appropriate. FAT can Never Change Fixtures. Foreign fans will not hang around to wait for final indecisions. Referees must be the only ones who stop games for supposed injuries, they must never be touched and stretchers are for the sole use of the injured.
But, whilst there are huge challenges to create a product attractive to a western market, there are also highly impressive selling points to trumpet. The family friendly atmosphere which, even when soaked in litres of beer, continues to be a cacophonous carnival. Foreign fans, particularly in regional clubs, are made extremely welcome and, as they clutch a one pound ticket and an eighty pence beer, they must be reminded of the fifty pounds they would have been separated from for the same items in England. Promote the half time rituals of swapping gifts with opposition fans, the constant singing at most games and the wonderfully phlegmatic post match response by Thai fans to a victory, draw or loss.
If the FAT were fit they would make this the number one priority this morning. Attendances and interest have plateaued, whilst national team rankings are plummeting under their charge. There are thousands of latent fans out there, both Thai and foreign, that just need a little nudge to sample Thai football. The FAT challenge when dealing with new foreign fans, as Rory Breaker so eloquently put it in, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” is:
If the milk turns out to be sour, I ain’t the kinda pussy to drink it.