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How Thailand could teach England a thing or two about football

February 26, 2011 - Travel Wire Asia

by James Goyder

I just got back from the Thai Premier League game between Bangkok Glass and Muangthong United. The football was nondescript, the game finished 0-0. The stadium was unremarkable, an entire side of the pitch was missing  a stand. The atmosphere though was absolutely phenomenal.

At one end were the home fans, stacked in a stand which is three tiers high, at the opposite end were the travelling Muangthong United fans and the two opposing sets of supporters did not stop singing for the entire 90 minutes. Then, when a game which had been conspicuosly lacking in action came to a disappointing conclusion, they remained in the stadium for an additional 10 minutes purely to participate in a singing competition.

Having been brought up attending games in the increasingly sterile atmosphere of the English Premier League this was an absolute joy to behold. Me and my Dad had always made a point of making plenty of noise at Arsenal games but as ticket prices got higher the people joining in became fewer and further between, gradually replaced by a new breed of fan who resented anyone standing up or singing or doing anything to encroach on their expensively acquired view of the game.

In English football this is the reality of the 21st century. Sold out stadiums full of people who are only able to afford the exorbitant ticket prices because either the company is paying or they are rapidly approaching retirement and have some savings to spend.

As the ticket prices rise so the football clubs revenue rises accordingly and the standard of football on offer in England is higher than historically it has ever been. Thai football simply cannot compete with that and if you are only interested in seeing household names play high quality football than I suggest you try and find a thousand pounds with which to buy a season ticket at an English club.

If, however, you like your football with a little bit of passion and don’t feel entirely comfortable sitting in silence in vast soulless stadiums then I cannot recommend the Thai Premier League highly enough.

A season ticket with one of the top teams in Thailand generally costs no more than 2,000 baht (about GBP40), less than the cost of a single ticket to a top tier game in England. You can drink beer in the stadium, meaning that you are free to buy and consume alcohol at any point during the match, as opposed to the English Premier league where you are effectively given a 15 minute window of opportunity at half time to buy an overpriced drink which you are not even allowed to take to your seat.

For me what really makes the experience of watching a football game in the Thai Premier League superior to that of going to a game in the English Premier League is the atmosphere. Despite, or perhaps because of, the affordability which makes football in Thailand accessible to almost anyone the crowds can often put on a better show than the players.

Whereas in England people will sit with their arms folded wondering why they aren’t witnessing the winning performance they feel their £100 ticket entitles them to, in Thailand the crowds are much more inclined to make their own entertainment.

I never cease to wonder at the people who will leave closely contested matches well before the final whistle in an attempt to beat the crowds. If someone is more concerned with a smooth journey home than the outcome of the match why bother going to so much time and expense to attend in the first place?

Admittedly this is less of an issue when a stadium contains 10,000 people rather than 50,000 but at the end of tonight’s match between Bangkok Glass and Muangthong United the majority of the supporters remained in the ground for a good ten minutes after the final whistle, firstly to applaud both sets of teams off the pitch and secondly to engage in a back and forth singing contest.

This sort of thing simply does not happen in the English Premier League these days, barring a few pockets of enterprising away supporters. The last league game I attended before today was at the Emirates at Christmas time when Arsenal beat Chelsea 3-1. It was one of the most important wins that 60,000 capacity stadium has ever witnessed  but The Bangkok Glass supporters today carried on singing inside the stadium following their goalless draw long after every single Arsenal fan at that Chelsea game would have gone home.

The cheapest season ticket at Arsenal costs £893, but there is already a 40,000 long waiting list. The cheapest season ticket at Bangkok Glass costs 1,400 Baht and they are in sale in the club shop today. That’s why I love Thai football.

www.twitter.com/jamesgoyder

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