Monday, September 14, 2009

Bye bye RLT

It's been unofficial for a long time so I may as well make it official: Real Life Thailand is going into semi-retirement. I will probably return and write longer articles on an occasional basis, but I don't anticipate any regular updates, unless the writing bug hits me again.

Why? It's hard to say. I've not lost my interest in Thai politics or in studying Thai society. I've not lost any of my free time (not that I had much anyway, being married and having two kids) and I've not lost interest in writing.

So what is it? I can't give a straight answer to that, I can only give a few thoughts. First, there are so many excellent bloggers on the Thai political scene, some of them blog two or three times a day and I just can't compete with that. I wish I had the drive to blog that frequently. I do like to think that some of my articles have been deeper and more reflective than the regular bloggers, though. But perhaps the real reason is that right now, my attentions are focused elsewhere. After four years of blogging on Thai politics (I had another blog before RLT) I feel that most of what I've got to say, I've already said!

After all, blogging is, essentially, a selfish thing to do. I mean 'selfish' in the sense that the typical blogger is looking to express his or her feelings and thoughts and convince others to think likewise and feels better for doing so. There are probably exceptions to this, but I think it is a fairly reliable axiom. For me, that feeling of satisfaction borne from self-expression lies elsewhere at the moment.

In my years of blogging on RLT I've enjoyed it all, and I've certainly learned a lot as I went along. Looking back at my earlier blogs - perhaps all the way up to early 2008 - I can see that I was trying too hard. I used to actually edit my blogs to make the vocabulary more specialised and difficult to read. It sometimes created unnatural writing, without fluency. But there were some surprises along the way. Some of the articles I felt were my best got little feedback. Others - often those I did quickly, with little forethought - still generate comments today.

I've never been bothered about hit rates or readership levels and I've no idea how many visitors I get. I know it must be a reasonably high number though, because I occasionally get businesses in Thailand offering me money to let them advertise. I never bothered replying to any of them.

Likewise, since one of my blogs made the front page of 'The Nation Thailand', I've had occasional offers of media work. At first it seemed exciting but once again, it's something I've lost interest in. Unless it's something I particularly enjoy discussing, I don't bother to take the interview.

I sometimes get emails asking questions or seeking advice about Thailand. Please do feel free to keep any questios coming, I'm always happy to reply.

In closing, to anyone who's taken the time to read my blog, I thank you. Please don't strike me off your blog list. I will still blog on teaching, politics and other aspects of life out here, just not so often.

I've got a new blog I'm working on that will go live soon. Anyone wanting to follow is welcome to email me.
All the best,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The evolution of Thai football

EDIT: I've corrected several of the typos in this blog, which were caused by a rubbish keyboard (and, of course, the plonker typing the blog).

I have, in the past, made some disparaging comments about Thai football and Thai footballers on this blog. It is, therefore, my duty to set the record straight.

Whenever I've been asked about Thai football, I have told friends that it is Sunday league standard and nobody goes to the games. This is the general axiom of Thai football held not only by farangs, but a good number of locals, too. Slowly though, the tide is turning.

The Thai FA (full of allegations of corruption and incompetence) set up the Thai Premier League a few years back and since then, have very slowly set about making some of the changes required to build a successful football league.

Step one was to dissolve the provincial leagues. Nobody is going to get too fanatical about a league in which you know which teams you will play every week, and with no major awards to win. One extra benefit of this is that some of the Bangkok teams have moved to other areas and given locals in large cities or provinces such as Kanchanaburi a team to follow.

Step two was to encourage teams to adopt real names. Many teams had (and some still have) ridiculous names of private teams such as 'Krung Thai Bank' and 'Chulalongkorn University'. This would be the equivalent of UK fans supporting teams with names like 'Natwest Bank' and 'Durham University'.

Actually, the Thai FA decreed that all teams must become private entities (no doubt some money was made by someone high up with this move) but the side effect was the desired one. We now have teams like 'Bangkok United' instead of 'Krung Thai Bank FC'. New team badges and strips have appeared at the same time, all helping to add to a sense of identity for players and fans.

Finally - and most importantly - money has started coming into the leagues. Massive sponsors such as Beer Chang, Yamaha, Coca Cola and many more have poured sponsorship money into the TPL. Already the befits of improved stadia and promotion are starting to show.

There are still massive steps to be taken though. Despite the rapid changes, many Thai football fans are blissfully unaware of their local team or even the league as a whole, they still have the same impression I had. Far more advertisement and coverage is required, but efforts are being made....

I saw an advertisement for Bangkok United in the Bangkok Post (where else?) and was intrigued by the idea of a Thai team carrying a proper football name. A little internet research revealed that my local team had also become a real team, with a remarkably impressive website and an incredibly popular fan site. Last weekend I went to my first game in a sold out stadium, jam packed full of fans, of which I honestly believe at least eighty percent were wearing the replica team shirts. The noise was amazing, the loudest I've heard since Southampton's days in the EPL.

The standard of football itself is not world class, Chonburi's star player is a Welshman released on a free transfer by Northwich Victoria for example, but there is a good pace to the games with moments of skill thrown in. The ticket prices for every team are ridiculously cheap, unlike the English leagues, the Thai leagues are still looking to attract fans rather than bleed them dry.

So if you're a footie fan in Thailand,google (or wiki search) for "Thai Premier League 2009", check out your local footie team and go and watch. You might not be blown away by the skill on display but you'll be impressed by the passion, devotion and friendliness of the fans and players. You'll also be doing your bit to help out a league that is trying hard to expand and improve. More people should know about Thai football.