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.
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.
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.