BEC Tero Sasana 2 Sisaket 1 (30/11/2011)
Sometimes you just get lucky, and this game was third time lucky for me. Originally, when I planned my trip, there were no games on this evening. Then, after booking up, Muang Thong United – Robbie Fowler et al – scheduled a home game for this date. A Thai FA Cup win however caused MTU to re-arrange this fixture and play a cup tie in Chonburi, 40 miles down the road, on this date instead.
I had planned to go to that game, but having just travelled up from Pattaya, a further 40 miles further south, I just didn’t feel up to trekking halfway back to where I’d just come from. I’d seen a bonus game in Cambodia, so missing a game this night wouldn’t be such a loss. I instead spent the afternoon having a few beers and the odd game of pool, before strolling through the city centre, to try and get a couple of pics of the old national stadium about a mile away.
Next door to the old National Stadium is the rather more modest Thephassadin Stadium, the current home of Bangkok club BEC Tero Sasana. I wasn’t wildly interested in this stadium, but as I passed I couldn’t help but notice hundreds of people milling about, and it looked like my Chonburi laziness was about to be rewarded.
Sure enough, there was a game on, an FA Cup tie v Sisaket, far enough into Thailand’s east to be nearer the Vietnamese coast than Bangkok. Rather more eye-catchingly there was also a promotion by Airline Air Asia. In a country rather less concerned with political correctness than the west, this promotion featured a group of young women in stewardess uniform styled more in keeping with the bars of the infamous Nana Plaza down the road than actually used by the airline – or if they had changed the uniform only a week after I used the airline, I’d be very disappointed.
Less welcome, to be at least, were one or two groups of guys performing choreographed dancing to music, as if rehearsing moves for a boy band. They were there the following day too, so I can only hope therefore it was some kind of punishment.
The set-up was slightly more professional than in Sriracha. They even had a proper club shop, rather than an outdoor stall selling souvenirs. No ticket office though, so again it was a case of buying a ticket from a couple of women sat at a desk. No problem with that though, especially when the posh seats here are only 100 Baht (£2).
With 45 minutes before the 6 pm kick-off I figured I had time to dash back to my hotel and get the spare camera battery I’d left on charge. After negotiating an extortionate fee from a tuk-tuk driver I embarked on what I thought would be a tight but clearly achievable return trip.
I hadn’t banked on the appalling Bangkok traffic though, and this two mile journey took a whole hour. My hopes of making the return journey directly down the main artery of Sukhamvit in just 15 minutes quickly evaporated like a puddle in the midday sun. My mood didn’t lift when I realised I’d left my recently purchased ticket in my hotel room as well. Still, at 100 Baht it is a mistake that’s not too costly.
After sheepishly buying a second ticket I dashed into the ground. Again, a rubber stamp on the wrist was the order of the day, but I ran in and looked at the scoreboard. Still 0-0. Fantastic. I then looked at the pitch and noticed that rather than midfield action, both teams were still working round cones and doing stretches. It rather explained the number of people still outside the ground when I arrived. This 6pm kick off wasn’t actually going to start until 7.
With my wrist duly stamped, I took a seat down one side of the two-sided ground. With bottles and cans banned from the ground, fans wanting drinks either brought in cups of drink, or went for a bizarre option of having a drink poured into a plastic bag. Strange enough to see normally, it got disturbingly surreal with any beer coloured beverage, looking like a hospital patient with a catheter had discharged himself in more ways than one and was at the game. The less said about the straw, the better.
I’d found myself sat in the “Fire Dragons Zone”, the area for BEC Tero Sasana’s noisiest supporters. As kick off approached, several guys at the front with megaphones and several drummers set the tone for the support. The drummers, after all, unlike their English counterparts, actually knew how to use their instruments. All stopped abruptly once the teams were out for the national anthem. A flurry of noise following that was also cut short as the players lined up around the centre circle. The name Gary Speed was whispered among a few, and such is the popularity of English football in Thailand that a minute’s silence for a player who graced the English game isn’t that surprising. When you consider that a few days later I saw live coverage of Sutton United v Notts County, in Thai, you appreciate just how closely the game is followed.
The silence was observed impeccably, then the megaphones and drums cranked into life. The Air Asia girls, ushered to front row positions next to the chant leaders and drummers, danced, clapped and wiggled their hips perfectly in time to the songs. If only the two teams could have matched the pace and rhythm.
I’ve no idea if Thai teams have the same disdain for cups as many English teams now do, but both teams looked far worse than the relegation-haunted Sriracha team I’d seen a four days earlier. BEC Tero Sasana’s main tactic seemed to be to knock the ball to a pacy right-winger, who played like he’d been chosen for his pace rather than his ability to do anything useful with that round white object in front of him. Overall it was just poor. At least those guys with the megaphones, organising the fans’ songs with their backs to the pitch, weren’t missing much. I began to think that if the game had kicked off at 6 after all, then missing 15-20 minutes would actually have been a blessing.
With the game seemingly heading for a 0-0 half-time scoreline, it looked like divine intervention would be needed to prevent that. Instead, there was an intervention that was simply divine. A speculative shot from outside the box looked no danger at all until a Sisaket defender had other ideas. Neither a block nor an attempted clearance, he decided to flick a toe at the passing ball as if trying to trip it up. This effort, more of a gesture than anything else, had the effect of lifting this torpedoing shot up into the air on a trajectory that was just perfect for lifting it both over the Sisaket keeper, yet allowing it to dip under the crossbar for the opening goal. The striker celebrated like he’d meant that all along, and I just celebrated the match coming to life.
And come to life it did. The second half was much better. Realising I was in completely the wrong section for the first half, I’d moved to the other side to the “expensive” seats. They didn’t offer a better view, unless being able to watching the skytrains pulling into National Stadium Station floats your boat, and the atmosphere was definitely down a couple of notches on this more sedate side, but at least their was slightly more leg room. The Fire Dragon’s side had been designed either for people who have no feet, or are bandy-legged enough to be able to turn their ankles 90 degrees from their body.
Other than that, and a small and currently redundant roof partially covering this stand, both stands were more or less identical. Eight rows or so of red seats lined either side of a running track. Neither end had any spectator accommodation, although a scoreboard at one end, the back of the national stadium behind one side, a sports hall behind the other, and the elevated Skytrain behind the other end did at least provide some visual relief.
The home side were in need of some relief themselves. Despite being a goal up and looking the better team, the second would not come, and Sisaket’s noisy followers, a good 250 or so, were getting louder as they sensed their team might just snatch something.
Perhaps enthusiasm got the better of them. They had too many up for a corner, and one clearance later, one burst upfield, and BEC Tero Sasana had a breakaway. It was two attackers to three defenders, but the defenders all went for the man with the ball. One pass, and the other attacker effectively had a clear run at goal. A left foot blast smashed past the keeper, and the game looked dead with 20 minutes to go.
Sisaket, and their fans, had other ideas though. Rather than getting down, this set-back seemed to make their fans louder. They didn’t sing much, but the roars of encouragement every time a white and orange shirt got forward sounded like it came from four times the number of fans there. Despite my nominal support for the home side, I began to want Sisaket to score.
And score they did. After a few close shots, a BEC Tero Sasana player left and inviting extended leg training in the box, and a wily Sisaket forward accepted the invitation to fall over it. Penalty duly converted, noisy celebrations from the Sisaket fans. Any who’d made the 8 hour bus journey would no doubt celebrate any consolation, but sadly for them consolation was all it’d be. They’d just left it too late. Such tardiness may have been in keeping with a cup round that had taken a staggering three months to complete – and they don’t even have replays – but for those Sisaket fans who been given false hope, that 8 hour trip home must have seemed even longer than usual.
Walking out of the ground, the annoying boy-band hopefuls were still there, doing their stuff, but the Air Asia girls were sadly long gone. With the Skytrain taking me back to Nana Station, checking the possibility of them working nearby did cross my mind. Hmm, perhaps not.