Chonburi 1 Sisaket 2 (24th Feb 2018)
There aren’t many people who’ve opted to spend a few days in the Thai sin capital of Pattaya because it offers the chance to see a bit of football. Or at least if they have, they’ve no doubt found their reasoning fall on disbelieving ears.
But that, believe it or not (and I suspect many may not), is a large part of my reasoning for opting for a few days in this “lively resort town”, a couple of hours drive south of Bangkok. I did actually plan to go to Pattaya B v Army B in the Thai 4th Division as well, but thought that a little obscure, even for me (and it ended 0-0, so dodged a bullet there). I’d booked up before the fixtures came out, and was hoping for a Pattaya United home game, or failing that, a match at PTT Rayong down the road, who have a good ground. Sadly Pattaya United were away, and PTT not playing at all, due to the 2nd division having an odd number of teams this year.
This left Chonburi FC, about an hour north by car, as my only real footballing option of my trip (the league in Vietnam started later than I’d hoped, so no games there).
On a previous trip to Pattaya I’d stayed just off Walking Street, on a sidestreet delightfully called “Soi BJ” (ironically, probably one of the few streets in the area where you couldn’t get one), where music bars would have live bands playing until about 3 am. This time I stayed well away from there, but even then, you could close your eyes and throw a tennis ball in any direction, and you’d do well to not hit a bar.
True, I could have stayed in Chonburi itself, but I saw enough of Chonburi on the taxi ride there to realise basing myself in Pattaya wasn’t a mistake, except perhaps for my eternal soul.
Not the Chonburi was an ugly town, any more so than any other Thai town where development permission is probably granted via brown envelopes full of cash instead of via a planning committee.
With my taxi driver agreeing to wait in the car park of a 7-Eleven until after the game, I was free to explore the environs around Chonburi Stadium. Behind one end, next to the 7-Eleven, was a mainly empty bar-cum-cafe. In classic Thai style, it had many white plastic chairs, and very few walls, and on this day, very few customers. Cars, surprisingly, rather than motorbikes, lined the roads around the ground.
As so often happens, when presented with a whole ground to walk round, I manage to instinctively take the longest route to the ticket office. This wasn’t so bad as it happens. Behind the other end is a small lake, with outbuildings jutting into it like piers. Rather than the antagonism you often get when fans in England cross paths, here people mixed calmly, eating the food outside, and that most Thai of things, drinking drinks that had been poured directly into small polythene bags.
Opting for the luxury of the main stand’s top tier, I prepared to splash out on the top-whack tickets, with 200 Baht being the equivalent of a little over £4. Buying them was a little more problematic. Being considerably off the tourist trail, spoken English was certainly less common than I was used to, and the girl behind the counter said her English was “nid noi” (a little). Nid noi or not, it would be better than my Thai, where the words and phrases I know would not allow any kind of conversation beyond a very weird one. Even pointing was failing though, but luckily they guy behind me was able to relay my ticket choices to the girl, and that top ticket was mine.
Upon entering, my ticket stub was torn off, and a blue inky stamp was placed on the back of my hand, like it was also a school disco. With the heat & humidity, and my pores going into overdrive in response, the stamp didn’t stay legible for long. I was waved past the security check, but that didn’t surprise me after seeing the security check for the Bangkok Metro, where people were smilingly welcomed through the airport style metal detectors without let or hindrance, despite nearly everyone lighting them up like a Christmas tree as they went through.
The stamp was because even though this was a modern ground, it had nothing in the way of facilities inside. Everything was outside. The ground was surprisingly only eight years old, despite looking like it was based on a 1960s design, with stands placed around a running track. It also held only 9000 people, despite looking a lot larger. Only 3785, including a few hundred from Sukhothai, would be here for this game though, so the low capacity wouldn’t be a problem.
What would be a bit of a problem, but not for me, would be the open ends. A crack of thunder before kick off had been a warning, but the very dark clouds rolling in from the east made those who opted for the ends consider the wisdom of their decision rather quickly. The away fans had no choice, but the home fans on the “Curve of Shark” (Chonburi FC are known as the sharks) were down to the die-hards. The result was that it wouldn’t go down as the most vibrant and intimidating home end I’ve ever encountered.
Most home fans seemed to be in the covered stand opposite, and did their bit to make a bit of noise, although the Sukhothai fans definitely won the singing battle, tucked away in their corner. In the corner at the other end of the main stand was a small circular pagoda. For a club with loose links to Everton, the pagoda is practically their equivalent of St. Luke’s Church, which pokes its way into Goodison.
The season was only into its third week, but this fixture pitted a Chonburi side who’d only taken a point from their opening games against a Sukhothai side who’d won both of theirs.
What followed was a good lively game. Some of the quality didn’t match the enthusiasm, with many an overelaboration ending a promising move, but it was a game that really ought to have had more than the three goals it produced.
Chonburi had a lot of the ball, and looked a constant threat, but lacked the killer ball. Sukhothai, on the other hand, were happy to soak up pressure, and attack on the break. It was one such break that led to the opening goal. A through ball played in a Sukhothai attacker on the right. A Chonburi defender made was I can only describe as a “spirited lunge” to try to win the ball, but went clean through the attacker for a clear penalty.
I say “clear”, but at the time I had no idea, as a couple of people decided at that very moment to switch seats and stood up, completely blocking my view. I only know what it was for after finding the highlights of youtube from a Thai sport channel, yet again enjoying the “different” Thai commentary style, where the inflection in their speech makes it sound like they are covering every attack while desperate to go to the toilet.
The penalty was tucked away by Sukhothai’s El Salvadorian attacker Nelson Bonilla, greeted with a ticker-tape celebration from the travelling fans. The home fans banged the odd drum and sang the odd chant of support in response, but even this early in the season, there was either a hint of resignation in the air, or Chonburi fans are about as laid back as they come.
Chonburi did respond well though, putting on a lot of pressure, but always struggling to get a decent shot away. It was a bit out of the blue then, when just before halftime, a shot from the corner of the area was curled beyond the Sukhothai keeper into the far top corner. On the balance of play, it was deserved.
The second half was along a similar theme, with Chonburi pressing, but Sukhothai just looking like there was just something more dangerous when they went forward. They been “professional” in other ways too, going down under the meekest of touches all game, but it did prove to be their skill on the break that won them the game.
A break down the right saw the Chonburi defense exposed, and a cross was played in towards the back post where Bonilla was again lurking. Luckily for him, the nearest Chonburi defender gave him the sort of wide berth normally reserved for spotting a Big Issue seller ahead, and he had a completely free header to win the game, tucking it past the keeper with ease.
There were still 20 minutes left, but Chonburi’s attacks were becoming a little desperate, and if I’d had to bet on another goal, I’d have put it on a clincher for Sukhothai. As it happens it was Chonburi who came closest, putting a free kick onto the crossbar, but Sukhothai rolled on to make it three wins out of three, while Chonburi would have to wait until the following weekend for their first win of the season.
One fan stood in the pagoda, contemplating the defeat along with other more spiritual matters, while I walked back to my waiting taxi and turned my thoughts to finding somewhere to go for a beer or three when I got back. Based just around the corner from a place called LK Metro, believe me, it wouldn’t be a difficult challenge.
(Drink in a bag pic from https://inquiringchef.com/drinks-in-a-bag/)