PTT Rayong 2 Samut Prakan City 1 (10th March 2019)
Last year I claimed, with a just about reasonable degree of plausibility, that I opted for a few days in Thailand’s “lively” resort of Pattaya as it offered the prospect of a match at either Pattaya United or PTT Rayong. Last year the gamble didn’t pay off, with neither at home, so I opted to do the same this year, as part of a three week Cambodia/Vietnam/Thailand trip.
My odds of success lengthened when I heard Pattaya United had been moved to different part of the country, but my luck was in. Not only were PTT Rayong at home, but they were at home on the Sunday, whereas a Saturday game might have made it very tight to get there after my flight in to Bangkok earlier in the afternoon.
I won’t pretend I dislike Pattaya. If nothing else, compared to most other Brits here, even at 49 I get to feel young and attractive in comparison, and you’ll never be short of a bar to go to. One other thing a tourist town has is plenty of tourist services, such as taxis, and that was the very thing I’d needed to get to Rayong (and back) on the Sunday. I booked in a small stall near my hotel, and the woman running it said the driver would be her husband. She did worrying say his English was limited to “Yes, no and OK”, which did make me wonder what exactly he thought he was answering yes, no or OK, to, but he thankfully did have a slightly better grasp of English than that. Certainly better and much more useful than my Thai vocabulary, which might stretch to 20 words at a push.
I might have felt more confident of finding a taxi back on my own had PTT Rayong’s ground actually been in Rayong, rather the in the middle of nowhere, around 12 miles north-west of the town. The location makes a little more sense when you realise PTT is a Thai equivalent of Esso or Shell, and the ground is over the road from one of their refineries, albeit incongruously hidden behind a botanical garden.
The walk to the ground from the grassed overspill car-park weaved along pathways showing you the back of buildings of unknown purpose, before the ground emerged out of the trees. A sign along the back of the stand announced “PTT Stadiums” (in English), as if they had some kind of stadium building franchise. To my knowledge, this is the only one.
Outside I was approached by a German fan asking me where the ticket office was. It turned out he lived in the area, but had never been before. Usually I have a fine talent for going all round the ground in the wrong direction before finding the ticket office, but here it was pretty much straight ahead. A ticket for 120 Baht, nearly £3 a today’s exchange rate (oh for the days of 65 Baht to the Pound when I first went 11 years ago) was purchased, which got me a seat in the main stand.
I spent about half that amount again on snacks before going in. One item was sort of fat crisps on a skewer, covered in a cheesy powder. They were edible, but if I was to say I enjoyed them, it would be a lie that even Donald Trump would be ashamed of. The other was a kind of fried fish in breadcrumbs, chopped up, and put into a paper cup. That could actually have been decent, but they poured a sauce on before giving them to me. I have no idea what that sauce was, but it was utterly foul. I took one bite and realised I’d be having no more, and also realised I’d be tasting that sauce for hours to come.
I also came close to an impulse purchase in the club shop, seeing that shirts were only £20. As much a bargain as that seemed compared to shirts here, I also realised I’d probably never wear it again, so a bit of a waste. A polo shirt, on the other hand, was probably much more like it. Sadly it had no price tag, but I also realised that I’d have to wear it over the t-shirt I was already wearing, and on a night where it was warm enough to make me sweat at even he mildest of exertions, that probably wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I made my way in.
While clearly built to a budget, there are 12,000 capacity stadiums I like less than PTT Rayong’s place. For a start, it’s fully covered, but the roofs, propped up by roof supports, give the ground a slight “old time” feel. It’s certainly no Shrewsbury/Colchester concrete box. In fact there was very little concrete anywhere. It did look slightly like it had been built from a giant Meccano set, but that just gave it character.
The pillars gave it a bit of character too, but what they didn’t give it, if you got there a bit late like I did and had to take a seat towards the back, was a great view. I did find a seat that didn’t have a pillar obstructing either goal, but it was not exactly perfect. The presence of a tv gantry, itself requiring another couple of pillars, didn’t help, but all things being equal, I was glad to be here at last. Although Pattaya United’s Nong Prue Stadium would have been a much easier venue to go to, this was my preferred ground of the two.
Had Pattaya United not moved, then this game would have had the added spice of being a local derby between the two, being a little under 30 miles apart, because today’s visitors, Samut Prakan, were indeed the club that took over from Pattaya.
Samut Prakan, about three quarters of the way from Pattaya to Bangkok, used to have their own team a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, “Super Power Samut Prakan”, as they were known, were neither super, nor a power, finishing the season with only six points, and a goal difference of -97. The team folded at the end of the season, but Pattaya United’s owners decided to move the club to Samut Prakan, for reasons best known to them.
Samut Prakan City, whose ground’s location is not much more of a city than the old team was a super power, arrived in 2nd place in the league, with PTT Rayong still searching for their first point of the season after two defeats. It quickly became clear that the visitors were not going to have the easy afternoon they might have expected. The odd early flurry aside, PTT Rayong got stronger as the half progressed, backed by enthusiastic knots of supporters at both ends.
Up front for PTT Rayong was Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, once of Arsenal, whose career had meandered and taken him to Thailand at 28. He may not have shown the skills that his early career hinted at, but at 6’3″ he was a major headache for Samut Prakan’s backline, and would have a big influence on how the game turned out.
His first big contribution was after 27 minutes. A free kick about 40 yards from goal was chipped into the area. Jay rose to meet it, nobody else had much chance, and he headed it up and back towards the goal. I could be doing him a disservice, as it did look like a flick-on, but whatever it was, it was perfect to wrong-foot the keeper and drop into the net, to give PTT Rayong their first lead, and indeed first goal, of the season. The visitors caused a few scares, but PTT deserved the half-time lead.
Deciding I’d rather not spend the second half peering through the pillars, I made my way round the corner to watch from an underpopulated end instead. The stewards who scrupulously checked tickets pre-match were now handily waving anyone through the gate without a care, and I made my way into what a banner called the “Hardcore Zone”. It was only afterwards that I realised how strange it was that every single banner was in English, in a country where English speaking (and certain reading/writing) is a long way from being universal.
There was little evidence of anything hardcore at half time, when most just sat sedately chatting and eating (if there’s one thing Thais never stop doing, it’s eating), but come the restart there were a couple of guys with megaphones getting the fans there to sing and dance away.
They had a lot more to sing and dance about in the 58th minute. Possession was conceded cheaply in the Samut Prakan half, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas picked the ball up on the right, and headed towards goal. He lumbered forward, before eventually having his progress halted by defensive numbers. This allowed him to roll the ball across the “D” of the box though, and a teammate banged in a first time shot to give the hosts a 2-0 lead they never looked like giving up.
Given that I was keen to make a quick getaway, and not be stuck in the car park, I nipped round and watched the last five minutes from the corner of the ground nearest the car park. I got there just in time to see Emmanuel-Thomas miss a good chance to put the game to bed. Within a minute the lead had been halved, when a shot from fully 25 yards beat the home keeper, to give the visitors a glimmer of hope, just going into stoppage time.
One tame effort aside though, PTT Rayong saw the game out with ease to claim their first three points of the season, to the delight of the home fans as they streamed out though the botanical gardens. I was pleased too. I wanted to see PTT Rayong win, and even if this happy ending wasn’t the sort that most foreign visitors to this part of the world seek out, it would do for me.