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While all the major European football leagues are kicking off to the usual fanfare, something is rotten in the state of Thai football. Find out why here…

The fact that old monkey head, Peter Reid, sees the role of assistant manager at Stoke City as more appealing than the head coach’s position of the Thai national team shows just how great the divide between English and Thai football remains.

Just one year into a four-year contract as head coach of the national team, Peter Reid has decided to jump the lumbering lugger of Thai football for the Premiership of England – albeit as nothing more than first mate on an unfashionable ferry.

Just as with Thailand’s fledgling democracy, football in the Kingdom is still some way behind its European counterparts – and for much the same reasons. Corruption, incompetence, egotism and the lack of a long-term vision are all obstacles to progression.

The Thai national team may be well established as the powerhouse of South-East Asian football but, with the exception of one flirtatious World Cup qualifying campaign under Peter Withe’s stewardship, this little fish has failed miserably to make so much as a ripple in the bigger pond of pan-Asian football.

To even the most casual of observers, Thai football has been screaming out for a strong domestic league for several years, yet it took threats from the Asian Football League (AFL) to prompt the formation of the Thai Premier League in 2009.

While it has been an improvement on the old Bangkok and provincial leagues, the Thai Premier League still has a long way to go before it is even strong enough to compete with the domestic leagues of Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.

A handful of teams from outside of Bangkok have been invited into the competition, but it is still far from a true national league and has thus largely failed to tap into Thais’ undoubted passion for football.

It is no surprise that the most successful teams have been the ones who have built a sense of local identity that their fans can relate to – teams such as Chonburi FC and Muang Thong United. Fans have no affinity to teams that don’t have their own stadium or even their own community. Fans have no bond to teams called Bangkok Glass, Navy Rayong, Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT) or Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA).

The Thai Premier League needs teams, games and rivalries that appeal to the fans by playing on local pride. When we see Korat Vs Udon Thani, Chiang Mai Vs Lampang or Hat Yai Vs Phuket, then we will see fans turning out in numbers to support their local team.

The recently formed Bangkok United FC is one team that has done its bit to rally local support, even taking out a series of ads in local media that included this alleged quote from Ivory Coast midfielder, Fofana Cheick Abib:

“I’ll fight for Bangkok United. I’m eager to help Bangkok United getting more success. I believe that I’m part of team more and more each match played with team fellow. And I will contribute my full ability for Bangkok United. So all Bangkok Hardcore could be happy with more victory we brought.”

It is far from clear whether the quote did actually come from the player himself or from the club’s PR team. What is beyond doubt is that, like the Thai Premier League itself, it is more comical than rousing.

Thais are truly passionate about their football, but until they have local teams that they can identify with, Stoke City will continue to be a bigger draw.

Paul Snowdon – August 30, 2009

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