European Football and Thai Fans

Thai fans hold images of Real Madrid’s English player David Beckham as they wait for his arrival at a hotel in Bangkok, July 28, 2005. Real Madrid is scheduled to play a friendly with the Thai National team as part of their Asian tour in Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium on Friday. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

What is it with Thai people and English football? It almost borders on obsession in some cases. The twelve-year-old students in my class won’t always be able to locate Phuket or Korat on a map of Thailand. However, they can name for you a dozen or so towns and cities in the UK that have a football team. They know the names of all the players. The seating capacity of the stadiums and who is presently on top of the league tables.

When you come to Thailand, you will be asked what your favourite football team is. (Americans please note, only a small minority is interested in American football – we are talking soccer here.) If you don’t have a favourite team, just say “Man U” or “Liverpool” to make them happy. Believe me, it is a major topic here. To have any street cred, you need to have a team up your sleeve.

Whenever a major European team comes to play in Thailand, you always see big crowds at the stadium. The tickets for the Man U match a few years ago sold out within hours. When Liverpool came to town, I only managed to get some seats underneath the scoreboard. I don’t have any tickets for Real Madrid yet, but I know someone who knows someone who might have a few.

So popular are footballers like Beckham, that you will also see their images enshrined in a Thai temple (see above). When I go to watch these matches, it is always a little confusing who the Thai people are cheering for. It is like they are cheering both sides. Although the national team has had some decent games over the last few years, hardly anyone here follows a national league. There is nothing comparable to European football. On big match days the streets are deserted as everyone is at home cheering their favourite team. Ask the same people about football teams in Thailand, the chances are that they have no idea. Hardly anyone watches them. Which is a bit strange for a nation of football lovers. Something is obviously going wrong here.

9 responses to “European Football and Thai Fans

  1. I bet soccer is a pretty darn great sport but in the States, Beckham is more associated with Victoria Spice and designer fashion rather than his soccer skills. Got to admit, he is one hot guy!!

  2. ^ I beg to differ on the ‘hot guy’ part. I’ve never seen anything attractive about Beckham, but to each their own.

    But true what Richard says about European football and Thai fans. If I recall correctly, I once saw a program about Beckham and at one point it showed clips of Thailand and that there was even a shrine dedicated to him with a statue and all. I fell off my chair. It was crazy.

    Once I chatted to a Thai friend online and then her brother came on and started asking me about football, lol

  3. Thanks Jen for reminding me. I just added that picture of Beckham.

  4. Beckham is vain and a philanderer. Why a temple would have an image of him – other than as a warning how NOT to behave – is puzzling. It seems be pretty ‘unbuddhist’, no?

  5. I think I should mention that the Real Madrid visit originally included my place too, Chiang Mai. However, they just cancelled it at the last minute, citing a 2-hour flight delay in Japan.

    The city spent about 100,000 Bt. on advertising the event, which now goes wasted, according to the Deputy Major of Chiang Mai, feautred in a Nation article.

    Although I’m not a fan of the sport, so I won’t cry into my pillow, but you can imagine how Thais feel about this. Richard, your blog does a good job conveying the national craziness about Eu football that I also noticed since my early days here. Like you suggested, I usually just make up something when asked about it. Sometimes I answer them using the name of a football team of my native (European) country, just to see the bewildered look on their faces, lol.

    I think that the lost money was a huge waste though, considering the more pressing social problems that one hundred grand could have solved or at least eased. They could have just piled the cash on the city sqare and make a bonfire – at least we could’ve had an event to attend to.

    I also heard about the negative sentiment that some Thais have about the neglect of their own football talents. PM Taksin went as far as to harshly criticize one of the Thai soccer ‘stars’ for losing a game – that made headlines back then, and highlighted the sorry state of Thai football.

    Richard, good luck getting tickets, and enjoy the game if you do. 😉

  6. Ooh cool, mai pen rai na kha Richard. I see you’ve added it. I find it weird also, I would cheer on the national team just because I’m sick of EU football, lol

  7. Real Madrid was just here in Los Angeles, and boy let me tell you I haven’t seen that much traffic going to the Home Depot stadium! It was RM v.s. our very own Los Angeles Galaxy.

    From what I read/heard, RM played at about their 40% capacity and still managed to kick our butt 2-0. I guess they were just being nice to the Yanks. LOL.

    Soccer is a growing sport in the US, mainly among the kids and teens, and as weekend sport. Girls’/Women’s soccer are quite popular. As a professional sports, I believe it’s only gaining popularity because of the increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrants.

    And back to Beck, I still have yet to really see him play. But damn, he’s dreamy. 😉

  8. Huh! Where is this temple? Oh My god!… hahaha

  9. Is that *really* David Beckham in the shrine??