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.