Thailand’s… ‘World Cup’ Frenzy!

Hopefully, at least a couple of the bloggers here will be writing about HM The King’s 60th celebrations tomorrow, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about something quite completely different and that is – Thailand’s World Cup Frenzy’.

Before I go on to the football however, let me have a word about Thailand’s yellow T-Shirt craze. The government has asked that everyone show allegiance to the king and wear a yellow t-shirt from the 1-15 of this month. Will have to admit, the meaning is a good one, but it has also opened up the gates for cowboy merchants to flood the markets with low-quality over-priced ‘fake’ King emblem t-shirts!

I read just yesterday that the police have been deployed at Bangkok’s biggest clothes markets such as ‘Bo Bae’ and ‘Pratunam’ to clampdown on vendors knocking off either ‘Fake’ King emblem t-shirts (none of the profits go to the king’s charities) or just simply over-charging for yellow t-shirts. The government got so serious about this that they proclaimed that any vendor caught over-charging for yellow shirts be imprisoned for up to 7 years!

Such copyright infringement is pretty scandalous….to say the least!

Back to the World Cup, it is quite amazing how Thailand takes football so seriously, and the newspapers this week made statements that only make one wish that there was World Cup Football everyday of the year. “It is expected that there will be much less political fighting for the month of the World Cup as the politicians will be more interested discussing their favourite football teams than how to run the country!” and I’m not joking!

PM Thaksin isn’t famed for his spot-on prediction-making but I was pretty impressed by his analysis of the World Cup. On TV a couple of days back, we see the TV news cameras running up to Thaksin as he leaves a building. Looking pretty pished, thinking he was going to have to answer questions about TRT scandals he broke into a rare laugh when the reporter asked “Which team will you be supporting in the World Cup?” good old Thaksin replied “As usual I will be cheering for England, they have a fine side this year, but I can only predict they will let themselves down once again and fail at either the quarter or semi-final stages. Wayne Rooney’s foot injury doesn’t help and so I believe that once again Brazil will be the team to beat – Ronaldinho is in a class of his own!” On asked by the reporter whether he will be putting a wager on England to win the World Cup, Thaksin explained that he has never gambled on football (I mean…… does he need too!?) and advised all the viewers to do the same.

Unfortunately however, it seems that the kind logical advice of our Caretaker PM will be falling upon deaf ears as the latest survey has forecasted that Thailand will be gambling an unbelievable 14 billion Baht on the World Cup! Works out at an incredible 300 Baht a person, quite astonishing when most of the population earns an average of just 150 Baht a day. The Internet Shop I go to in the evenings has been packed out lately with young lads avidly reading on-line bookie websites and scribbling down the latest prices for their favourite teams! As for one of the local convenience shops near me house, the folks there have been doing little else but talk about wagering bets and how much they’ll be gambling on the fixtures!

It was estimated that Thailand gambled more money on the 2004 Euro Cup than that other football crazy nation…. England! What is even more amazing is that gambling in Thailand is supposed to be illegal!
Some Thais take their football so seriously that I was watching a TV program this week with a couple of guest speakers appearing, a doctor/psychologist. It was their job to explain the possibility of having a heart attack from cheering on a favourite team. They advised us viewers to not get so ‘worked-up’ if our favourite team scores a goal! “Take deep breaths and change the channel for a few minutes!” as for the possibility of my team losing, they advised “Turn off the TV, and go out for a walk or do some fitness”. Great wordsa wisdom! Didn’t realize before just what in-depth studies these kinda guys do for years on end.

I don’t know about yourselves, but where I come from ‘football’ is mostly a men’s game which most women loathe. Not in Thailand however, here the female population is almost as excited about the World Cup as the men. Tune into any women’s TV talk show at the moment and listen to the latest on ‘Who are the most handsome players?’ ‘Who is the cutest?’ ‘Who has the finest legs? Even the monks are in on the action! This week I was at the shop at the back of me school and got into conversation with one of the local monks. I was really impressed by his knowledge of football and history of England’s World Cup performances over the years – put me to shame. So for this monk anyway, chanting and meditation are out the window for the month – The World Cup is in. Then just before I left, he even told me he was thinking of putting on a couple of bets himself!

Then there are the kids, before they can even say “How are you?” they can name at least 10 World Cup football players and most of the teams. Four years back at the time of the last World Cup, I was teaching at my old High School in Bangkok – ‘Suwannaram Withayakom’. It was knock-out time and the big match of the day was England vs Brazil. ‘Darned bad luck’…. I thought, as the match was on in the afternoon Thai time, and I had a class. Nevermind! To everyone’s delight and mine their was a tanoy message from the school director at lunchtime along the lines of “Dear students and teachers, since there is an important World Cup match on this afternoon, and everyone wants to watch it – I declare the school…… closed this afternoon”

Thailand may have excellent quality; durians, pineapple and snapper fish but one thing which is certainly not labeled excellent is the state of the country’s football teams. Half the male population of Thailand can name by heart, every player in the Man United line-up, but he can not even think of a single one which plays for the Thai national side! Anyone who has watched a local match on Thai TV, will agree with me that each local match has an average attendance of around 53 people, two stray dogs and a garland vendor! But can you blame people really when they have to put off with not-so mouth-watering fixtures such as ‘Bangkok Bank vs The Thai Airforce’

I remember going to a few football matches back home when I was young. Pretty boring really, when I look back – but here in Thailand, the arrival of a famous European side to play in Bangkok is a huge frenzy! A few years back, an old teacher friend and I went to Rajamangkala Stadium to see ‘Thailand vs Real Madrid’. Knowing what to expect, we arrived early to be warmly greeted by hundreds of naughty-looking beer promotion girls wearing three-inch length skirts.

With two hours before kick-off, my friend and I took advantage of the dirt-cheap beer promotion and got ourselves half-pished before we even got through the gates. Strolling in at the last moment we got stuck over at the darned corner flag with a bunch of teenage girls and their mothers. Now, this is something you won’t get back in Europe – every time England star David Beckham came over to take a corner, the whole girlie section just screamed at the top of their voices as if he were some American Pop Star! As for me, I think I passed out for half the game – beer and sun don’t mix well!

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