Mar 22 2012

Thai Premier League: What’s the deal in the North?

Published by at 1:54 am under Bars & nightlife

The Thai Premier League football season kicked off last weekend with the usual suspects installed as hot pre-season favourites: Buriram Utd (last season’s winners as Buriram PEA), Chonburi FC and Nonthaburi’s Muang Thong Utd and with no less than two North Thai teams in the line-up as well: Chiang Rai Utd and TTM Chiang Mai. Hang on… Chiang Mai? They were wallowing in the lower reaches of the second tier last time we looked — they’re rubbish — how did they get there?

Live EPL games are a huge draw for Thai bars and restaurants

Live EPL games are a huge draw for Thai bars and restaurants

Well, in fact Chiang Mai FC are still in the first division and TTM Chiang Mai are no relation to them and indeed didn’t actually exist last year. TTM, which stands for Thai Tobacco Monopoly, began playing in Samut Sakhon, moved to Phichit a couple of years ago and then upped and moved to Chiang Mai during the closed season. Each move was apparently for “political reasons” but firstly the Bangkok suburbs already have quite a few established Premier League teams such as Muang Tong, Bangkok Glass, Port, BEC Tero, Insee and so on and secondly Pichit isn’t, let’s face it, very sexy. Maybe the owners noted a lack of Premier League teams in Thailand’s second city saw a good opening?

TTM are one of the oldest Thai teams, being founded in 1963, and actually won the Thai Premier in 2005. Chiang Mai FC (formerly Chiang Mai Utd) have never won much (well, except Regional League, Northern Division in 2010), and are not great but they do have reasonable support in the city. Many Chiang Mai football fans are not happy about suddenly being presented with a new Premier League team from out of the city and would much prefer to continue to support the old Chiang Mai FC even if they are pretty awful.  (See this clip of a packed ground for a second division, third tier game against Buriram FC), although when you watch their excellent promo clip here you may agree they’d be better off moving into marketing than sticking at sport!?

Suddenly upping and moving entire teams across the country for political or business reasons is common practice in Thailand, and it certainly makes life confusing for supporters. Just in the inter-season break this year Buriram PEA merged with Buriram FC of the second division to become Buriram Utd  — this might have been done for domestic harmony, since Thai politician and PEA owner Newin’s wife happened to run Buriram FC; and Si Saket relocated to Ubon and changed their name to Isan Utd. Worse still, Songhkla based Wuachon Utd, who received their Premier League place by default after Buriram FC  didn’t take up their promotion place due to the merger with their city neighbours, now find themselves playing “home” games 1,500 km away in Buriram.

Jungle pitch - football's popular even in remote areas such as this mountain top Hmong village nr Chiang Mai

Football's popular even in areas such as this mountain top Hmong village near Chiang Mai.

It’s a shame that the Thai FA allows this sort of stuff to go on since it does make a bit of a mockery of a football championship that clearly has a lot of potential. Some of the top teams play half decent football, compete with some success in Asian football tournaments and have good support; we reckon it’s always a nice change to see a Thai wearing their home colours of Chiang Mai FC or Buriram PEA rather than the ubiquitous Man Utd or Liverpool shirts. (Check out this clip of Buriram’s very impressive travelling army, which would be the envy of certain EPL teams, or another of the awesome Muang Thong Ultras doing a worthy impression of the Anfield Kop.) Many of these teams, especially those in towns with large expat communities such as Pattaya or Chiang Mai, also count many farang fans among their supporters.

Hmong lad all dressed up in his Chelsea kit. Shame he's not wearing Chiang Mai FC colours though!

Hmong lad all dressed up in his Chelsea kit. Shame he's not wearing Chiang Mai FC colours!

Just to show we’re not biased here’s a link to Chiang Rai Utd — the Fighting Beetles — who are mid-table kind of team but who, as far as we know, got there on their own merit without merging with anyone else or suddenly relocating from Nakhon Nowhere. Lamphun and Lampang both currently play in Regional League Northern Division 2.

Chiang Rai Utd play at the Mae Fah Luang Stadium while Chiang Mai FC and TTM Chiang Mai share the 700 year old Stadium. Most matches are played on Sundays; check the relevant links above for fixtures.

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