is amongst the best things I have ever done in my extended stay in Thailand.
The History Men
Port, founded in 1967, are one of the oldest established professional football clubs in the country and, historically, one its most successful; winning the Kor and Queen’s Cup on several occasions, before the advent of the Thai Premier League in 2009, the money-men and the investment that followed, changed the landscape of Thai football forever.
Since successive Cup wins in the two major competitions in 2009 and 2010, Port has become somewhat of a yo-yo club, with only one season in the last five not involving either a race for promotion or a desperate fight against relegation. Following Port in recent years has been an exercise in either bitter disappointment or heightened exhilaration, but, finally, things could be looking up….
“I remember the Kop when it was like a bowl of maggots. It was one of the most inspiring sights of my life. The thing levitated, man. Like any gathering of people, a rave or a gig, where people react together en masse, it was spiritual.” (John Power, singer The Cast).
PAT Stadium, just a 10-minute, motorcycle taxi ride from my home, may not have the capacity, the volume or the history of Anfield, but for a Liverpool fan in exile, it’s the closest I will get. Port moved to PAT Stadium in Khlong Toei, near to their loyal fan base, in 2009, with a floodlight upgrade added in 2013. It has a capacity of 12,308 and, under the lights on the big-match night, there is no better atmosphere anywhere in Thai Football. Its biggest selling point for Farang fans is the lack of a running track, which renders watching football at many other T1 grounds such a disconnected, and often frustrating, experience.
I have to declare that one of the reasons I love going to Port is that I can stand up on the terraces. I can also jump up and down, wave my arms, hoist my Siwakorn scarf, sing, scream and shout and often go completely bonkers with my mates in Zone B. When you have up to 12,000 people doing this at the same time, and it creates an atmosphere. This atmosphere is enhanced by the fact that we virtually overhang the pitch. The opposing goalkeeper feels our uncomfortably hot breath on his neck and an opposing full-back taking a throw-in might receive a gentle, slightly mocking, pat on the back, while a hapless linesman may think twice about raising that offside flag. We can also see, even from behind the goal, what is going on. This, to me, is the complete viewing experience and goes some way to recreate those halcyon UK terrace days of mullets, obscenely short shorts and pissing in someone’s pocket.
Port is one of the few grounds in the country where you can enjoy this experience without a pair of binoculars or an astronomer’s telescope. There are others, amongst them: Bangkok Glass, Pattaya, Ubon, and, of course, the slightly more manufactured atmosphere of the splendid Chang Arena of Buriram Utd. Other clubs are catching on: Ratchaburi opened an impressive new purpose-built football stadium last season, and Chonburi and Sisaket have similar plans in the offing. With Thai attendances falling off last season, primarily due to unnecessary mid-season breaks, any measure to bring back the fans is welcome.
The Khlong Toei Army
“For a shilling, Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art … and what more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half; there you were cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swapping judgments like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life…. From ‘The Good Companions’ by JB Priestley, 1929
You cannot separate the stadium from the fans; without them, whether glitzy or run-down, it is no more than a soul-less conglomeration of concrete, plastic and steel with a patch of grass neatly laid in the middle. The fans are what bring the stadiums, the game, to life and are an integral part of the match-day experience.
On Zone B, we may not be paying in shillings (just 100 baht) but, for most of us, it is indeed a world away from our daily routine. Our Port match-day experience is a special, tribal rite, which we share with our mates on the terraces.
I stumbled upon an interesting quote about PAT Stadium, “It is rarely used to at least half full capacity, topping in 2011 at 6,916.” The author had apparently been reading the ‘official’ attendance records because many of us have enjoyed Port brimful, under the lights, the gates locked, fans clambering up the fences and floodlights, seeking any foothold they can gain, or gap through which they can peer, to get a view of the action. Buriram, with their huge, well-coordinated travelling support, have mostly been our opponents on these momentous occasions when the atmosphere has been truly, and I know it is old cliché, electrifying.
One extremely well travelled, visiting English fan, who had witnessed football at grounds, large and small, all over the world, compared it to Sao Paulo. Now, I have googled the Cicero Pompeu de Toledo Stadium of Sao Paolo, and it is nothing like PAT, so he must have been referring to the fans. Certainly, on capacity-full nights, under the lights, the mist rolling in from the canals, gazing across at the sea of orange and blue shirts massed in Zone C, tingle ripples down my spine.
Zone C is where I started my Port career. It was slightly more sedate in those days, and I felt that entrance to Zone B, the traditional ‘behind-the-goal’ position of my youth, was a rite of passage that I had yet to earn. But, I was eager to join. They looked like they were having so much fun. Eight years later and Zone B is a second home, a place where I would almost feel comfortable with a pipe and slippers, exhibiting a warm glow, like one of those candles in a jar; probably not on Buriram days though. PAT Stadium may be a little worn at the edges, it would never win the Gaudi prize for innovative architecture, but for us, it is, to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, a Cathedral of Passion.
Chainat, Ratchaburi, Saraburi, Suphanburi; with respect, not exactly names that leap from the pages of a glossy ‘Highlights of Thailand’ brochure, but they all have one thing in common: they are places I would probably never have visited had it not been for Thai Port. Whether by plane, train, bus, car or, occasionally motorbike, the Port Away Days have become stand-out moments of the season and the newly published fixture list is always eagerly scanned to seek out outstanding journeys to savour. This year, the seaside delight of Prachuap Khiri Khan is the newest to be added to the list.
Port is one of the best-followed teams in the country and their away support sometimes outnumbers, and certainly out-sings, the home fans. Accompanied by a loyal band of travelling drummers, the fans keep up a constant barrage of noise, regardless of the state of play and, on the hitherto rare occasions when we do get an away victory, celebrations spill out around the stadium, occupy the long journeys home or resound through the bars that populate the towns where we often stay. We are, in essence, lads and lasses on tour after all, and need a couple of beers to unwind. The craic is irresistible.
Our continued and loyal presence away also confirms in the eyes of the Thai fans that we mean business; we are spending money and devoting our time to following Port, whether it be to Chiang Rai or just up the road to Bangkok Glass. Some of our most ardent travelling number, which can be anything between 2 and 20, have attended every game, home and away, in a particular season. For all of us, Port has seeped into our blood, and the faithful recognise this; we have been, I believe, accepted into the Khlong Toey Army.
Away journeys can be filled with the most erudite conversations or complete garbage; I swear I was once a witness to a conversation debating which of two quadrupeds made the best pet: pigs or dogs, while our choice of songs and music to accompany our travels can be equally left-field; last season, Japanese winger’s name Gen-ki Na-ga-sa-ko was belted out to the tune of Human League’s, ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, while we rolled into Sisaket FC singing along to Rick Astley’s, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. I still couldn’t tell you why. Of course, it helps that many of us are single; one could hardly argue the case with the family that you do need to leave for Pattaya on a Friday afternoon for a match that doesn’t kick-off until 6.00 p.m. on a Sunday night.
The Present: Never Stop!
Port currently have their money-lady: Chairwoman Nualphan Lamruam, affectionately known as Madame Pang, head of sponsors Muang Thai Insurance and manager of the Thai Ladies football team. They are coached by Jadet Meelarp, the last manager in recent years, while at the helm at Chonburi, to mount a credible challenge to the juggernauts of Buriram United and Muang Thong, winning the League in 2007.
At the time of writing, after six games, Port sit 3rd, equal on points with 2nd placed Sukhothai, and three behind perennial champions Buriram. Apart from Buriram, the top five has a distinctly ‘new’ look about it, with promoted Prachuap Khiri Khan and Nakhon Ratchasima in the early pace-setters. Long may it continue.
Port fans, Thai and Farang, eagerly await the next six months of action at the PAT and on the road.
You can follow Port’s fortunes on this excellent English website, quite probably the best of its kind in the country, featuring match previews, reports, news and opinions, player interviews and fan podcasts.
Thai Port FC is located in the Khlong Toei district, just off Sunthorn Kosa Road, with easy access from Khlong Toei, Queen Sirikit and Sukhumvit MRT stations, and Asok and Phrom Pong BTS stations.