Absolute Thai Football

Looking Deeper into Thai Football

Month: January, 2012

Learning From Other Leagues

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As the 50 week Thai season staggers to a close it’s time to learn lessons from other world leagues. Some, like England, Spain and Germany are flourishing, whilst Italy weakens in Europe and China struggles to shake off the recent corruption scandals.

League Coefficient
The league coefficient ranks European leagues, determining how many of their clubs will enter the Champions and Europa League. Based on a country’s results over five seasons in those competitions, it’s two points for a win and one for a draw. The season’s total is then divided by the number of teams from that country. Germany are currently third, one place ahead of Italy but behind Spain and England. In Asia, the AFC decide who enters their Champions League and AFC Cup based on football competitiveness, professionalism, marketability and financial health. Two years ago Thailand’s league was placed twelfth in the East Asian section behind Singapore and Indonesia, although only Indonesia of the three countries met the AFC criteria. The chances are that Thailand has risen since then with a direct entry to the Champions League this year. A good run by league winners Buriram and runners up Chonburi would be great to see, but would paper over the cracks in the fundamentals of league oversight.

League History
In the 1950s mainly amateur German footballers left for professional leagues abroad, the national team were struggling and the 1962 defeat by Yugoslavia brought loud calls for a national, fully professional structure.
Sixteen teams were selected from the forty six regional league applicants in 1963, with the sixteen most organised and sustainable chosen. Selecting one in three clubs gave the new league more strength than the Thai model where regional, semi professional lower leagues feed into two top divisions with vast financial chasms between the haves and have nots.

Football Association Oversight
The Bundesliga is directly controlled by the Deutsche Fußball-Liga. The DFL manages marketing, finances and club licences (without which teams are relegated to the regional leagues.) To get a licence, clubs must be financially healthy and meet strict standards of organisational conduct. They must also run an academy. The Bundesliga and second Bundesliga annually spend €75m on youth programmes. Last year Germany were European champions at under 17, under 19, and under 21 level. Five thousand players aged 12-18 are educated, meaning 15% of Bundesliga players are under 23. Ten years ago it was 6%. This allows more money to be spent on expensive talent if one in 7 players cost the club little or nothing.
This year’s decision by the Thai FA to reduce the number of foreigners was made without this bedrock of universal academy systems, heightening divisions between clubs as, for some, it is a well established system and for others it is an investment they simply cannot afford.

German League Winners since the formation of the EPL in 1992: 6

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Attendances

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People often assume the EPL has the best attendances, but the Bundesliga is way ahead. Borussia Dortmund have an eye watering average home crowd of 80,365 (with the world’s biggest stand) and the league averages 45,176. Manchester United’s average is 5000 down on Dortmund and the league 9000 less. Thai attendance figures are often a work of fiction. I was stunned to read that the 2011 Thai FA Cup final was a near sellout as I looked across the acres of empty space.

Media coverage
Domestically, Sky holds pay per view rights to broadcast all first and second division matches. Only four matches: the season opener, the first match after the winter break and the relegation playoff are broadcast on free television. The Bundesliga’s television income is a fraction of the EPL’s, but it makes the mix between match day revenue, sponsorship and television rights more balanced than England. The German TV market is the most competitive. When pay TV was introduced in 1991 most houses already received 34 channels for free, so the DFL were forced to show all 612 Bundesliga and second Bundesliga games live on pay TV, carrying the production costs. Thailand’s TV coverage has expanded massively with the Truesport contract pushing it in to the mainstream and other channels such as SKTV showcasing their clubs, but someone flicking from the fare on channel 101 to 102 would see poor production values and a lack of English commentary on the latter.

Foreign players in teams
Match day squads must have no more than five non EU players with three allowed in the team, the same ratio as the TPL with non Thai players, whilst Thailand accepting one Asian non Thai in the team suggests the imminent Association of Southeast Asian Nations will approach labour in a similar way to the EU.

Players’ Wages

Despite last year’s €1.7bn turnover and €30m profit, Bundesliga clubs paid less than 50% of revenue in players’ wages. This is the continent’s lowest. In 2010 the Premier League averaged 68%, with Manchester City paying a mind melting 107%. In Thailand these figures are not available, but should be. When Khoen Khoen recently drew with former champions Muang Thong United, disgruntled MT president Rawi Lohthong revealed:

“It’s a shame because the whole salary of Khon Kaen players may be 30 times less than our players’ salary.”

And that’s as close as we get to analysing the pay structures of the different teams.

In Conclusion
The Bundesliga may be perceived as less dramatic than the English and Spanish leagues, but this week, one point separated the top four in Germany, the EPL had a gap of thirteen and it is 18 points in Spain.

A highly developed organisational structure feeding strong local players into the national team whilst creating a huge fan base buying £10 tickets, this sensible financial business model gives it a chance to overtake the Spanish league now it has four Champions League places. The Bundesliga’s rise is Serie A’s fall, which drops to three spots with its falling League Coefficient. There is much to learn here…

Beastly Fury: Passing Football Back to the Working Classes

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Simmering class tensions paralyzed progress towards a unified set of rules. In 1868 The Field complained how the FA committee “could only boast of two public school men,” but this allowed London more scope for a common code than Cambridge. Free of public school prejudices, their problem was they lacked authority. The game’s laws hadn’t developed and FA rules were largely ignored. There was no crossbar or tape, a shot of any height between the posts was a goal, touchdowns remained followed by a form of conversion and forward passing remained outlawed.
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In these muddled times, progress came from Sheffield. Instead of public schoolboys, Sheffield Football Club was formed by a provincial elite of steel men. Whilst football was struggling, most Victorians were poor, so there were plenty of people people to play. It is no coincidence that Britain’s first modern football culture outside London emerged in a city so close to the folk game’s heartlands.

Public schools, whether they acknowledged it or not, cross fertilized with the old rustic sport. Many public schoolboys had already played football in their home villages and the sport was common at middle class grammar and prep schools. It was from this mix that the game in Sheffield emerged, rather than being handed down by Old Harrovians to local peasants. The Sheffield game resembled the public school sport, but without offsides. One was later introduced requiring the attacker to have the goalkeeper between him and the goal, but this was a big moment for football.

Sheffield’s competitive advantage over London was the unquestioning acceptance of its rules by all its teams, allowing the game to evolve quickly. The use of hands died out faster here and Sheffield pioneered the use of corners, free kicks and crossbars.
By the 1860s football in Sheffield was filtering down from the social elite. Suggestions of compensation for players missing work through football injuries indicated working class involvement and hinted at professionalism.

Thomas Youdan was the marketing magician. Whilst the rich saw commoners only as pools of labour, Youdan saw a market segment. He organised Britain’s first non public school cup competition and, in 1867, 3,000 people paid to watch Hallam beat Norfolk in a rather odd final where three teams played each other in rotation to decide the winner. He understood that leisure time was something people were prepared to pay to enjoy.

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When Sheffield’s delegate trekked down to London in 1867 for the FAs AGM only six people turned up. But his fierce loyalty to the FA and his passionate letter detailing the game’s advances in Sheffield boosted the beleaguered association just when they needed it.
Rather than filtering down through the classes from public school to public park, the game flowed down from the north through satellite cities and arrived on London doorsteps in rude health. The marketing and public relations skills of northern industrialists had created a streamlined, coherent sport invigorated and progressive. Football would never look back.

Beastly Fury: Did the Public Schools Save the People’s Game?

The annual St Andrew’s Day “Field Game” was unique to Eton, made up entirely of their old boys. This was the unlikely arena for football to get a mid nineteenth century makeover after almost dying out among the “commoners”. The pitch was roughly the size of its modern equivalent, but with no markings other than flags. The goals were less than half the size of today, had no crossbar and used a smaller and lighter ball. Half a dozen players confronted each other in the centre of the field, arms locked and bent down in a scrum, or “bully.” It was brutal combat topped with an astonishingly complex offside law, which effectively outlawed passing. Instead, players had to break through their opponents’ lines into open space.

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Stoke City’s away formation raised a few eyebrows…

The basic problem with the Eton field game was the lack of goals; three were scored in a century (making even Derby County 2007 wince) although players were allowed to “shy” at goal under complex circumstances. It got more bizarre with a penalty. The ball was placed a yard from the line with the opposition packing their goal. The attackers lined up single file behind the ball and then, after a bizarre chant, gripped each other’s waists, did a war dance and then charged like battering rams towards the ball.

At the start of the nineteenth century reforming public school headmasters considered football as unfit for young gentlemen and bans were attempted. But depriving farm hands and factory workers was one thing; the aristocracy was another matter entirely. Football became accepted by the mid nineteenth century; Eton actively encouraged it from 1841 and the sport became part of an evangelical “muscular Christianity” crusade, but only as something of an outsider. The game may have only achieved a thin veneer of respectability, but at least it became a sport acceptable to the respectable classes. Football had a foothold.
In 1848 students from the top public schools met to unify football’s rules. Rose tinted glasses view the game’s evolution from this point as straightforward, but the path from the Cambridge Rules to the formation of the FA in 1863 was long and tortuous. None of the public schools showed any interest in adopting the Cambridge Code. The rules weren’t even widely used in Cambridge.
There is an assumption that public school playing fields refined this coarse game and handed it back to the working class clean and pristine to become the mass sport we know today. This is a crudely simplistic and self serving vision far from the truth.The public schools had perhaps saved football from oblivion, and provided a refuge when poor people were corralled from chapel to pub to factory, but the 1860s offered no evidence that football would take over the world. In fact the public schools were a prison that football had to escape from before it could be reborn.

Welcome to the First FA Cup Final

Serialisation
Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football
Richard Sanders

Royal Engineers v. Wanderers
Kennington Oval March 16th 1872

If you walked along Kennington Road that day, you may have noticed a small, well dressed knot of people heading for the Oval. Unless you were part of that small group you would probably have no idea that, rather than taking in a game of cricket, they were about to witness the first ever FA Cup Final.
The match itself had little impact. The papers were more concerned with Bessie the brown bear roaming Cricklewood.
Most sports pages concentrated on the upcoming Varsity boat race and The Times ignored it altogether. But in the history of the world’s greatest sport, this day was seismic.

The crowd of around two thousand were predominantly upper class. The one shilling entrance fee excluded most working class people, which suited them fine. Both teams were public school old boys. Eleven of the twenty two had been to Eton or Harrow.
Much of the game was strange to modern eyes. Both teams wore knee – length knickerbockers. The Engineers wore nightcaps, whilst many Wanderers players wore brightly coloured caps. There was a tape rather than a crossbar and no pitch markings. There was no heading and very little passing; charging was the key tactic and goalkeepers could be charged if they had the ball or not. Throw ins were taken rather like modern rugby (or Stoke City) by the first person to touch the ball after it went off and the formations… they were a sight to see. Wanderers played a 1-1-8 formation, whilst Royal Engineers opted for the more defensively minded 2-1-7. The two sides also changed ends after each goal.
Some things would be familiar to modern audiences, though. The goals and the ball were the same size as now and there was a referee of sorts, although he was only called on to pass judgement if the two umpires couldn’t agree. Although the game sometimes degenerated into a “loose scrimmage” there were no more scrums. Handling had been outlawed, other than for a goalkeeper, with an indirect free kick introduced as a penalty. Most importantly the stifling and intricate offside laws of the public schools had been relaxed. Players were now onside if they had three opponents between them and the goal.

This was a game recognisable as the sport we play today, with rules applied in a national cup final organised by a national association. It was a dramatic advance from the bickering meeting in 1848 but, as the supposedly historic founding of the FA in the Freemasons Tavern in 1863 showed, meeting and agreeing are very different things. The only real agreement in the Tavern was to separate the codes of Rugby and Football. By 1867 the ten FA members included some begging to play by different rules and the FA was ignored for its first four years.

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The Wanderers 1872 shirt. No second kit required….

Walk Before You Can Run: The Foreign Player Rule in Thailand

The recent indecision allowing clubs to register 7 foreign squad players,
5 on match day and 3 plus 1 foreign Asian on the pitch sounds like a welcome boost to young Thai players, but it is too much too soon. Comparisons to the J and K Leagues are laughable and, to suggest it aligns us with other AFC countries brings Thai football’s shortcomings into strong relief.

It is astonishing that two expensive players may sit out large parts of the season. In reality the smaller teams will employ a maximum five foreigners to cut costs whilst richer teams can afford two highly paid spectators so, as injuries or suspensions bite, big clubs wheel out mothballed foreigners whilst poor ones have to blood inexperienced young locals.

Without a properly structured countrywide academy and scouting system, who will replace the foreigners? A transition in 2013 should be allied to a requirement for all Thai clubs to develop a meaningful system. Not just lip service, but with teeth. If young players at the club are not properly nurtured in a stimulating coaching and educational environment, then you will exit the league.

The surprise automatic Champions League spot for the Thai champions sounds positive, but the TPL is not ready. Before scaling these heights it needs to show maturity and collegiality. Samut Songkran and Thai Port are staring into the abyss and franchising, referee integrity and the “third hand” of politicians need to be resolved before sitting at the Champions League top table. Two AFC qualifying places would cautiously recognise fledgling Thai progress.
We all wish Buriram PEA / United well, but Thai development will flounder if the situation in Thailand undermines their progress. Barred from fielding a politician on the bench, forced to drop one of their highly influential African players and facing a much more proactive style of refereeing, huge changes will be needed for Asian progress.

The Holy Grail for Thai football of moving from being an importing country to developing an export approach is based on preparation. Whilst his dream may never happen due to visa regulations tied to Thailand’s low FIFA rankings,national keeper Kawin has changed his diet, learnt English and bulked up in readiness for the more physical English style. Not today, but over a matter of years. Thailand must prepare to the same scale and timeframe using Leicester City as the first staging post to formulate an achievable but challenging and integrated plan.

Less foreigners mustn’t mean chasing former greats on huge wages for shirt sales. Malaysia flip flopped for years between welcoming and shunning foreigners, giving them a poor international reputation when, like this year, they return to being positive. They will allow two per team, coming at AFC parity from a different direction to Thailand. That both young leagues are not sure how to handle foreigners shows their inexperience, but time and maturity will resolve this. History shows that what grows slowly, grows strongly.

The Future’s So Bright (We Gotta Wear Shades)

New Strategic Approach from the Thai FA

Hot on the heels of the fifteen year national team plan, I am delighted to unveil a whole raft of new initiatives from the Thai Lancaster Gate showing imagination, foresight and a determination to develop Thai football to the very highest level.

OSI Outrageous Simulation Index
Measured as 90 minutes divided by the amount of outrageous dives and rounded up or down to the nearest whole number. 7 acts of simulation would return an OSI of 13. In each game this figure is awarded separately for each team.
An OSI of 45 – 90 is optimal, whereas a figure below 15 is eligible for an Golden Swan award at the end of the season.

SSI: Serial Simulation Index
Players who routinely dive will be placed on a sliding scale of simulation (available online by the end of 2015.) Each example of Serial Simulation will be weighted based on previous diving experience. For example, a player diving for the fifteenth time in the season will carry a handicap of plus 1.5 whereas a player diving for the first time will retain his 90 minutes divided by one ratio.

USI Uncoordinated Simulation Index.
If one or more players from the same team feign injury simultaneously, the OSI index will be halved for a two players combo and quartered for three. The coach is responsible for coordinating the frequency of simulation and for any “hat trick” of feigned injuries (as seen at the recent FA Cup final) the coach will allow the nearest politician to him on the bench to sit on his lap for no less than five minutes.

SRI Stretcher return index
Measured as ninety minutes divided by the number of stretcher returns.
A team that registers a returning stretcher ratio of four in 90 minutes will achieve an SRI of 22. Any player choosing to take two stretcher return trips will immediately halve the team’s SRI. An SRI optimum index of 90 will be awarded an extra three points at the end of the season which will be taken away from any team with an SRI below 30.
If a player takes a stretcher but does not return, all previous pitch returns that match will be deleted.

ICW.Imaginary Card Waving
Any player waving an imaginary card at the referee to get an opponent booked shall receive an immediate imaginary yellow accompanied by the official’s middle finger to illustrate its colour. If the player is receives a second yellow, a two fingered salute will clarify the red card.

Handshakes on Substitution
Players substituted from teams leading a match found shaking hands with the referee on his way off the pitch will have five minutes added to the game. If they attempt to shake hands with a member of the opposition, then that player shall be allowed one kick of the aforementioned player’s backside with no sanctions.

So it’s onwards to a bright new future as the J league looks on enviously at our organisation.

Serialisation. Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football

Part One: Football as Class War

Sitting in a plush Premier League VIP box, it’s difficult to imagine football as a weapon of mass social conflict between the working classes and their paymasters. In the mid nineteenth century the game became a catalyst for class war verging on anarchy and revolution. I wish I had been there…

Most games were kicks abouts on patches of wasteland, but the upper classes drew little distinction between them and the anarchic annual games. As a visiting French aristocrat gasped:

“If Englishmen call this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting.”

The Shrove Tuesday holiday was a riot disguised as a game of football. The ruling classes nervously watched rough country folk troop in from surrounding villages to play for their nearest parish. The mayor originally threw the cork stuffed horse leather ball ball from the Town Hall window to start the riot but, with increasing official disapproval, by the 1840s the previous year’s goal scorer had the dubious honour.
This was pretty much a rule free game. Players smuggling the ball through narrow, rat infested sewers whilst accepting the opportunity to settle old scores with fierce fist fights horrified the genteel onlookers (although some were not averse to joining in the mayhem.) The first side to score ( in their own goal rather than their opponents’) won the day long match.
Football was a battleground between the old rural rhythms and the strict urban mechanization of labour. The great holiday games were heavily ritualistic, mock combats rather than sport. They were meant to be anarchic as Shrove Tuesday turned social order on its head for a day; the streets surrendered to the mob. But by the early nineteenth century the increasingly religious urban middle class recoiled from “brutish and backward” football as part of a broader offensive against working class behaviour.

By the 1840s the rural practice of taking Mondays off was dying out, not yet replaced by the Saturday half holiday. The Sabbath was savagely enforced: football was being squeezed out of the working week. Not only time, but space to play was disappearing. The open fields of medieval England became owned and fenced off as communal land fell into private hands. Whilst restricting the wide ranging holiday games, it also meant less patches of wasteland for lads to play on.
The lives of working people were hemmed in by fences and hedges, by walls and factory gates, by the harsh morality and pitiless work ethic of the rising middle class and the insatiable demands of the new industrial economy. By the middle of the nineteenth century pubs were one of the few welcoming places for the poor, an irony for the moralistic and often teetotal ruling classes whose actions had corralled them in there.

By 1856 only “the occasional knot of lads” might be seen keeping up the old custom. Football was in danger of extinction.

The Glass Half Full: Fifty Years of the TPL

Celebrating the Thai Premier League’s half century, the days of arriving at empty stadiums and minimal media coverage are a fading memory. More recently, I remember when the English Premier League was all the rage. It started only four years before its Thai namesake, but it became its own worst enemy. Initially the EPL had seemingly endless television and sponsorship money, fans came in droves and the top four teams all gained entry into the lucrative Champions League. So what went wrong?

The problems started in the 2019 season. Wage bills were driven up by the four time league champions Gazprom Nottingham Forest paying huge wages to mothballed players. Bored of the annual red procession, fans started investing in, and running, their local clubs. Based on the AFC Wimbledon model from 2002, at first this trend went unnoticed, tending to be in regional, lower league teams. But by 2022 EPL clubs were spooked by empty seats that, for decades, had been filled. These homegrown clubs were also powering through the leagues on a tide of popular support, ready to challenge the status quo.

All EPL clubs were foreign owned by 2017. With no national loyalty to the league, they were attracted to the developing Brazilian economy and league. Premier Brazilian players now chose to stay and play at home, but cost a fraction of their EPL colleagues. It started as “strategic alliances” between clubs in each country, but owners were preparing to sell up in England and move to South America.

Attempting to address this the FA decided that, as the European Union had collapsed, they could restrict the number of foreign players without breaking old labour laws. Also aimed at addressing the alarming nosedive of the national team who failed to qualify for Qatar in 2022 and were unlikely to qualify for Saudi Arabia in 2026, this plan failed spectacularly. Combined with the wage cap, globalisation allowed players visa free access to any league. They simply moved to the highest bidder which was in Iran, where million dollar weekly salaries were paid in cash.

Television coverage was a double edged sword for the EPL. Initially it developed the league and pumped billions of pounds into players’ and agents’ bank accounts. But the £1.8 billion agreement with Sky way back in 2013 was judged to break cartel rules. After that, contracts were divided up between Apple, Al Jazheera and a host of Internet providers. Without a coherent single product creating a bidding war, the Premier League lost its bargaining power; the next contract didn’t break the billion pound mark and it was the start of a downward spiral.

Thai fans remain football crazy, but it’s TPL matches packing out bars and roadside stalls. The meaningless marketing exercises of English clubs playing here are mainly ignored and largely ridiculed with sparse, and dwindling, crowds of older fans. Sometimes we might see an EPL shirt, but they are mostly second generation hand me downs. How the mighty fell.

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Bed Hopping: Football Alliances

A year ago Athletico Madrid trumpeted their their “strategic alliance” with Muang Thong United. Madrid CEO Miguel, son of Jesus, Gil openly explained their need for cash to build a new stadium and how they were happy to sleep around to get it. Madrid showered love on Chicago Fire, Shangai Shenhua and six other “strategic partners.” This was clearly not a monogamous relationship for one side. So why did the Thai team agree to it?

The alliance promised player exchanges,friendly matches and mutual merchandising, but the then MT coach went off message, suggesting no Madrid player would come this way. Los Colchoneros (the mattress makers) made the bed and their lovers are expected to lie in it. A more productive connection for the creaking ex champions is their informal one with Arsenal, seeing academy players go to North London and Performance Supervisor Steve Morrow flying over here to assess academy teams.

More realistically, TOT partner English League One’s Huddersfield Town. Whilst not glamorous, their impressive Galpharn stadium houses a well run club currently in a promotion place. If Thai players can cope with the harsh northern weather, they will gain valuable experience and volunteers to leave a Yorkshire winter for Thailand won’t be hard to find. Another mutually beneficial approach is Buriram’s Road to Stardom Project, optimising King Power’s ownership of Leicester City. Last September eight members of Newin Chidchob’s academy flew over to train with the Foxes’ reserve team. This grassroots approach creates opportunities on an equal footing, but this is more difficult for small clubs who have less negotiating power and even greater needs.

The “partnership” between BEC Terro and Arsenal is a sobering one. Other than a 2006 kick around at their London Colney training ground, the Gooners have allowed the Thai team to use their kit ( forcing the Thais not to sell copies) and little else of substance. Terro join other partners in Colorado Rapids and Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai buried deep in the Arsenal website. This does not a commitment make. With the changes about to happen at Terro, let’s hope that they can renegotiate on a more even keel . At the moment they are an appendix to an Arsenal footnote.

Rather than club to club agreements, general and substantial sponsorship can benefit more teams. Chang’s seven year agreement with Everton involved David Moyes recently training Army and Suphanburi players. Singha’s high profile EPL pitchside advertising coordinates with high profile teams visiting the Kingdom. Chelsea this year, Manchester United next year and, in two years both teams playing against each other here.

Partnerships are about power. As Thai football develops its Asian and world profile, it is time to hold something back, not surrender on the first date. Sleeping with such a powerful ally might bring pleasure now but, tomorrow morning, there will be a cup of coffee where the English team used to be as soon as they get a better offer.

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