The following opinion piece, conducted by the Siamerican, was initially published in the Island View column of the Phuket Gazette newspaper’s June 30-July 6, 2012 edition.
I BECAME elated with pride when my six-year-old son, who was born in Thailand, recently told me that his favorite sports teams were Krabi FC and Phuket FC.
We were having dinner at a restaurant in Phuket Town, and a few tables down from us there was a small group of young adult, Thai males who were glued to the restaurant’s TV screen.
Being broadcast live was an English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Manchester City. High-profile foreign matches like this have been broadcast regularly on Thai terrestrial TV channels for as long as I can remember.
In contrast, local sporting events are rarely broadcasted, and they are usually carried only on paid-cable channels. While I haven’t indoctrinated my son with a passion for foreign sports, as is the norm here, I have made it a point to take him to watch live local sporting events whenever I can.
My efforts are paying off. Back at the restaurant, I heard my son say, “I don’t care about Manchester United or Manchester City, because I like Krabi and Phuket.” I vividly recall the blush and embarrassment on the mens’ faces when they overheard my son’s matter-of-fact declaration.
Their passionate cheers for teams based in a place the men had probably never been to, became less and less enthusiastic as we finished our dinner. Though having home-team spirit and loyalty are relatively new concepts in Phuket and Thailand in general, things have definitely come a long way in a short time.
When I first came to Thailand a decade ago, most Thai sports enthusiast were die-hard supporters of teams such as “Liverpool”, “Man-U” and “Arsenal”. Back then, Thai fans were, and to some extent still are, heavily obsessed with sports abroad, and care little for local sports.
Nowadays, you’ll notice more and more locals sporting jerseys branded by teams such as Muang Thong United, Chonburi FC, Buriram United and of course, Phuket FC. This is largely a result of professional development initiatives that the Thai Premiere League has taken in recent years, benchmarked in 2009 with the nationwide incorporation of locality-based clubs.
And though most locals are only starting to realize and embrace their home-team spirit, I reckon it won’t be long before my son and I can enjoy our dinner watching a live Phuket match on the tube. Meanwhile, my son and I will have to be content with just the live action, resuming on July 7 at Surakul Stadium, when Phuket FC is set to host Krabi FC.