Thai Takes

A large number of Thais, who do not have much interest in politics, back City because it is owned by a compatriot who can help Thai football.

A 50-YEAR-OLD Thai man oohed and aahed when Manchester City Football Club faced a relentless onslaught from Arsenal in last week’s English Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London.

Watching the match ‘live’ on a giant television screen at the lounge of Novotel Bangna Bangkok, Man City fan Krittidech Chaisingharn was agonising that his team’s defence was being ripped apart by the marauding Arsenal strike force.

So much passion, I thought, for a Manchester United fan (since the era of George Best and Bobby Charlton) who just recently became a Manchester City supporter.

In the 39th minute, there was temporary relief for the agonising man. His face broke into a smile when he saw Thaksin Shinawatra, the new owner of Man City, on television. “Okay, he looks happy,” he remarks.

Thaksin, the former Thai Prime Minister who was ousted in a coup last September, is the reason why Krittidech has added City to the list of football teams that he passionately supports.

“I like him as a Prime Minister. He has helped a lot of people, especially the poor. And I like his policy against drug trafficking,” explains the entrepreneur, who is also the president of the Bangkok Christian College football team, which plays in division two in the Thai League.

However, when asked if it was Abhisit Vejjajiva (Thailand’s Democrat Party leader who is Thaksin’s political rival) who had bought Man City, would he support the club, he responds: “No, I don’t like the Democrats as they’ve never done anything good for the country.”

Well, football or not, Thais are still riven by politics.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” laughed Krittidech when Man City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel saved a Robin van Persie penalty in the 65th minute. “Unbelievable,” he shouted.

It had also been unbelievable for him when rumours surfaced around May that Thaksin, the self-exiled billionaire, was buying Man City. “Nobody thought that it would happen,” he recalls.

Thaksin purchased Manchester City for 8 billion baht (RM854mil) in early July, and, in Thailand – where the most supported football clubs are Liverpool and Manchester United – support for Man City, which had been negligible, picked up.

Two months ago, a Thai signing off as Solo1 sparked off a discussion with his post titled Maew City (Thaksin’s nickname is Maew, a hill tribe living close to his Chiang Mai hometown) in, a popular Thai-language website and discussion forum.

That discussion started the ball rolling for the formation of an official Man City fan club based in Thailand. And Kriengsak Wangdulyakiti, a 40-year-old Thai working in Abu Dhabi, volunteered to contact the Manchester City Official Supporters’ Club in England to seek affiliation.

In its first week of existence the interim club’s membership grew to 200, and within a month snowballed to 1,000. One of the fan club’s rules, says Kriengsak, is its members are not allowed to talk about politics.

On Wednesday, The Bangkok Post reported that just three weeks into the new EPL season, City have become one of the most popular English clubs in Thailand.

“It seems that they have more fans in Thailand now than they had during their golden era in the early 1970s,” Wanchai Rujawongsanti wrote. “Many people I know say they have switched allegiance to Man City.”

According to Wanchai, a large number of Thais, who do not have much interest in politics, back City because it is owned by a compatriot who can help Thai football.

In the 79th minute, Krittidech punched his right palm in despair when Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas beat Schmeichel, handing the Blues a 1-0 defeat.

Ah, the agony of a football fan.

Source: The Star