No one is breathing. The thousands gathered at the 700th Anniversary Stadium today fall silent as we’re abruptly submerged into one of those magical football moments where time freezes, but a lone ball keeps moving. It glides through the air above the neatly cropped grass of the field when suddenly, shattering the silence and stillness, it collides with the nylon weaves of the goal net and sends the crowd into a fury.
Chiang Mai Football Club has drawn level with their out of town opponents, Thai Honda. The tying goal scored at the end of stoppage time in the 94th minute, evening the score at 1-1. The referee calls the game, and an outcome that looked hopeless for the home team was transformed in a single moment.
This is what I was missing. I am new to Chiang Mai, and having played football throughout my youth I am always on the lookout for a good football scene. Shortly after moving to Chiang Mai, I easily came across the English website for the Chiang Mai FC and hastily made plans to attend the next scheduled match.
Originally founded in 1999 as Chiang Mai United, the Chiang Mai Football Club was eventually restructured under new management in 2009 and has since been known as the Lanna Tigers. The Lanna Tigers compete in Thai Division 1 League, and have three championships from the Lower Regional League Northern Division to boast, winning the 2010, 2012 and 2013 titles. The Lanna tigers have managed to build a large fan base, composed of Thais and expats alike with an exceptional amount of European expat support.
For a pregame drink, I definitely suggest the Red Lion Pub, sponsors of the English Chiang Mai FC website. It has a great mixed feel of the proverbial Thai backstreet bar and an English football pub. It is an excellent place to enjoy streaming games from all over the world on TV along with a pint and a mixture of Thai and expat football fans. Our pregame conversation consisted mainly of jokes about many of the strange team names that are found throughout Thailand. There’s the Big Bang Chula, Thailand Tobacco Monopoly Customs, Bangkok Christian College, and Police United to name a few, and we entertained ourselves by hypothesising about the dynamic of the crowd during a Big Bang Chula vs. Bangkok Christian College match.
Transportation from the Red Lion Pub to the 700th Anniversary Stadium is easy and affordable with tuk tuk and songtaew drivers effortlessly corralling the football fans into their vehicles for the 20 minute drive. If you plan on drinking, absolutely take them up on the lift.
On this particular afternoon, as we drive into the impressive sports complex, fitness is the last thing on everyone’s mind.
Straight out of our taxi we are thrust into the frenzy of game time. The stadium is swamped by vendors and fans clad in navy blue jerseys taking selfies with the gigantic stadium building in the background.
Tickets, food and beverage is very reasonably priced at the stadium. Tickets to a Lanna Tigers game range from 60 to 120 baht, and beer is exceptionally cheap. Despite this, fans have still developed a hack for sneaking in their own beer. I observed that it was remarkably easy for one person to carry in an empty cooler full of ice, even if it was checked by stadium employees, while another person passed them beers through the fence to then place in the cooler.
If you want the full experience of a Lanna Tigers match, sit in the Chiang Mai FC fan section. Here the fans go wild with energy, chanting fight songs together to the beat of large marching drums, and everyone is decked out in Lanna Tigers gear. In fact, I couldn’t remember a single game I attended where the crowd was so consistently dressed in support of the team. It’s no secret, Thais are crazy about football!
The chant leader of the fan club section was adamant in keeping up our energy. Together we joined in primal choruses of chants and songs, most of them in English and simple enough to pick up quickly. One of my favourites was a take on K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag: “We are Chiang Mai! We are Chiang Mai! Go Together! Go to Champions!” we screamed together, expats and Thais alike, unified in blue and thirsting for the win.
In the 84th minute Thai Honda drove past the Chiang Mai defence and scored their first goal. The Chiang Mai FC fan club rose to their feet in defiance, our chant leader rallying us in support of the Tigers. 10 minutes later in the game, our cries paid off as the Tigers charged the goal and equalised the score. I was lost in the insanity of the fan club, their elation at the unexpected goal was electric and genuine.
If you have yet to cheer on the Lanna Tigers it is definitely worth the price of a ticket. I will never forget the unified feeling of euphoria as I screamed along with fellow Tiger fans and collectively lost our minds when the game turned around. The Lanna Tigers season runs from February to October so be on the lookout for the next home game at the 700th Anniversary Stadium.
For a schedule of upcoming matches and more, check out www.chiangmaifootballclub.com.