Despite the oppressive conditions, there was a clear buzz in the air in anticipation of that night’s Thai League 1 game as fans from all walks of life and nations milled about outside the stadium chatting and joking. Old friends caught up with new ones, others waited in line to buy tickets. Not far away, vendors sold every food known to local and international football fans who like to snack before or during the match — including red hot chili peppers to chew on.
Sport tends to do that, bring people and nations together, and this was no different. Included among the approximately 2,500 spectators – a low number as the club had been playing inconsistent football up to that point though crowds were better earlier in the season – were a group of expats mainly from England and Australia calling themselves the Fanzines as well as local Thai supporters. Many wore Chiang Mai F.C. jerseys. As well, safely tucked away in one corner of the stadium were a group of Bangkok United supporters who had made their way to Chiang Mai to support their heroes. They were making themselves very well known by banging loudly on their drums and other musical instruments while chanting Bangkok United team songs.
“It’s a bit odd but we started going to away games when the team was in the regional league,” he said. “Since that time and now that the club has been promoted to the first division we’ve started using weekend trips to road games as a bit of an excuse to get away. Sometimes we go by air since flights are so cheap these days while other times we drive or go by bus. There are a lot of different groups who now do that.”
Hunt is such a huge supporter of the club he goes out of his way to offer those who don’t have transportation lifts to 700th Anniversary Stadium. Included among the latter was Alan Puzey, a Chiang Mai resident originally from the United Kingdom.
“It’s not the best calibre of football to be honest with you,” said Puzey. “An English League Championship (second division) team in England could handle most of these clubs quite easily. But I just enjoy watching football and coming out to the games. Not so much the road games though.”
On this night, the Chiang Mai side, affectionately known as the Lanna Tigers, exhibited a ton of heart and effort en route to a hard earned 1-1 draw against a very strong Bangkok United side. The visitors took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Nelson Bonilla at the 17 minute mark but two minutes later centre forward Eliandro punched in the tying goal for the home side. The São Paulo Brazil native would go on to have a tremendous match, showing several signs of brilliance.
Many knowledgeable fans such as Richard Keyworth who founded the Fanzine page on Facebook which provides all kinds of interesting information about the team while giving others the chance to express their feelings about the squad, were impressed with the home side’s effort.
“That was probably the best I’ve seen them play all season,” said Keyworth. “It was nice to see them bounce back like that.”
If ever a draw could be called a moral victory, this had to be the case in a match many described as one of the most exciting of the current campaign.
It wasn’t so much the final score that had to leave Tigers manager Carlos Parreira encouraged but the way his troops performed.
They came out of the box with lunch pails in hand. Equipped with a solid work ethic entrenched in their approach, they played with purpose from the minute the game started, never letting up, giving the spectators on hand reason to believe they meant business.
Despite the strong effort, Tigers head coach Carlos Eduardo Parreira, a Brazilian native whose uncle, Carlos Alberto Parreira, managed Brazil to a World Cup victory in 1994, putting together a long and legendary career in the process while coaching at the national level all over the world including South Africa, warned that the team is still very much a work in progress.
“Our first target is really to survive in the T 1 league,” said Parreira, “But if we can do even better and finish in the top 10 that would be great. Anything better would be a bonus.
“I was satisfied with 60 percent of the game tonight but the 40 per cent that was lost stopped us from getting three points. But we finally got one point. Everyone helped each other manage the game well, even though we were hit first. It was a difficult game. Our guys invested a lot,” he added.
Parreira admitted trying to implement some changes in his team’s style of play during the first few games of the season in order to improve its performance. Now he admits that was a mistake.
“People told me so and they were right,” he added. “We must come back to the way we played last year when we gained promotion. That is back to basics. That is the best way for us to play for the rest of the season.”
“Nobody has told me I was right to use it,” he said. “In fact, most have said I was crazy. But when they saw the big clubs like Chelsea using it they changed their minds. It’s a formation you can use many variations of and we will continue to stick to.”
One of the players Parreira will lean on heavily for the remainder of the season to help with that formation will be Tigers midfielder Mustafa Azadzoy, who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan but grew up in Germany. The Afghan international, who also enjoyed a fine match against Bangkok United, said he has enjoyed his time in Chiang Mai and hopes to help the club continue to grow and improve.
““But everyone has to be a little patient for the time being,” he said. “This is our first year in the Thai League 1 and as a team we need to adapt to this level. We hope to continue improving as the season progresses.
“I had the chance to play two years ago in the Thai League 2 for Chainat and helped them get promoted. So I decided to come to Chiang Mai to help this team achieve the same and thankfully we did. So far it’s been fantastic. I heard a lot about this city and the fans and how wonderful both were and all reports were right. I’m looking forward to helping the team remain in T-1 and hopefully grow stronger in the future.”
While putting the best squad on the field and playing a winning brand of football for its supporters is of utmost importance to Parreira, there have been – and continues to be – serious obstacles for him and his players to overcome. Nothing more important than the breaking news when this article went to press that the Tigers will have to find a new home to play in beginning in June.
That’s because 700 Anniversary Stadium will be closed for an extended period of time for renovations in preparation for the upcoming U-23 Asian Cup in January, 2020. As of this writing, the two options being considered were for the Tigers to actually play home games in Chiang Rai – a somewhat puzzling solution since these would really be road games – or find another new home here in Chiang Mai.
It could prove to be a huge obstacle and gargantuan challenge for the club to overcome, particularly in the hope of keeping what has been an increasing fan base still interested in a team that will not have a permanent place to call home for the foreseeable future.
Another big challenge includes one very distinct to Chiang Mai. That would be trying to figure out how to handle the pesky and downright dangerous pollution issue that takes its grip on Chiang Mai every March and April and threatens to be a yearly occurrence. It’s caused games to be postponed and practises to be cancelled not exactly a situation any manager or club relishes.
“The only way I’ve dealt with that was to take it one day at a time,” said Parreira. “We waited for the news each day and for things to change for the better. Luckily our practice facility is about 30 minutes out of Chiang Mai next to a golf course, so the air is slightly better and we’re protected by trees. But I asked the players to wear masks before and after practice and most did so.”
For more information and schedule updates on Chiang Mai F.C. go to chiangmai f.c. english fanzine on Facebook.