Busy, busy, busy pretty much sums up how I’ve been since my last post. But that’s no excuse! Time to get back on the horse and fill you in on all of the Thai-ny (get it?) details of my life that you so desperately crave. At least I keep telling myself that someone is reading this. So grab some popcorn and strap in because it’s going to be a long one.
Note: I will be referring to soccer as football in this post. Get over it my American friends.
Anyways, for those who don’t know, I have an undying passion for the game of football and crave to play it no matter where I am. So I packed my boots for Thailand and I can happily say that they have been used far more than I could have ever imagined. From the first week I arrived in Bangkok I was playing alongside the locals in 5v5 pick-up games on a tiny turf field at a place called Goal Fever just a couple of sois (what they call side roads in Thailand) down from my hotel. I did this for a couple of nights during my time in Bangkok but eventually it was time to move to Sukhothai and I would have to begin my search for a place to play all over again.
While researching Sukhothai I couldn’t really find any information regarding a place to play (or anything else about the city for that matter). The town has a professional football team, Sukhothai FC, so I knew there had to be some locals who enjoyed kicking it around on the pitch but where would I find them. Within a week of being here I stumbled upon a football-Godsend in a guy named Churchill. Churchill is an African from Cameroon and I noticed him one night while walking into a 7/11 wearing a Real Madrid jersey and I thought, “What the heck, let me ask this guy if he knows of a place to play.” So I queried if he played football and if so where. Luckily he spoke English (an English teacher also) and I was back on the pitch just a week later.
One thing you need to know about Thais and playing goalkeeper… they don’t. In pick-up, it’s rare that a Thai person will enjoy spending time between the posts much less play there for an entire game so when I come strutting up with my cheap goalkeeper gloves bought not 30 minutes before I was welcomed with open arms. I played for about an hour and a half with 4 teams of 7v7 going at 15 minute intervals before rotating and I boastfully say I played pretty well. Thing is the team I was paired with included Churchill and other members who called this field their home turf. The club’s name is Premsuk FC (don’t ask me the details behind the name because I have no idea). Once finished, I paid my 50 baht ($1.49) field rental fee and then Churchill came and mentioned they’d like me to play with them in a tournament a couple of weeks away. Thinking it wouldn’t be that big of a deal I agreed.
The weekend of the tournament arrived and I traveled with other members of my team to a temple area in the Uttaradit Province. We pulled in and there were two small-side pitches lined in the field just in front of a temple with 100s of Thai people watching. This was much bigger than I had anticipated. In total their were 32 teams in the tournament. Our manager started handing out jerseys with our names and numbers on the back, a nice surprise, and told us to start warming up as we played in about 10 minutes (translated from Churchill of course). Oh yeah, I don’t even want to get into the difficulties of being a goalkeeper, the most vocal position on the pitch, and not being able to communicate with my back line. That ish is frustrating. But I do know right, left and behind (“qua”, “si”, and “lung” respectively) so that helps a little bit.
But things aren’t all massages and mangos for foreigners in Thailand. Discrimination exists on all levels. Churchill and I were the only foreigners in the entire tournament so we were definitely the center of attention. We won the first game after we scored our third goal to make it a 3-0 final. The game was cut short because even in football Thais are all about saving face. The team we beat, though, had driven around to the tree where we were hiding from the sun just so they could take picture with Churchill and me. Not the rest of our team, just the wide eyed foreigners with pitch black and pasty white skin. This was pretty nice and I was happy to take one with them. So there was one of the perks, now comes the negative.
We played a total of 4 games until we were knocked out and during the first 3 I hadn’t allowed a single goal so I’d say it’s a pretty successful day so far. In the semi-finals the first ball of the day to get by me was a deflection. The shot was taken and I slid to the side to cover it when it took a bounce off of my own player into the net. That’s when the announcer (oh yeah, there was a freaking announcer) started to go off on one of those football rants after someone scores a goal and I heard my name. It was then said a second time. Even though I can’t understand Thai I do know my own name and I can still tell by the tone of someone’s voice that shade is being thrown. Rather than give him the satisfaction of acknowledging it I continued to play. We lost the game 2-1 and afterwards Churchill told me what he was saying. Apparently I was called a “pig” and ridiculed by the announcer as if he didn’t know there was a deflection. Not only was I targeted but apparently Churchill was referred to as a “buffalo” which, come to find out, is how some Thais refer to people of color. Churchill and the other members of my team mentioned this was because many Thais want their own to be put on a podium and aren’t too keen when a foreigner comes and takes the spotlight from them. Well, then I say get better.
So with that behind me I can still say that I loved playing in the tournament, we finished 3rd, because of my teammates and I have no problem making other people look bad when I’m in goal. It’s a guilty pleasure I get while playing. There’s another tournament next weekend in Phitsanulok where Churchill and I can’t be on the field at the same time because we are foreigners. Yes, the tournament has a ringer rule for foreigners. Oh well, I’m always just happy to have found a place to play the game I love.
Have you had the chance to play football with the locals while travelling abroad? What about attending a game and experiencing the local football culture as a fan? Let me know in the comments!
Follow all my adventures on the social networks:
- Facebook (Tar Heel Voyager)
- Twitter (@tarheelvoyager)
- Instagram (@tarheelvoyager)
- Vimeo (Tar Heel Voyager)