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Hardcore Thai football fans pose a clear and present danger

Hardcore Thai football fans pose a clear and present danger

As the Thai athletes prepare themselves for the tests and trials they are likely to face this year, the country’s sports administrators had better brace themselves for an altogether different challenge.

footballviolence
By Bangkok Post

Sunday 8 January 2017, 03:00PM


It’s a challenge which does not offer a level playing field and in which the rules of engagement are often hatched on the spur of the moment.

In short, the Thai authorities look destined to learn a great deal about a different ball game called football hooliganism in the near future.

Thailand are expecting a reprimand and fine from the international football authorities after their fans set flares alight in the dying moments of the Bangkok leg and some of these were hurled onto the field as well.

Some flares were also seen fired in the first half after Sirod Chatthong gave Thailand a 1-0 lead.

The War Elephants eventually won 2-0 against Indonesia in the second leg of the Suzuki Cup Final as they converted a 2-1 deficit from the away game into a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The commendable effort at Rajamangala National Stadium on the night of Dec 17 made Thailand the most successful nation in the Southeast Asian championship with a record five titles.

However, a group, which goes by the name of Ultras Thailand, went about its business in a particular stand at the packed stadium, oblivious to the extent of damage it was causing to the country’s reputation.

Football Association of Thailand president Somyot Poompunmuang believes the flare throwing was an attempt by some vested interests to discredit him and there exists a chance that he may be right.

Somyot, a former National Police Chief, recorded a landslide victory in the election for FAT president in February 2016 following an acrimonious build-up to the polls.

What happened at Rajamangala National Stadium that night was the first full-scale manifestation of a nightmare which, in fact, started brewing many years ago.

In 2010, a King’s Trophy match at Supachalasai Stadium came to a premature end when Muang Thong took a 2-0 lead over Port. Ugly scenes were witnessed as some Port fans attacked those backing their rivals.

Fast forward six years and the supporters of the same two clubs had another free-for-all to settle the old score.

Muang Thong and Port fans were involved in a brawl outside SCG Stadium after their League Cup Semi-Final second leg in September 2016, leaving more than 10 people injured. Muang Thong beat Port 2-1 on the night and reached the final with a 3-2 aggregate win.

There is no need to go into a detailed history of such incidents, which some football historians in fact date back to a match in Derby, England in 1846.

The pitched battles fought by Russia and England fans in the stadium and on the French streets during Euro 2016 has already served as a great opportunity for the media to drag their audience down the memory lane more than several times. 

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While the general impression is that football hooliganism is primarily a European thing, there have been quite a few high-profile violent incidents in Southeast Asia as well.

The rioting that followed Thailand’s 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over hosts Indonesia in the 1997 Jakarta SEA Games Final following a 1-1 stalemate after extra time is one of the worst witnessed in this part of the world.

Unruly mobs ran amok on Jakarta roads, setting fires to parked vehicles. They pelted stones at public transport vehicles and injured scores of innocent compatriots while venting their anger over a sporting result in an event which is supposed to be all about friendship.

Later, during the 2014 AFF Championship, some members of the “Inter Johor Firm” attacked the Vietnamese supporters’ area and inflicted injuries on many as Malaysia went 2-1 in arrears.

In the 2015 Malaysian FA Cup, Singapore Lions XII players and their fans were stranded at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium for many hours, after Terengganu fans turned violent over their team’s failure to qualify for the final.

Later in the same year, a World Cup qualification match between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia was abandoned. Trouble started when the Saudis went 2-1 ahead and their fans were attacked by the Malaysian supporters.

The flares thrown by Ultras Thailand were not the only act of violence in the 2016 Suzuki Cup.

A little more than a week before the second leg of the final, the Indonesians had a close call in Hanoi as they drew Vietnam 2-2 in the away game to claim a shock 4-3 aggregate win in the semi-finals.

The Indonesian team bus was attacked by angry Vietnamese football fans, forcing them to take a U-turn and find a safer ground at the My Dinh National Stadium, the venue for the match where there was a heavy presence of security officials.

It was never expected that such a despicable phenomenon will one day plague Thailand, a country which prides itself on its unmatched hospitality and tolerance.

Whether these incidents reflect a shift in the Thai mindset is something for the academics and social sciences experts to discuss, debate and decide.

As far as Thai football is concerned, an AFC ruling on the trouble instigated by Ultras Thailand is expected soon and it can lead to punishments which can include a fine, playing one or more matches without Thai fans and a suspension from international matches or even a mixture of these.

The world has failed to find an effective cure for the scourge of hooliganism, so only a plea can be issued to all those ‘Ultras’ out there that their country can ill afford such nuisances.

The Thai League has just assumed the semblance of being a professional football competition and Thailand have just started making their presence felt on the international scene.

A few minutes of reckless excitement for Ultras can negate all that and result in a lengthy banishment for the country.

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