“Let me tell you here; we have been in deep red. Have been for a while now,” club consultant Paitoon ‘Ko Men’ Chutimakornkul told The Phuket News.
“Our lifeline was the OrBorJor, like many other local football teams around Thailand. So when the Office of the Auditor General Thailand froze OrBorJor funding, we were in serious trouble.
“Do you know [FC Phuket Chairman] Nauruebat ‘Ko Lek’ Aryupong had to borrow B3.5 million against his house and borrowed B2 million from his sister to keep FC Phuket above water?”
That money, apparently, has been used to pay footballers over the past month since the OrBorJor funding dried up. But Ko Lek had stretched his funds to the limit.
“He asked businesses in Phuket to step in and take charge from him. He said he was more than willing to let them run the team, but only on one condition: FC Phuket must stay in Phuket. But no one seemed to want to step in,” Ko Men said.
“Then there were a few groups interested in FC Phuket. There were Belgian investors, through Robert Procureur [of Muang Thong United], Khun Vinit Lertrattanachai, and some Dutch investors, but they seemed to lose interest quickly.
“We had no choice but to approach Khun Rawi Lohthong of Siam Sports Group. Khun Rawi had told us that he would act as the last resort for us; we could come to him only if we couldn’t find anybody else. So we went to see him.”
Siam Sports Group is owned by Thai Premier League club Muang Thong United.
Club consultant Ko Men proposed the idea that chairman Ko Lek would hand over FC Phuket to Khun Rawi. Ko Lek could then build a second division team in Phuket using some of Muang Thong United’s footballers.
Ko Lek planned to call his new team ‘Phuket Town’ and compete in Division 2 Southern Region. He submitted an application to the FAT (Football Association of Thailand) for Phuket Town on December 19 last year, and announced that he would hand over the rights of FC Phuket to Khun Rawi.
But when plans were announced to relocate FC Phuket, fans started to express their anger and disappointment. The team’s Facebook fanpage was loaded with emotional messages bidding farewell to their beloved team, as well as directing anger towards politicians who they believed were responsible for their side’s decline.
The news spread quickly, and Chairat Prasert, a Phuket Wittayalai student and avid fan of FC Phuket, wrote a farewell piece on Facebook that was then published on Thailandsusu.com, recalling his time as an FC Phuket fan and lamenting how different his life would be without the club.
This article was picked up by the heir to Siam Sports Group – the son of Khun Rawi, who took it to his father.
Over the past two years, Khun Rawi Lohthong has been supporting FC Phuket financially.
Khun Rawi agreed to let his son take charge of FC Phuket, but he had his own condition; Ko Lek and Ko Men must remain with the club.
“Khun Rawi’s son will take care of players, marketing, administration, PR and coaches,” said Ko Men, “but Ko Lek and myself must remain with the team, at the very least as advisors. If we agreed to this, FC Phuket would remain here.”
It was then that Ko Lek dropped his idea of building a Phuket Town football team, and agreed to the ‘One Province One Football Team’ idea; one FC Phuket for Phuket.
All this happened just days before their January 7 game against Bangkok FC.
At the game, Ko Men announced the news to FC Phuket fans at Surakul Stadium, who at that time were thinking that the match would be the Southern Sea Kirin’s last ever home appearance.
When Ko Men took to the microphone and announced the news, the fans went ecstatic; most were not even concerned at the 1-4 loss that ensued.
The decision to keep the side in Phuket could have been prompted by the actions of a local businessman who had been supporting FC Phuket for a long time.
When he learned of FC Phuket’s dire situation, Khun Pramuk Achariyachai, owner of Kata Group, phoned Ko Men, asking to be put in contact with Khun Rawi Lohthong to discuss a sponsorship deal for the side.
“Khun Pramuk and Kata Group had been great supporters of FC Phuket over the past years, but lately they were out of touch with FC Phuket’s internal issues,” Ko Men said.
“He [Khun Pramak] was quite upset to learn that FC Phuket would end this way, without any help and support from local business, so he decided to do something about it. He called for an alliance between Kata Group and Muang Thong United.”
Ko Men said: “I can’t tell you in any detail until the deal is agreed to. But I can say that it will be FC Phuket with Muang Thong United helping on the sidelines, and Kata Group as the main sponsor.
“As to the footballers, we might see more coming from Muang Thong United as they have many footballers – over 80 of them – that can play in Division 1, but we will have to see how things go.
In words that most of the island’s football fans have been waiting to hear, he added: “FC Phuket will be here for a long, long time.”