Thailand doesn’t have a rich heritage when it comes to football but like an old romantic, they’re desperate to fall in love. Finding a suitable partner has been difficult.
Former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s time at Manchester City didn’t end well for him personally, his Honorary President position was withdrawn after going on the run from the Thai authorities who had sentenced him to two years in jail for corruption. He made £120m profit from the sale of the club.
Thailand’s national team are ranked 157 (of 208) in the World. The Maldives and Malta are higher in FIFA’s recent rankings.
I spent 6 days with Premier League Leicester City in Bangkok this week and one thing was clear to me, Leicester City and the people of Thailand are a perfect match so long as the early stages of courting are mutually enjoyable.
The Foxes arrived mid-afternoon Wednesday to the glistening sun reflecting off the 100 cameramen and photographer’s lenses at Suvarnabhumi Airport. The local, national and international press were eagerly awaiting the players’ arrival ahead of Sunday’s pre-season friendly against Everton at the national stadium.
Above the air-conditioned VIP arrival suite, with their police escort waiting outside in temperatures of 30 degrees plus, is where the money to fund Nigel Pearson’s Premier League campaign comes from.
A bustling 2 kilometres of duty-free shopping space, managed and operated by Leicester City Chairman Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s business King Power, is the main attraction at the airport and it’s a sight to behold.
52 million passengers passed through the airport last year, as Bangkok is not only a popular tourist destination in South East Asia but it’s a gateway to the rest of the world with many flights stopping on the tarmac on the way to further destinations. Incidentally Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world saw 72.3 million passengers pass through the airport in 2013. It’s manic at times in Bangkok Airport.
Celebrating their 25th anniversary, King Power dominate the retail landscape at the airport. In 2005 King Power were awarded a 10 year concession from the airports of Thailand Plc to operate commercial services in Suvarnabhumi Airport.
As well as their own duty-free retail space selling the usual fare you’ll find Chanel, Dior, Bulgari, Longchamp and Cartier amongst others. You can spend hours just walking past and wondering how much the retail space must cost to rent, well I did anyway.
Khun Vichai, the 11th richest man in Thailand, is worth $1.6 billion according to Forbes magazine and it’s his budget which could be key to The Foxes Premier League survival.
It was to the club’s hotel that the players headed before numerous late night training sessions as they’d opted to stay on UK time given the stresses put on the body in trying to adapt within 5 days of a game.
The club’s Vice-Chairman was on hand along with 4 of the first team players to open another club shop, this one in a prime location at one of the busiest stations on the BTS (tube) system. The crowds were huge, gathered to see a real life Premier League footballer. Not one splashed across one of the thousands of giant billboards amongst the city’s sky, but a real Premier League star. They could get close enough to poke their cheeks on Jamie Vardy’s spikey hair or sniff Leo Ulloa’s latest fragrance. In-between their numerous humid but focused training session, the players were treated like rock stars.
They want to love these players, they want to cheer them to success in The Premier League this season in a nation obsessed by football. City won the game against Everton as well as winning the hearts and minds of some of the locals who will cheer them on from packed bars this season.
With such a huge market of potential Foxes fans, success this season could lead to the fairy-tale ending for Thailand and it’s nation of football lovers.