It's as well I had a long journey home to calm down and think about a sensible report. If I had typed this an hour or so ago, it would have been angry, full of swearing, emotional and fragmented.
I will now try to explain what happened today at the game. Bear in mind that it's a natural side effect of adrenaline to have a hazy recall of exactly what happened and the order it happened in, so I apologise if I recall anything differently to how it happened on TV.
I arrived late at Supalachasalai stadium. I had been given a ticket away from the ultras in the end stand and in the East Stand with the smaller group of MTU fans, separated from the Thai Port fans by a fence. I paid little attention to this at the time.
The first half was the worst I had seen in Thailand. So bad, that at half time it crossed my mind to leave and not bother with a report. The second half started brighter, though. MTU scored from a set piece and then scored again with at least fifteen minutes left to play. The game was ours.
Immediately after the second goal, fireworks were let off in the Thai Port end. It wasn't the first time they had done it, but this time several went off. Some landed on the pitch. More and more fireworks came. Players started looking nervous. Plastic bottles - lots of them - were thrown from the TP end. Players began to leave the pitch, MTU fans started to boo. More fireworks, bottles and angry shouts came from the TP end. Some TPA players and a guy in a suit - the manager, I guess - came over to the Thai Port end and begged the small group causing trouble to stop. They didn't.
At this point it just seemed like we'd face another fifteen minute delay similar to the half time scenes from MTU Vs Chonburi last season. However, some of the fans in my end started to leave and more shouts and yells were coming from the fence area separating the two sets of fans. Yet more started to leave, it was starting to look the sort of movement you see at full time. Some fans told me to leave too, but I wanted to see what was happening.
The first inkling I got that something serious was going on was when I saw a scene I had had never witnessed before in Thailand; fans taking off their shirts to hide their team colours. As the crowd started to clear, I saw what was going on: some TPA fans were attempting to climb the fence.
Still I stayed put, but I began to back off towards the exit. I saw one Thai Port fan who looked like he could pass as a Thai sumo wrestler make it over the fence, the security guards moved towards them and he pushed them out of the way. Danger.
Now I'm all of ten stone after a big lunch but I'm well versed in MMA. I would happily have shown fat boy the way back to Weight Watchers in a fair fight but as anyone who knows Thailand will tell you - the only fair fights out here happen in Thai Boxing rings. Fat boy would be backed up by a bunch of mates who would just love to tell their friends they beat up the farang at the football. Besides, I'm way too old and too smart to get involved in any nonsense these days, I have too much to lose. I'm not about to get in a fight over something as pathetic as a bunch of pricks who can't accept losing a football game. (Later, an MTU fan told me: 'they get angry because of the passion'. I found this bizarre. I know a whole lot of fanatical and passionate fans who have never felt the urge to inflict violence on other human beings because of it. Acting like a moron is not the same as showing passion.)
Until now, some of the fans had still been treating it all as a bit of a joke. What happened next is hard to recall, but something happened to cause sheer panic. The last thing I think I saw was fat boy bouncing towards the few remaining MTU fans, waving his hands around and screaming at us as security guards backed away in fear and several more TPA fans climbed over the fence and moved towards us. I can't recall how many more fans climbed the fence but it was enough to set me on red alert and make me run like hell.
I was scared now, not so much by the onrushing yobs but by the mad rush for the steep, badly light and narrow steps. I don't think I could recognise the fan who reached out to help me as I stumbled but I'll be forever grateful to him.
Now I don't like to get too melodramatic or personal in any of my blogs but as the adrenaline kicked in, I experienced several emotions in very quick succession. I was almost in tears at the sudden realisation it was only a twist of fate that I had not bought my son to this game, I was furious with the minority group of TPA fans who had not only ruined this game, but had thrown bottles, fireworks and now physical violence at a group made up of families and couples, I was annoyed that we had been denied the win we had earned and I was desperately wondering how far we needed to run to get away from danger.
Outside the ground, there was still trouble. In the dark I saw what looked like a drunk, shirtless TPA fan arguing with some fellow fans. The shirtless one took a hefty swing at his 'friend' while a few people tried to join in. Still aware of the rushing fans just behind me, I sprinted a few hundred yards as my wife called to ask why the TV signal of the game had been cut.
I made my way to McDonald's in MBK and ate. I wasn't hungry, but I just needed to sit down and try to work out what the hell had just happened. As I left twenty minutes later, the were still sirens ringing and I could see flares from the TPA end of the stadium. Either the police had surrounded the end, or they simply refused to leave.
Now a few reflections:
The reaction of the Thai fans ranged from sensible (more sensible than me, with my previous experience of similar events) to downright childish and stupid. The few fans in our end who stayed around seemed to want trouble to happen. The only MTU fans I would rate in a fight were separated from us over in the south stand, and in one quick glance at the onrushing TPA fans and the few MTU fans left, I could see we would get hammered. Outside the ground many seemed to think it was a bit of a joke. Football violence is a damn long way from a joke, but in fairness to the Thai people, this is their general way of dealing with such events and perhaps the implications of the event had not been considered by them at that time.
Where do we go from here? I'm afraid today we turned a corner, and it was a wrong turn. Anybody who knows anything about the English game knows where this dangerous road could take us. I will no longer feel safe taking my son to MTU games for some considerable time. Everything I have written about the safety and friendliness of Thai crowds needs to be revised. This may seem like an over reaction, but how many of us saw this coming? I, like Marco, didn't believe this to be a real threat today. I honestly believed that the only threat of trouble was between Muangthong and Chonburi. Even then, I didn't believe it to be anything serious.
The reaction of the security guards and police at the game was abysmal. I have worked at Wembley Stadium as a steward for a long time (I had the misfortune to be stood next to Roy Keane as he lifted the FA cup in the 'You can't win with kids' year) and I know a little about crowd control. When it flared up today, the security guards on the pitch stood in a square formation and simply watched. The three or four guards in our end were intimidated into retreat without even pulling out their little billy clubs and I saw no police until I left McDonald's some time later. Our safety was not protected in the slightest. In a situation of crowd trouble, the authorities should form a single line and either move forward to constrict the troublesome crowd or slowly retreat backwards (to protect the public) if the violence escalates. I saw nothing like this happen at all.
What should happen to Thai Port FC? Let's be very clear, the vast majority of Thai Port fans are good people just like Marco who are surely as disgusted as the rest of us at what happened. But I'm sorry to say the Thai FA must dish out a serious punishment here and send a crystal clear message that this must never, ever happen again. The match should be forfeited to MTU, Thai Port must be fined and ordered to conduct a full investigation and search for the offenders on threat of a points deduction if they fail to comply. I think at least one game behind closed doors is in order, too.
I hate to criticise Thai Port like this. If it was Muangthong or any club, I'd be saying the same thing. I'm sorry for the majority of fans who have done nothing wrong but we simply cannot risk soft punishments here. To do so would be to invite more and more repeat incidents. This is not the same as a bad referee's decision or a group of fans having their view obstructed. Today I saw a guy pick up his child and run for the exit in fear that they would be seriously hurt.
In a week's time, the Thai courts will confiscate the assets of Thaksin Shiniwatra, the yellow and red shirts will begin a new round of political violence which, just like last year, will die down just as the Thai football season starts. The last thing we need is thugs looking for a second adrenaline rush at the football after the politics gets boring again.
Right now, I believe the Thai FA and the authorities will take the right actions, but for the wrong reasons. Security of the masses may be of minor importance, but Thai football is at the crest of a financial wave, and any more trouble like this could start to rot a few rice bowls.
Looking back, I guess the reason I took so long to run for it today was because I really couldn't believe - and didn't want to believe - that after writing so much about the friendly atmosphere and peaceful fans at Thai football - I was witnessing it all turn to shit. I'm sure I speak for everybody with an IQ of more than ten when I say I hope this is a one off and the rest of my blogs for this season will be full of my usual lame jokes, tactical analysis and meetings with fellow fans.
PS Even after a day like this, I can't finish without mentioning that Kawin is the best goalkeeper in Thailand by a mile. Please keep it up Kawin.