As the clock kicks down to the kickoff of today's big game, here's another MTU fan's thoughts on the year 2011. Just to be crystal clear: this article was typed by a friend, not me.
Sifting through the dying embers of our burnt out season, it is very (very) easy to see 2011 as our annus horriblis. But, as a Villa fan in the Mcleish Mistaken Era, I feel the need to sift through the dust to find the diamonds.
I vividly remember the Queens Cup carnage after our 2010 encounter with Thai Port. This season, despite a spectacular scissor kick by Dagno consigning them to defeat, the Port fans were gracious and respectful in defeat. For the first time since that frightening February day I also heard the Ultras singing their rivals' name in mutual respect.
The relationship with Chonburi has, over the years,been prickly at best. Borne partly from the intense rivalry of two teams who used to compete for the top spot, there was little love lost. So, when the League Cup second leg game started I expected much the same. When, in the second half, Pipob was accidentally felled by MT's Kawin, the South Stand sang the Chonburi dynamo's name in unison. Sitting high up in the Siemens Stand perched between the home and away support, this was an electrifying moment which did not go unnoticed by the traveling blue faithful. Despite Chonburi eventually going through,the game finished with a stirring level of mutual respect, boding well for the future.
It is easy to scoff at the " Strategic Alliance" with Athletico Madrid. Even by their own admission at the signing ceremony with MT, the Spaniards had also hopped into bed with Tom, Dick and Harry of the footballing world. They are also a club in crisis,hovering just above the relegation zone and losing last night to third tier Albacete, meaning coach of the week Gregorio Manzano is likely to feel the nudge of the rotating door. That MT have looked to create this agreement shows ambition and a determination to become an ambitious small fish in a big pond rather than a big fish with false expectations when it comes to Asian competitions. Whilst the Other Madrid are struggling badly, they also have ambitious plans to build a new stadium with enormous facilities for academy and youth development ( areas embarrassingly lacking in Thai football).
Talking of stadiums, Muang Thong's own plans for a new stadium complex on Tiwonon Road were also unveiled by Mister 80 Houses himself. Clearly the stadium plans look immense, but the focus on training facilities and fitness also bear comment. Currently, these highly expensive pieces of Thai footballing real estate train in a gym which should be condemned as dangerous (check it out next to the swimming pool at the Yamaha) and doesn't even have air conditioning. The long drive to the club's training field finishes at a pitch where the only effective style of play would be Wimbledon circa 1988. Whilst there was a great pitch at Harrow School, the recent flooding has put paid to that. A stadium where all staff from the youngest juniors to the top international players can perform all their duties will only benefit the club. To be fair, the new pitch at the Yamaha this year has been impressive and created a surface where a passing team can really show this skills. If it was the home team that would be nice...
But staying positive, the run of rudderless and poor performances have allowed the MT faithful to be seen for what they are; positive and determined to keep supporting the team through thick and thin. Of course the history of success has attracted a few big time Charlies. I asked Paradorn after his recent (briefly topless of course) visit to a game who his favorite player was. I appeared to have been talking Serbo Croatian. Maybe he was simply thinking back to the last election when he forgot to vote and killed his fledgling political ambitions. Of course there will be a lowering of crowds, but they will keep coming, keep helping charities, keep traveling away and the N Zone will continue to believe that this is the last fashionable day of whiskey.
OK so I have chickened out. The positives of Mister Fowler. It is easy to scoff that a player who is forced to train alone due to his bad attitude one day is the coach the next, but his appointment has done wonders for the world profile of MT. He is a genuinely friendly man who didn't strong arm the club to pay him $50,000 a month and would just as happily have gone back to the UK to get his coaching badges. His contacts in the world of football could be very helpful to the club and ("more port please Karen") the arrival of the Cardiff City fitness coach creates a more intense attitude to training. Over the years regular scouting by European clubs observe how little intensity there is in training for the Thai players. Despite being sacked for a few days, Alex can really push the players to learn the importance of the kind of training that underpinned Rene's regime and meant that, despite a horrendous sequence of poorly scheduled games, players could call upon a base fitness that kept them going.
There is also a (claret and blue)part of me relieved that the party seems to be over for a while. I loved the AFC excursions and watching us destroy all comers last season during the three year unbeaten run at home, but that is not why I follow the team. I support them because they are my local team and, for the first time during those four years, it feels like they actually need that support. Surrounded by kind and passionate fans I can be the miserable Englishman as my British gift to the Thai football world and, at last, have something to moan about. Cursed in Thailand with beautiful weather, wonderful locals and sumptuous food, this is the one true thing that makes an Englishman happy.