|Greg with fellow Muang Thong United supporters|
I follow Muangthong United because they are my local team, it really is that simple. How I came to discover them and understand the differences in Thai football culture compared to my home of England is a longer and better story.
Anyone looking at pictures of the crowds in the big Thai Premier League games might be surprised to learn that less than three years ago, the players would outnumber the fans in almost any fixture.
Even most successful teams would usually have little more than scarves or small flags for sale in a club shop that was often just a wooden table outside the ground, and even Thailand's fanatical footballing masses would often be blissfully unaware they had any kind of local team.
The reason for this was simple; there was no bond between clubs and locals. Most teams were corporate entities, run by large scale businesses or government branches purely for amusement of the big bosses.
A typical fixture for any weekend might include Thai Police Vs Bangkok Bank or PTT (Thailand's petroleum company) up against the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The appeal was equivalent to the idea of watching Natwest Bank Vs British Gas in the UK, with the standard of football to match.
When anyone back home asked me about football in Thailand, I'd tell them: yes we had football, but it was Sunday league standard with the crowds to match and no local teams to support.
When and what caused the change is a subject of debate but as a Muangthong supporter, I'll tell you my side of the story. Muangthong were taken over by Siam Sports, a media group with some shrewd marketing skills. Assisted by key personnel in the company - including Belgian coach and businessman Robert Procurer - the group set about marketing Muangthong (previously known as Nonjork United) as Thailand's answer to Manchester United, complete with a real club shop selling club shirts, a stadium that looked like more than a run down sports centre, a fan club and promotion of the team in the local area.
|Greg enjoys a Muang Thong United game|
Yet all of this was lost on me until one day I opened a local newspaper and saw an advertisement promoting a weekend game for a club called Bangkok United. Surprised to see a team in Thailand bearing such a name and even more shocked to see them promoting themselves, my curiosity was tweaked.
I went home and searched online for information on other teams, particularly in my local province of Nonthaburi. It was Wikipedia that first informed me my side was Muangthong United. At the time I wasn't aware of their fashionable image, which is just as well.
As a life long Southampton fan, I had no love for the so-called 'trendy' teams. I may have been more at home following Bangkok United, who ran a miserable campaign and suffered relegation the following season.
But all I wanted to do was cheer my local side, so I went along to a game the next week and never looked back. The fans were, and are, some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. The singing and chanting was as impressive as anything I've heard back home and almost every fan makes an effort to wear team colours, which can make for some truly impressive sights.
With the growth of interest and sponsorship, the standard of football has picked up. Games are certainly not to the standard of the EPL or even the CCC, but there are still plenty of moments of skill and excitement, and as MTU have won the TPL for the least two seasons, I've been lucky enough to see a higher quality of football than most.
That may change this year though, and it's certainly not my main motivation, I also follow local teams that play in lower divisions. But whatever the match, considering the price of a game out here varies from 50 to 100 baht (about 1-2 GBP or 2-3 USD) I'd say the value for money is one hundred times better than footie at home.
So why do I follow Muangthong United? Because they fill in the last gap of my life as an English expat - the need to follow a local football side and feel a part of a community in doing so, with all the cheering, ups and downs, opining, away day travels, bonding and friendships that come with it.
There are of course differences in local football culture, some for better, some I don't like so much, but that's to be expected. What matters is that at heart we all love our football.
Greg runs a blog on Muang Thong United which can be found at - http://muangthongunitedfc.blogspot.com.
Greg also wrote a popular piece comparing the Thai football culture to that of the UK, which you can read by clicking here.
Greg recommends that anyone interested in the growth of Thai Football read the thoughts of a Chonburi FC fan and the part his team played - http://www.clubwebsite.co.uk/chonburifc/
You can also follow Greg on twitter @MTUTD_blog