“No tengo pelo en mi lengua”

“I have no hair on my tongue” – as always most things sound better in Spanish.

But this is not some strange biological phenomenon; it is a Serbian (Spanish and Italian etc.) expression to explain someone that is honest, direct and does not sugar coat his or her message.

It is Veljko Filipovic in a sentence.

CMFC English spent a very leisurely Sunday morning sitting with Veljko and drinking coffee at Rayong’s Laem Charoen beach. On a cool, breezy morning it really was a lovely place to be and a reminder of why people come to Thailand and stay.

Rayong beach life

We (Veljko, Simes Salmon and I) just talked; I took no notes; “can you wait while I finish writing?” never sounds appropriate.

Some immediate observations;

He is big – therefore sit him down quickly in a beach chair to avoid being too intimidated! He is splendidly articulate. He is super-competitive and super-confident without that coming across as arrogance. I suspect even tiddlywinks would likely be a battle!

Perhaps an old head on young shoulders – or maybe that is how so many of his generation grow up.

He also reads cmfcenglish and knows where to find me!

Born in Čačak, some 144 km south of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, Veljko was signed as a youth player by the local team, FK Borac Čačak playing in the Serbia First League – effectively their T2.

A move to Serbian Super league team Fk Javor Matis based in Ivanjica, was cut short by Covid.

But Serbia was too confining. Veljko wanted to see the world.  And sport would be the key that would open those doors.

Basketball was an option and the national squad beckoned. But football offered the chance of playing overseas. A number of Korean players in the Serbian League were encouraging and helped to find him a Korean agent with experience and contacts across Asia.

His parents, who sound like good people, knew and supported his ambitions. His Dad played football; his sister plays volleyball and he has a football playing cousin with a coaching certificate who reviews Veljko’s games with a critical eye!

For most foreign players Thailand is where you come towards the end of your career – and that suits Thai teams that are looking for experience and a playing record.

But Veljko arrived here when he was twenty years old. He has not looked back.

Korean T3 was the first suggestion; until his agent talked with Ayutthaya of Thai League 2. Ho Lee and Milan Bubalo, who were then at Ayutthaya, shared the same agent.

It was Veljko’s first time in Asia – the biggest challenge was not homesickness, but breathing through the heat and humidity. As a player who relies on his pace and stamina this was a real issue. It took some weeks to acclimatize.

Veljko made his debut for Ayutthaya, and received his first Thai yellow card, at Sisaket on 27 September 2020 when the season restarted after a Covid enforced break of over six months.

Ayutthaya had made the worst possible start to the season and were bottom of the League when the season stopped after four games. After the restart by mid-season they were sixth and finished 2020/2021 in 8th place.

Their performance of that season was a win in Doi Saket against Chiang Mai United in late November. It was the only game that Chiang Mai lost at home all season – a 1-0 win for the visitors and everyone present (me included) was talking about Veljko after the game. He had arrived in Thai football.

It was also Veljko’s first match up with the Dutch forward, Melvin de Leeuw. Now firm friends their contests are a match within a match.

At the end of the season he left Ayutthaya and signed a two year contract with Bangkok Glass – albeit to come and play for T2 Chiang Mai FC.

My 2021/2022 League preview noted that “Veljko Filipovic looks the pick of the new (CMFC) squad. At 1.97 he looks like a granite mountain and was outstanding for Ayutthaya in their 1-0 win on the road at Chiang Mai (Doi Saket) United.”

The 2021/2022 season home opener was coincidentally against Rayong on 4 September 2021  – when 9 man Chiang Mai held on for a 2-1 win – the match report noting that “the game ended with the calmly impressive Veljko still managing a late gallop down the pitch ending an impressive and organized debut.”

So far he has made 48 league appearances for CMFC scoring six times in the league.

The 2021/22 season at CMFC was difficult; there were coaching and player changes. The club sliding to a 14th place finish on the back of just 3 points from the last 9 games.

Remaining at CMFC for 2022/23 made Veljko the club’s most experienced foreign player; a role that he has taken to as a mentor and as a spokesperson for the players. You want Veljko in your corner because you know he will look out for you. Santos and Brinner discovered that in the home game against Uthai Thani in mid-January.

He enjoys the freedom and individuality of the Thai League – though recognizes the occasional selfishness that comes with that style. It has also likely been the source of differences of opinion between player and coach; both it is fair to say have adapted their style to accommodate eachother. Their mutual respect is clear.

Veljko is a modern attacking centre half; if he does push forward he has the pace to recover. Five league goals last season meant that for some weeks he was the club’s leading scorer. This season the opportunities and goals have nearly dried up – other than the 89th minute winner at home to Trat, a goal that is worth revisiting:

“Unstoppable. 89 minutes gone. The scores tied. Veljko Filipovic was a man on a mission.

His header from Im ChangKyoon’s corner was met with a terrific save from Suppawat, in the Trat goal. The ball was cleared but only back to Im on the left side. His curling cross back into the area was met with a second towering header from Filipovic this time beating Suppawat.

Celebration time. Off came the Filipovic shirt as he ran to the home bench. A mixture of relief and unadulterated joy.”

Goals like that need a regular supply of good crosses – balls that are hit high into the area where Veljko has the height and power to terrify any goalkeeper. Im ChangKyoon has been the player to provide those crosses and the two enjoy playing together.

Veljko also has an encyclopedic memory of every game he played and goal scored – just don’t ask him to give you directions!

As part of the goalkeepers’ union it was also good to hear him singing the praises of Fahas Bilanglod as a future Thailand international. No pressure!

It is very unlikely that CMFC will be able to keep Veljko for another season; he loves Chiang Mai; he loves the Nimman lifestyle. But often our career choices necessitate moving for the opportunity rather than the location or lifestyle; and it is easier to do that as a single twenty-something.

Someone from T1 needs to sign him. Just as a hint to our friends down the road – Lamphun is close to Chiang Mai and the owner is intent on building a club for the long term. It would be a massive loss if he were to leave Thailand though there are clearly opportunities elsewhere in Asia.

Whether on or off the football pitch Veljko is a 100% competitor; a thoroughly decent guy with no time for nonsense; including from amateur reporters.

One of my takeaways from the morning is how players and spectators (even those who think they understand the sport) can see games, and even individual performances, so differently.

When things go wrong he is not the guy who will be sitting meekly in the corner – he will rage when he should. That is what leaders do – they pick their moments.

Staying injury free he has at least another decade of football. Then what? “I want to open a restaurant” was the surprise reply. It will likely have a pool table, a darts board and a quality wine list.


Picture: official cmfc

Thai League 2 – 2022-2023

Sunday 29 January 2023

Rayong FC 4 Chiang Mai FC 1

Chiang Mai FC:
S. Posri
Im ChangKyoon
Kim BoYong

Thumped. On the back of two strong wins in the last eight days this defeat was a huge disappointment; not just the scoreline but the manner of the defeat.

It also reflects CMFC’s dismal away form with five defeats in the last six away games.

The energy and creativity of the last week had evaporated – replaced by an apparent lethargy as Chiang Mai never competed in this match.

Let me preface the report by saying the away supporters are housed behind the southern goal, the running track and what was probably once an alligator-filled moat. We were so far from the pitch that  even if we wanted to any invasion is out of the question – it is simply too far away.

The stadium is a soul-less concrete bowl with no atmosphere; yet the crowd of 1,129 was Rayong’s second largest of the season.

Trying to take notes of events on the pitch was often guesswork. But what was clear is that Rayong were the first to threaten. Two early corners were followed by a Fahas save.

But this was just a prelude to Rayong’s 11th minute opener. Theppilak (31) beat S. Posri too easily on the right of the penalty area. His low cross was pushed out in front of goal by Fahas, and Chulapa (11) had the simplest of finishes.

Thammayut was having a difficult evening at left back but redeemed himself with a fine dive on the goal line to head clear from Theppilak who had left Fahas stranded on the edge of his penalty area.

Chulapa threatened again but his header from a right side corner was pawed away by Fahas diving to his right.

Phommin replaced Pongrawit at half time but the pattern of the game was unchanged.

Chulapa added his second ten minutes into the half nodding home a simple far post header. But the story of the goal was an audacious flick from Lwin Moe Aung (6) to create space for a lobbed cross to set up the goal.

With fifteen minutes to go Suwannapat was adjudged to have brought down Chulapa in the penalty area. Chulapa had started his run 30 yards from goal taking on five defenders before collapsing exhausted in the penalty area. The Chiang Mai captain was booked, probably less for the challenge and more for telling the Brazilian what he thought of his theatrics. Chulapa calmly buried the penalty for his hattrick.

Chiang Mai were themselves awarded a generous penalty after 84 minutes as Jakree (34) possibly caught Chatchai in the penalty area. Kim sidefooted the ball straight down the middle. Nappakun (46) was already lying on the ground when the ball reached him but stretched out a leg and deflected the ball onto and over the crossbar.

Rayong cleared the corner and broke forward at pace releasing Lwin Moe Aung one on one with Fahas. Lwin made no mistake. It was a very good counter-attacking goal set up by a defense-splitting pass from Nichitpon (30).

4-0 down and Chiang Mai woke up as the game went into injury time. Chatchai scored from Stewart’s low cross and Stewart then bounced a 22 yard shot off the cross bar. Suwannapat scuffed the rebound and Kim scooped the ball over the crossbar from 4 yards. It rather summed up the visitors’ day and was too little, too late.

Rayong’s win takes them into 8th place in the League two points above CMFC while CMFC’s away form  suggests that a play-off space is quickly becoming wishful thinking.

It was, and please forgive the rather gloomy report, a very long way to travel to watch a team under-perform when they, and we, know they are capable of so much better.  

To boldly go where we have not been before

Pre match v Khon Kaen United

REVO League Cup 2022-2023

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Chiang Mai FC 2 Khon Kaen United 0

Chiang Mai FC:

A crowd of 878 saw CMFC advance to the quarter finals of the REVO League Cup with a well-earned 2-0 win at home to T1 Khon Kaen United.

As far as I can tell this is unprecedented as we do not appear to have previously survived the round of 16.

And it was a thoroughly deserved win full of hard work, pace and commitment.

Khon Kaen are a big side – tall and physical – but bereft of anything that resembled a plan. Their first shot on target was a free kick in second half injury time gratefully gathered by Narawit,

Narawit, as predicted, made his first start in goal for the club. He is only 19. While his handling was not always convincing the experience will have done him so much good; as will a clean sheet.

Piyachanok and Sarawut started at centre back. Coach Fukuda does not like to highlight individual contributions in a team game; but Piyachanok was immense. He does the simple things with massive efficiency and makes the difficult things look much easier than they are.

Phommin was captain for the evening; and rose to the role and occasion. With Ronnayod and Srithai running their socks off the midfield was solid throughout.

Chatchai was a revelation; we have seen too little of him; in part because of the form of Tawan and Pongrawit but again his contribution down the left flank was tireless.

Up front Tawan is thriving from regular first team football and he was partnered tonight by local lad, Amornthep, whose pace and enthusiasm were rewarded with the match clinching goal in the 87th minute.

It was Amornthp’s first start of the season; and his second goal for CMFC; eleven months after his first at Lamphun in February 2022.

The first half chances were dominated by the home side. Tawan and Amornthep combining in the 7th minute for Amornthep’s shot to be saved by Chaloemphat (31) diving low to his left.

Khon Kaen responded in kind with Ezzajjaria (99) releasing Wilson Indio inside the penalty area; the Brazilan forward, under pressure from Sarawin, shot wide.

Amornthep’s sidefoot shot from a Ronnayod pass was inches wide before he scooped his shot at the goalkeeper from another Ronnayod pass.

Ezzajjaria (99), the Spanish/Morrocan centre forward was the visitors main threat when he could escape Sarawut and Piyachanok. His best first half chance was dragged wide of the near post.

CMFC scored in the 41st minute when Tawan collected the ball in his own half; advanced at pace, releasing Ronnayod on the right of the penalty area and running on to receive the return pass and slide it past the goalkeeper. It was a glorious counter-attacking goal. Tawan’s acrobatic celebration was top class.

Early Khon Kaen pressure was likely at the start of the second half; chances were fewer as CMFC sat a little deeper.

A series of Khon Kaen corners and free kicks were poorly delivered; often not beating the front defender and failing to threaten the inexperienced Narawit.

Piyachanok’s challenge was sufficient to deflect an Ezzajjaria shot over the crossbar.

And then in the 87th minute Im ChangKyoon’s free kick in the centre of the Khon Kaen half was chipped towards the left of the penalty area. Sarawut’s header back across the goal reached Amornthep stealing in at the far post for a tidy headed finish and a joyful celebration.

Chiang Mai played out time with Narawin gathering Khon Kaen’s one shot on goal from an injury time free kick. 

The other teams in the last eight are: Buriram, Bangkok United, Lamphun Warriors; Ratchaburi; PT Prachuap; BG Pathum United and Samut Songkhram, the only survivor from T3. Sadly I do not know when the draw for the quarter finals will be made.

Cometh the hour, cometh the biggest hearts

Thai League 2 2022-2023 – Saturday 21 January 2023

Picture – cmfc official.

Chiang Mai FC 3 NakhonSi United 2

Chiang Mai FC:

Im ChangKyoon
Kim BoYong

Over 90 minutes of big, brave, bold and beautiful football, supporters, from both sides, were put through the emotional wringer that is at the heart of this game that we love.

The score is 2-2. 92 minutes gone; Saharat controls a ball that he could easily have given up on; he takes a touch to drag the ball onto his right foot and curls over the sort of inviting cross that forwards must dream of.

Coming in at the back post Suchanon is first to the ball to head it past the static goalkeeper.

Bedlam. The support staff are off the bench. The fans are going berserk and Fukuda-san is dancing a jig down the touchline with a smile that is wider than the Ping river.

Just glorious.

You can feel a little sorry for the visitors; it will be a long trip home.

But after a difficult week for the fans and staff at CMFC this was a wonderful statement of what this club can achieve and of how much the club’s success means to everyone involved.

Back to the beginning; always a good place to start.

Chiang Mai were without Filipovic (on the bench) and Stewart (injury). Im ChangKyoon started in place of Saharat. Sarawin and Sarawut the two full backs either side of Piyachanok and Suwannapat.

NakhonSi gave debuts to Srayut (2) from Samut Prakan Coty and to Kroekrit (24) and Petcharat (38) on loan from Chonburi and PT Prachuap respectively.

Chiang Mai scored in the third minute – a bizarre Chinese New Year gift from the Nakhon Si defense who tried to play keep-ball in their own six yard box before Srayut passed the ball straight into the path of Tawan on the edge of the penalty who calmly side-footed the ball home.

It was great awareness from Chiang Mai who had four players in the penalty area when Tawan scored; not allowing the NakhonSi defense any time to settle.

Kapisoda’s free header, minutes later, from a Prakit corner was wide of the far upright but a good indicator of the threat posed by NakhonSi’s tall, strong line up.

Yet it was Chiang Mai who increased their lead; the simplest of goals. Im was fouled on the left side of the NakhonSi half. Dusting himself off, he took the free kick and curled it to the far post where Sarawut was able to run in front of Poomphat (Meedech) to stoop and head home.

2-0 down the league leaders were wounded but dangerous. Fahas had to carefully watch Prakit’s 20 yard shot as it dipped and bent; and was turned over the bar for a corner; which Kapisoda again met with his head and was inches off target. He was just getting his range.

Another Prakit corner again from the left. Kapisoda was again left largely unbothered to rise and deflect the ball inside the far post.

2-1 and still just 20 minutes into the game.

A theatrical Paulista dive won few friends among the home crowd while at the other end confusion between Kapisoda and his goalkeeper (Chakhon) nearly let in Pongrawit.

Nattaphoom (13), once of Chiang Mai FC, then found space for a sprint down the right wing. Sarawut was not close. His cross was whipped over but looked long. Paulista running at the near post felt enough of a push from Piyanchanok to tumble over and was adjudged to have been fouled.

CMFC gathered in protest. The referee was never going to change his mind – this gathering around the referee and penalty taker is not a good look.

Paulista took the penalty – low and with power into the bottom right corner of Fahas’ goal.

With the game simmering to the point of boiling over half time was welcome. 2-2. A game that for neutrals must have been a joy to watch. For the 1,205 in the stadium, it had been both terrific, and frustrating, entertainment.

For the first fifteen minutes of the second half the home side set about battering the league leaders. Im’s low free kick was turned inches wide by Kim BoYong; Chakhon leaped to his left to save a Sawawut volley. Suchanon danced into the penalty area from the left side; his shot was blocked and Piyachanok was unable to keep the rebound below the crossbar.

The fact that Piyachanok was up in support of his forwards made clear Chiang Mai’s attacking intent.

Kim broke down the right side and into the penalty area; Tawan had sprinted into space to his left but Kim went on alone with defenders gathering like vultures around him and his shot was blocked.

As the home side started to tire NakhonSi slowly clawed their way back into contention. Paulista headed straight at Fahas before the goalkeeper excelled to block substitute Weerawut as he ran into the penalty area release by Paulista’s clever short pass.

At the other end Chakhon had to be brave to dive at the feet of Suchanon – again the amateur dramatics detracted from a good stop.

As the game slipped into injury time Chiang Mai continued to press. Saharat crossed, Suchanon ran in behind Hartmann, and wrote his name into the memory of everyone who saw this very special performance.

While the future may be uncertain for CMFC this team made it clear that they will play to the last day for their club, their coach and for eachother. It was a privilege to be there.

Missed opportunities

Thai League 2022-2023
Sunday 15 January 2023

Chiang Mai FC 1 Uthai Thani FC 1

Chiang Mai FC:

S. Posri
Kim BoYong

A highly competitive game ended in 1-1 tie that did nothing to help either team push into the play-off positions.

Filipovic, after a suspension and fever, returned to the Chiang Mai defense as did Rhyan Stewart, from international duty in Singapore; a country where they appear to have no barber shops!

On a weekend where eight of nine games finished as draws this was an opportunity for both sides to gain ground on the teams above them.

Uthai Thani had a good run of four successive wins before arriving in Chiang Mai. The additions of Brinner and Steeven Langil have strengthened their squad.

And through the first fifteen minutes of the game the visitors were in charge; dominating possession and passing the ball with confidence.

Their best early chance came after 15 minutes when Watcharakorn broke froward from his own half. Kittisak stole a yard on Thammayut and ran onto Watcharakorn’s pass.  Fahas was quickly off his line to block Kittisak’s first time shot near the penalty spot.

Minutes later Chiang Mai were ahead from the game’s first corner. Swung over by Pongrawit it was met with a strong header by Kim BoYong. Goalkeeper Boonyakait had gone walk about in his six yard box and was only able to help the ball over the line.

Both sides then tore into a pitched brawl in front of the main stand. Santos made a meal of a challenge with a swan-like dive; Stewart took exception to the dive; Brinner took exception to Stewart’s reaction; Filipovic took exception to Brinner’s intervention. By then everyone was involved including the excessively vocal Uthai Thani bench.

Amid all the finger pointing the referee issued four yellow cards to the above mentioned pugilists. It was sensible refereeing and kept all 22 players on the pitch.

While tempers were still high Netiphong was booked for a trip on Suchanon.

The good news for Chiang Mai is that Uthai Thani’s sense of grievance also saw a loss of concentration on the pitch allowing Chiang Mai a number of chances late in the first half.

Tawan released Suchanon, whose shot stung the hands of Boonyakait as he pushed the ball uncomfortably over the bar.

Filipovic then broke down an Uthai Thani attack on the edge of his penalty area; the ball was funneled quickly through Ronnayod to Kim BoYong who dragged his shot narrowly wide.

Two minutes later Tawan turned on the left corner of the penalty area and curled a fine twenty yard shot onto the crossbar.

Finally, for the half, a long Fahas clearance evaded Kim but fell for Pongrawit in the penalty area; he needed an extra touch to move the ball to his left foot allowing Jakkrapong to make a timely interception.

The referee left the field at half time to a volley of abuse from the Uthai Thani bench while harassed by a number of their players. It was not a good look.

Chiang Mai led 1-0 at half time but had failed to take advantage of a number of good chances and this was likely to prove costly.

So it proved. Steeven Langil came on as a half time substitute; with almost his first touch he curled a low cross towards the penalty spot where Santos had taken a step in front of Thammayut to control the cross with his right foot and to pass the ball past Fahas with his left.

Was Santos onside? Probably not, but it was a very close decision.

Thammayut would redeem himself minutes later when his goal line intervention met and cleared Brinner’s near post header from under the CMFC crossbar. 

Suwannapat cleared the resulting corner releasing Kim BoYong to race into the Uthai Thani penalty area where he was caught and tripped by Wattana. Penalty for CMFC.

The referee allowed Brinner, Santos and others to stand on the penalty spot for some minutes, and get in the ear of Kim BoYong.

Eventually when he was able to take the penalty Kim smashed it onto the crossbar.  It was unfortunate for Kim who worked really hard throughout the match.

There was still time for Boonyakait to intercept Kiadtisak’s early low cross.

At the other end Phattaraphon’ s cross failed to reach Santos in front of goal and Langil had plenty of time for a cross from the left towards a packed six yard box that evaded everyone

The second half fireworks never materialized. And while both teams continued to press a score draw seemed ever more inevitable.

Chiang Mai’s next home game is on Saturday 21st January against league leaders Nakhon Si United.

Raging in the gloom

Picture: @OfficialCMFC

Thai League 2
Saturday 7 January 2023

Nakhon Pathom United FC 1 Chiang Mai FC 0

Chiang Mai FC:

S. Posri
Kim BoYong

Away at third placed Nakhon Pathom was always going to a difficult start to the second half of the season; and so it proved in dismal gloom from the appalling lights against a well-organized team that makes an art form out of taking time out of the game.

Nakhon Pathom appear to understand the lighting problem. All of their first half attacks came down the left side in front on the better lit main stand. Their long throw ins were all propelled from the same side. And it was no surprise after the half time break that their best attacks came down the right flank, including the cross for the only goal of the match.

I have rarely seen a side take so long over free kicks and throw ins. It is as though they know that a single goal will be enough. They are not an easy team to watch. But they are effective.

Chiang Mai’s starting XI included none of the three new hires; Filipovic (suspended) and Stewart (rested after his international duties with Singapore) were also missing.

The visitors looked lively from the start and really needed to make their first half dominance count; they did not.

As early as the first minute Kim BoYong ran onto a long ball down the left side from Sarawut and his shot required a save from Wattanachai.

The Nakhon Pathom goalkeeper is a key part of the league’s best defense. His handling throughout was assured and a late save from a long-range Phommin shot made sure of the three points.

At the other end long range efforts from Ekkalarp and Krissana passed wide and high respectively.

Chiang Mai’s first corner was worked short for Ronnayod whose inswinging cross had to be punched clear by Wattanachai from under his crossbar.

The subsequent corner was poor and let the home side break quickly forward with Supatep on the right side. The ball was worked inside for Arthit Berg but the lack of power in his shot allowed Fahas to save comfortably.  

Pongrawit was booked for a trip in midfield that stopped a Nakhon Pathom breakaway. Nothing wrong with the decision as long as the referee is consistent. Admirali’s late first half foul was perhaps the most blatant for no more than a free kick.

Kim BoYong headed a Ronnayod corner over the crossbar.

The came the highlight of the first half as Anukorn and Chanatat failed to clear a Sarawut cross. Sarawin was sharp to see the loose ball and his 25 yard shot was hit with awesome power but bounced back off the crossbar.

A Tawan breakaway and a Pongrawit free kick were missed opportunities before half time.

The only goal of the game came in the 51st minute. Nergaard’s pass found Berg wide right. He had time to measure his cross and lob the ball towards the back post. Piyachanok appeared to slip and behind him the diminutive Kongnateechai rose to head the ball back across Fahas and inside the far post. It was quite simply the sort of cross that the defense should have dealt with comfortably.

Immediately Chiang Mai replaced Pongrawit with a debut for Yuta Hirayama.

Jhonathon Bernardo, to an excellent reception from the home crowd, replaced Kongnateechai with half an hour remaining. Ekkalarp kept a free kick alive when his header found Admirali in the penalty area; his shot was unconvincing but from close enough distance that it required Fahas to save with his feet.

At the other end Kim BoYong was booked for a dive in the penalty area as he tried to convert Hirayama’s right wing cross.

Ronnayod’s free kick was then guided wide of the far post by Sarawut who had time to pick his target.

Kim BoYong’s low cross from the left side was ably cut out by Wattanachai with Hirayama colliding with a defender; an injury that restricted his debut to just 18 minutes.

To add to the CMFC gloom Sawawut was given a straight red for a clumsy high challenge on Nergaard.

Then as the game went into its final minutes Chiang Mai found a late flourish; Phommin ‘s left foot shot from thirty yards needing a fine diving save and Suwannapat heading a free kick into the goalkeepers’ arms.

This was Nakhon Pathom’s third 1-0 win in a row and their sixth of the season. Chiang Mai will be frustrated that they were unable to convert chances into goals; but that in reality has been a problem since Stenio’s injury back on 1 October.

Chiang Mai return home for three successive home games starting with a league game at home to Uthai Thani on Sunday 15 January at 7pm.

The more things change the more they stay the same?

Thai League 2
Second half preview

Atthawit Sukchuai who is returning to Chiang Mai but in red rather than blue – picture @official cmfc

Let the fun and games begin. Thai League 2 is like two school terms separated by a four week holiday.

The first term is not taken too seriously; no one ever reads mid-year reports. The mid-season break then allows football clubs, like good students, to have a chance to reset their course.

Four weeks to hire and fire; to chastise and motivate. Or for some to decide that little if any change if needed; if it is not broken don’t try to change it.

The second term is where the real business is done and where the tough examinations will be sat. But it is a marathon and not a sprint – and teams that peak too early can lose momentum in the heat, humidity and smog of March and April. Just look at the falls of Trat FC and Udon Thani FC last season.

Any of the top 13 teams could reach at least the playoffs – with apologies to Kasetsart, Chainat (despite some interesting new hires), Krabi, Ranong and Udon Thani.

The transfer window does not close until 17 January – so as I write this on 5 January there are almost two weeks to go. I suspect most of the big changes have been made, but not necessarily announced, before tomorrow’s restart.

The hard part is keeping track of all the changes; some clubs are better than others at reporting new arrivals; fewer are interested in reporting their departures. There is also the small issue of a language barrier. Google Translate is not the name of NakhonSi’s newest striker.

So it is only when the team sheets are published this weekend that some changes can be confirmed.

But here we go with some of the more notable changes over the last few weeks.

Of the clubs that are easier to track the nominees for most players released are Chainat and Kasetsart, each with ten, Uthai Thani and Krabi with eight each and Krabi with seven. It is no surprise that the clubs that have struggled most are the clubs to make most changes to their squads. But other clubs such as Udon Thani and Ayutthaya have also released a number of players.

The changes also mean that there are a number of decent players that have quickly found new homes. Greg Houla joined Chainat from Udon Thani. Joao Paulo went to Suphanburi from Trat. David Haas from Udon Thani to Trat. There may still be some T1 players that come available over the next two weeks.

Of the top teams midway through last season only Udon Thani fell out of the top six; Phrae who were 7th mid-season finished 6th.

The top clubs also look stable this season:  at the top of the table Nakhon Si have made limited reinforcements rather than changes. Goalkeeper Samuel Cunningham arrived after spending last season with Lamphun. Arriving on loan are Kroekit from Chonburi and Petcharat from PT Prachuap.  

In breaking news as I write this Nakhon Si United have signed two strikers: Filipino forward and international Mark Hartman joins from United City FC. He is making a return to Thailand after playing in T1 in 2019.

Afghanistan international (who grew up in Finland) Fareed Sadat has joined from Phnom Penh Crown FC.

With Evandro Paulista and Phillerson both retained Nakhon Si have plenty of attacking options.

Suphanburi have recruited the striker Joao Paulo from Trat. Seiya Kojima has moved on. But for now the club appears happy with the existing squad.

Nakhon Pathom in third place are clearly looking to improve their goalscoring with Jhonaton Bernardo (once of Chiang Mai FC) arriving from Samut Songkhram together with the young right winger Obed Kofi Sam from the Ghanaian League. An interesting loan hire is Kritsada Wongkaeo, captain of the men’s Thai futsal team – on loan from Chonburi BlueWave. 

Ayutthaya, looking for at least a playoff spot, announced eight new hires two days ago; including Poonsak Masuk, once of Chiang Mai United and then Udon Thani, and Tossapol Chomchon, who was a much-loved warhorse at Chiang Mai FC and has more recently played with BGPU and Khon Kaen United.

Phrae United in fifth is another club that has made few changes; two players with T1 experience will be expected to keep the club competitive; Tanapong (Swatcats) and Sukhot (Sukhothai).

Rajpracha finished the first half of the season in sixth place; surprising many. Their trio of Malians may have all left the club; it is unclear. Diawara is reported to have joined Samut Prakan City. Too many departures and too few arrivals will see Rajpracha struggle through the remainder of the season. That would open up a play-off place.

Chiang Mai United have plundered three players from Lampang including the Brazilian striker Deyvison who did so much to push Lampang to promotion last season. What that means for Bill is unclear. But Deyvison and de Leeuw upfront could be the strongest attack in T2.

They will get good support from Atthawit (ex Rajpracha and returning to Chiang Mai albeit to the red zone); together with Nattachai (Swatcats) and Saharat (Swatcats),who is also returning to Chiang Mai.

Chainat have brought back Wellington Priori (they should never have let him go), brought in Greg Houla from Udon Thani, and the goalkeeper Pathomtat from Rajpracha. All positive changes.

Samut Prakan City released their underperforming foreign trio, Aneni, Leuca and Renan Costa. As mentioned above Diawara joins from Rajpracha together with Mohammed Toure, from AS Mansa in Mali. Kitikai and Phanudej also move across town from Rajpracha.

Rayong is another club short on goals. Rafael Galhardo, a Brazilian striker who played for Valour FC (Winnipeg/”Winterpeg”) in the Canadian Premier League, has arrived presumably in search of warmer weather.  Tiago Chulapa, ten clubs in six years in Thailand, has also joined the club.  A major push for the playoffs seems unlikely.

Chiang Mai FC returned four players to BGPU including the strikers Stenio Junior and Patrik Gustavsson, and received three in return. It will be interesting to see how Yuta Hirayama makes the transition from the Australian NPL. For CMFC fans the changes are underwhelming.

Customs United added one more loan player from their Port parent. But appear to have made no additional announcements.

Kasetsart released ten players and at the time of writing have found seven additions. Perhaps the most interesting is Esoh Paul Omogba the Nigerian midfielder who has played most of his football in Cambodia and Myanmar most recently for National Police in the Cambodian Second tier.

Trat FC also seem to have also decided that mid table survival is sufficient.

Uthai Thani are another club with multiple departures but only one announced arrival – notably Steeven Langil, the Martinique born winger, once of Ratchaburi FC. More announcements will presumably follow.

The three teams in 16th to 18th place midway through last season finished 16th to 18th at the end of the season. That could easily be repeated.

Krabi have hired a whole new team; twelve players; including the Korean Choi Ho Ju from Chainat and the Iranian defender Hamed Bakhtiari. Good luck to them all as they seek to take Krabi out of the relegation zone.

Ranong have added the Brazilian Gabriel do Carmo; he was without a club for almost two years after a year in Indonesia. The Swedish/Iraqi striker Selwan Al-Jaberi has returned to the club. Ranong may need a miracle rather than a pair of used forwards.

Finally Udon Thani FC. Udon Thani host Phrae United on Friday evening (6 January). At least ten players have left and the only new player announcement is Phipat Saengwong, parachuted in from Royal Thai Airforce FC.

It is also unclear whether goalkeeper Korrakot Pipatnadda has been recalled to SCG Muangthong.

New Brazilian coach, Mavi Lopes, has a mountain to climb. December friendlies suggest that there will be a team tomorrow; it is strange that names have not be announced and this must be deeply frustrating for their supporters.

That is all for now. A rather long summary; and at times rather vague for which I apologise. More changes will be announced but hopefully the restart will see squads quickly settled and the focus can be on the football.

Farewell yellow brick road…

On 20 November 2022 Elton John played his last live convert in the USA – appropriately at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles where he made such an impact in 1975.

He may not be to everyone’s taste – but his musical influence is undeniable – as has his remarkable work for his AIDS foundation. He has also been a background soundtrack for much of my life.

Elton is 75 years old – has discomfort from a hip injury and has a family that he wants to spend time with. No more touring. But not a bad way to leave the stage!

Here is the set list:

Bennie And The Jets
Philadelphia Freedom
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Border Song (Dedicated to Aretha Franklin.)
Tiny Dancer
Have Mercy on the Criminal
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
Take Me to the Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Candle in the Wind
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down the Mission
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (Featuring Brandi Carlile. Dedicated to late members of Elton John’s band.)
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Featuring Kiki Dee)
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Cold Heart (Featuring Dua Lipa)
Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

On 9 December 2022 John left Twitter, following changes to its rules made by new owner Elon Musk, stating, “All my life I’ve tried to use music to bring people together. Yet it saddens me to see how misinformation is now being used to divide our world. I’ve decided to no longer use Twitter, given their recent change in policy which will allow misinformation to flourish unchecked.”

And here is a link to a list of Elton John’s 40 Greatest Songs – not my list – and there are so many songs that do not make this list but might make mine or yours!

“The Economist” on what 2022 meant for the world

The Economist published an interesting geopolitical review of the year. It is a lot to pack into a few paragraphs; there are inevitably some omissions…such as the whole of Africa.

“Some years bring disorder, others a resolution. This one asked questions

It was a year that put the world to the test. From the invasion of Ukraine to covid-19 in China, from inflation to climate change, from Sino-American tensions to pivotal elections, 2022 asked hard questions. The ordeal has not only sent the world in a new direction, but also shown it in a new light.

The biggest surprise—and the most welcome—has been the resilience of broadly liberal countries in the West. When Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine on February 24th, he expected the government of a corrupt state to buckle. After a humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, the decadent, divided West would surely fail to match condemnation of Russia with real backing for Ukraine.

In fact Volodymyr Zelensky and his people affirmed that self-determination and liberty are worth dying for. They became an inspiration. After an upsurge in popular support, Western governments threw their weight behind democracy’s new champion. Led by the Biden administration, the West is providing arms and aid on a scale even hawks had not imagined.

At home voters also made themselves heard, siding against taboo-busting populists. In America, despite the awful approval numbers of Joe Biden, centrists used their ballots to preserve fundamental rights, including in some states the right to an abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. In competitive races hard-core election-deniers endorsed by Donald Trump almost all lost.

In France Marine Le Pen camouflaged her far-right origins, but was still beaten by Emmanuel Macron, a centrist. After Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s first far-right post-war prime minister, she leaned to the centre. Even in stumbling Britain, both Labour and the governing Conservatives are calculating that victory in elections lies away from the populist extremes of right and left.

As messy democracies show unexpected resolve, so seemingly steady autocracies have had feet of clay. Mr Putin is the prime example, doubling and redoubling his catastrophic gamble. But he is not the only one. After three months of protests following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for failing to follow the rules in wearing her hijab, the security forces in Iran have taken to shooting female protesters in the face, breasts and genitals. Now that the mullahs have forfeited the faith of their people, they have no other lever but violence.

Those who admire strong leaders for getting things done should be careful what they wish for. Xi Jinping has extended the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party, installing himself as its permanent chief and the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. But his steps to cool the property market, rein back consumer tech and block covid did grave harm to the economy. Today, as the virus spreads, it is clear that his government wasted months when it should have been vaccinating the elderly, stockpiling drugs and creating intensive-care beds.

Even China’s all-encompassing social control showed cracks. Although the Chinese security services swatted down widespread protests last month, these had been triggered partly by the sight of maskless crowds in Qatar enjoying the World Cup.

For all those who embrace classical liberal values, including this newspaper, Western resilience is heartening—and an important change after a long retreat. But the good news goes only so far. The tests of 2022 have also revealed the depths of the world’s divisions and have set big government on the march.

To gauge the divisions, compare the almost universal support for America after the attacks of September 11th 2001 with the global south’s determination to stay neutral in the fight over Ukraine. In the most recent un vote to reprimand Russia, 35 countries abstained. Many understandably resent how the West asserts that its worries are issues of global principle, whereas war in Yemen or the Horn of Africa, say, or climate-related droughts and floods, always seem to be regional.

In much of the world liberal values are embattled. Despite the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, democracy is under strain in Latin America. As he presides over ruinous inflation in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is prosecuting potential opponents in the election in 2023. In Israel Binyamin Netanyahu is trying to avoid jail for corruption by forming a coalition with the Arab-hating, gay-bashing far right. Indonesia adopted an illiberal criminal code in December that threatens to ban sex outside marriage, stifle free speech and impose religious orthodoxy. India’s economy is brimming over with tech-inspired enterprise, but its politics are majoritarian, ugly and cruel.

All around the world, the idea of limited government is taking a beating. Because of the post-invasion energy shock, European governments are pouring money into fixing prices. They are also powering the transition from fossil fuels, itself a welcome goal, using industrial policy rather than markets. America’s answer to the security threat from China is to deploy trade barriers and subsidies to decouple its own economy and boost home-grown industries. If that harms America’s allies, too bad.

Economic nationalism is popular. The largesse during the pandemic changed expectations of the state. Creative destruction, which reallocates capital and labour, may be unpalatable to ageing populations that put less store by economic growth and to younger voters who embrace the politics of identity.

But big-government capitalism has a poor record. Given decades-high inflation, caused partly by ill-judged fiscal and monetary policy, especially in America, it is odd that voters want to reward politicians and officials by giving them power over bits of the economy they are not suited to run. State-backed champions in energy and tech sometimes succeed, but the more that countries pile in, the more waste and rent-seeking there will be.

Judged by the liberal yardstick of limited government, a respect for individual dignity and a faith in human progress, 2022 has been mixed. However, there is hope. The West was arrogant after the collapse of Soviet communism. It paid the price in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global financial crisis of 2007-09. In 2022, having been rocked by populism at home and China’s extraordinary rise, the West was challenged and it found its footing.”