A league in crisis?

14 December 2022

Thai League 2 – mid season review

My half term review of Thai League 2 has to start by asking the question – is T2 in crisis and can it survive under the current structure?

The answers are probably yes and no, but qualified by the fact than our football administrators will likely ignore the problem in the hope that it goes away. The League is at or is close to breaking point; doing nothing would be a poor, but likely, choice,

The issues are multiple; low or unpaid salaries; falling attendances; lack of sponsorship funds; dependency on a high net worth owner or on the support of a League 1 parent. This becomes self – fulfilling. Fewer fans attend matches; sponsors look elsewhere; while operating costs increase. Quality diminishes.

373 goals have been scored in 153 matches this season. 2.44 per game. At the same time last season 449 goals had been scored at 2.94 per game. A 17% reduction.

In 2021/22 five teams had scored more than 30 times at the half way point. This season there are only three teams that have scored just 30. None have scored more.

The average crowd at home games across the League is just 822. Seven clubs have an average crowd of over 1,000 at home games with six clubs averaging less than 500.

The last comparable season was 2019. Covid has blighted attendances for the last two seasons. In 2019 13 clubs averaged over 1,000 per game (4 were over 2,500) and the average attendance was 1,583.

Crowds are almost down to 50% of the pre-covid attendance.

Chiang Mai FC, Samut Prakan City FC and Customs United FC all depend on the support – players, coaching staff and financial of a League 1 parent; Bangkok Glass, Chonburi and Port FC.

Basically under this structure none of these teams could (or should)  be promoted to League 1 without creating a serious conflict of interest. For example see Chiang Rai United’s title winning season in 2019. It is also unlikely that the proud parents would want to see their T2 offspring in League 1 just on the grounds of operating costs.

Therefore it is a good thing that the top seven teams midway through the season operate independently.

NakhonSi United are this year’s Lamphun. Promoted from T3 last season they even hired Wanderley Jnr. who coached Lamphun to the T2 title last season and was promptly released. They are big, physical, fit and move the ball forward at every opportunity. Sounds familiar.

Suphanburi FC are this year’s Sukhothai. Relegated last season from T1 they have quietly and effectively rebuilt and are currently level on points with NakhonSi United.

In third place sits Nakhon Pathom FC. They have scored just 17 goals this season – but more importantly conceded just nine. They are the Scrooge of Thai League 2. They have a league leading five wins from nine games on the road where, remarkably, they have only conceded just  twice. Peter Nergaard has scored in each of the club’s last five games.

The remaining play off places are currently occupied by Ayutthaya, Phrae United and Rajpracha.

Eighteen of Ayutthaya’s goals have come from their newly discovered Brazilians – Nilson and Gustavinho. Top of the league in early November they have only picked up one point from their last five games.

Rajpracha are the surprise name in the top six. Divorced from BGPU at the end of last season the club turned to the land-locked West African Republic of Mali for an in injection of young talent. Diawara, Konare and Sidibe have been the surprise heart of the team. Financial concerns and the departure of some players (for instance Atthawit to Chiang Mai United) suggest a more difficult second half of the season.

Two clubs that have underperformed. Chainat who have just one point from nine games on the road and Chiang Mai United after a dismally slow start to the season and a change of coach. Chiang Mai United will play 10 of their remaining 17 matches at home; that may prove significant. They did host the biggest League 2 crowd so far this season – 2,916 for the Chiang Mai derby. Most were penned in the away end!

The pre-season thought was that Udon Thani had navigated through their financial problems and started to build a competitive squad. But their early season was a soap opera and injuries and player departures have further weakened the club. Just two home wins and two away draws leave them 7 points from safety. They and Krabi will continue to battle to survive. After a 0-6 defeat at Uthai Thani Ranong appear to have given up.

Seventeen players have scored six or more goals in the first half of the season. The only Thai players on that list are Phodchara (Customs) and the veteran Ronnachai (Rajpracha).

Goal of the season to date, and for the next millennium, has to be Poomphat Sarapisitphat’s strike for Nakhon Si United at home to Kasetsart, reflected in the look of stunned bewilderment on the goalkeeper’s face.

As last year showed all too well the season really only starts in January. So before the season restarts over the weekend on 7/8 January I will look at the main player arrivals and departures from our League 2 teams and how they may impact the second half of the season.
As for a League in crisis. If the Thai League had any desire to preserve the quality and integrity of the League they would be applying far more stringent financial controls on the clubs and creating a mechanism that allows well-backed and supported clubs from League 3 to fast-track into League 2.

Promoting just three teams from a League of almost 80 clubs does little to reward ambition. Songkhla, Sisaket United, Phitsanulok and Pattaya Dolphins would all be strong, well-supported, contenders in T2.

Other options would be to create a smaller League 3. One League or a North/South split and to move some of the perennially weaker T3 sides into the new regional semi-professional League. Also ban any team from competing in T2 that is owned and controlled by a League 1 team; at the same time restricting the number of loan players that can come from any single team.

Just a few thoughts that assume that the best way to get fans back into the stadia is to give them a product that excites and entertains.

For now I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday and a very peaceful and prosperous new year.