Fields of Dreams

Welcome back to a new Thai League 2 season where this year the quality may be as unpredictable as the drama.

After two long seasons that were blighted by Covid the new season will start on time and no club has yet announced restrictions on the number of supporters who may attend. Fingers remain crossed that common sense prevails and everyone is made welcome.

With the removal of the Covid quarantine restrictions we will also see a good number of foreign players coming to Thailand for the first time.

There are six new clubs in the League – the three relegated from T1 are Suphanburi, Chiang Mai United and Samut Prakan City. The three promoted sides from T3 are Krabi FC, Nakhon Si United and Uthai Thani, who return after just one season in T3.

With the transfer window running until 9 August some clubs were last minute shoppers; either hunting out the bargains that other clubs have over-looked or finally capitulating to the endless pressure of players’ agents. That also means that there will be changes to some squads after this article is completed. Apologies in advance for what may be seen as oversights.

The issue with late arrivals is that there is little time to assess fitness, assimilate them into the playing ethos of the coach and create relationships with their new squad. Some teams built their squad early and that must be an advantage at the start of the season.

As last year this preview will arrive in three parts – if only to keep Samut Prakan and Udon Thani fans in suspense for a few days.

Meanwhile some perhaps obvious thoughts about how to succeed in this League.

Scoring goals matters: the promoted teams from the last three seasons have each averaged 69 goals in the season.

Meanwhile 65 points should get a club into the top two automatic promotion places; Trat were unlucky last year to be overtaken by Lamphun and Sukhothai.

Home form matters; Lamphun, Sukhothai and Trat all won 13 home games last season.  The next best was nine home wins. Lamphun and Sukhothai were promoted as they also won 9 games on the road.

There is a four week break and a transfer window mid-season. Any team that is in the top half of the League mid-season can re-assess both their objectives and available resources as Lamphun Warriors did last season to great effect.

The play-offs (now starting their third year) keep players and fans interested until the last kick of the season. Anything better than 56 or 57 points should earn a play-off spot at which point anything can happen. Lampang finished 11 points behind Trat in the League but it is Lampang who are playing in T1 this season. So who has the squad to score enough goals for at least a play-off berth?  Here are my 2022/2023 predictions. Again alphabetically with four clubs in part one and seven each in parts 2 and 3.

Ayutthaya United: After 9th and then 11th places in the last two seasons their squad looks incomplete at the time of writing.

Ayutthaya are no longer connected with SCG Muangthong United who provided at least a dozen (it was hard to keep track) loan players last season.  

The addition of three new-to-Thailand Brazilians should give local fans reason for some optimism. As a centre – forward Nilson has played most of his football in Brazil but has also ventured to Bolivia and to play for Pegasus in Hong Kong.  He is joined in attack by Gustavinho from SER Caxias do Sul in Brazil. Thiago Duchatsch is a 1.90m centre back from Audax Rio de Janeiro EC.

Also new to the club is defender Kazuki Murakami (not the author) who joins from Sisaket.

Ayutthaya were Jekyll and Hide home and away last season. Just two defeats at home and eleven losses on the road. That will need to be addressed to avoid anything other than the lower half of the table. Prediction: 15th.

Chiang Mai FC: After two grim seasons for CMFC fans it does appear that owners and management have made a commitment to rebuilding the club with a combination of new players and the return of some of last year’s most promising loan players from BGPU.

However, with twelve of the squad on loan from BGPU it is clear where the money and influence lies and there will always be questions over whether loan players are available for the full season and what objectives BGPU has for the club. At some stage for CMFC, and any other feeder club, to succeed the club needs its own identity and long-term sustainability.

The catch with being a loan player is that you are serving three masters, yourself and your own career, the coach of the club that you are playing for, and the dream of being called back to contribute to the success of your parent club. It is at least one master, or mistress, too many.

The issue for Chiang Mai, as it was last season, is where will  the goals come from? Patrick Gustavsson, who joined in the middle of last season, and Stenio Junior (recruited from FK Partizani in Tirana) appear to be the starting forwards supported by a packed midfield.

The defense looks solid. Veljko Filipovic starts his second season at the club; ex club captain Suwannaphat Kingkaew returns on loan from BGPU and Singaporean international Rhyhan Stewart has joined from Garena Young Lions. A late addition is Suwit Paipromet who made a big contribution at Lamphun in the second half of last season.
Prediction: 4th

Chiang Mai United had a miserable last season in T1. Looking for an immediate return they have managed to keep a core group of players under new manager Chusak Sribhum.

The veteran Bill Rosimar remains on loan from Chiang Rai United. Bill will play alongside Melvin de Leeuw, who has returned to Chiang Mai after helping Sukhothai back to T1. They could be the goal scoring partnership to watch this season.

In defense the club has retained Evson, Sirisak and Ronnapee. Trat’s 2021/2022 first choice goalkeeper, Tossaporn Sri-reung has also joined Chiang Mai and will compete with Pairote Elam-mak for a first team place.

New additions also include Sansern Limwatthana and Nantawat Suankaew, both on loan from Port FC; Yuto Ono (not related) from Samut Prakan City and a number of ex T3 players presumably better known to the new manager.

Do not be surprised if the club looks for one additional striker and/or some pace on either wing as support for Bill and de Leeuw. A day or so after I wrote this the club signed Oliver Bias, primarily a right winger and a Philippines international. He is also the captain of the Philippines U23 team. He previously played for the youth national teams of Germany, the country of his birth.

Through slightly gritted teeth this looks to be the team to beat this season.
Prediction. League Champions

Chainat Hornbill FC have made the playoffs the last two seasons. Daniel Blanco has joined as manager and has plenty of experience with clubs at this level.

But the departure of Wellington Priori is significant – he was their talisman last season and it is hard to see where that drive will come from. Dennis Nieblas joins from Ayutthaya to replace Daneil Cyrus.  

Theerapat Laohabut and Sarayut Yoosuebchuea have arrived on loan from Muangthong. They were at Ayutthaya last season.

The issue, once again, will be goals. Last season’s three leading goalscorers have left the club. Diego Oliveiras has arrived from Nakhon Si United together with Ho-ju Choi from Rajpracha.  Chainat may need Warayut Klomnak to contribute more than the six goals netted last season.

Chainat is a club that is easy to admire with a focus of developing local young players and a stadium that is T1 ready. They may just not have the firepower this season.
Prediction: 9th.

Part Two will travel from Customs United to Phrae FC.

New Statesman on the UK PM’s resignation

In a momentous day in UK politics the Prime Minister has announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader. Pushed out by a record number of resignations by senior and junior Tory ministers over the previous 48 hours. There have, for instance , been three education secretaries in 36 hours.

He was pushed out by the very ministers that had clung devotedly to Johnson’s coat-tails; that until just a few weeks ago were giving Johnson a resounding vote of confidence.

For all the platitudes about the good of the country for all of these individuals it was about their political careers and office.

A series of pious, preening resignation letters have been sent from MPs who knew exactly what Boris Johnson is like when they ran for election under his leadership and accepted jobs in his government.

This isn’t a good group of people doing the right thing. This is them doing him before he does them all.

Survival. Nothing more.

So here is the New Statesman’s leader this morning. It does not mince words. It also hopes for the near impossible.

Leader: Boris Johnson’s departure alone is not enough
The UK needs transformative political, constitutional and economic change.

By New Statesman

The squalor and ineptitude of Boris Johnson’s premiership damages not only the Conservative Party but the whole of the United Kingdom. It was only a month ago that 211 Tory MPs voted that they had confidence in the Prime Minister. At the time, the rebels warned that another scandal was inevitable because of Mr Johnson’s suspect moral character, and so it proved.

Downing Street’s lies over whether the Prime Minister knew about the past allegations against the former deputy chief whip, Chris Pincher, prompted a long overdue cabinet revolt. A man accused of sexual harassment was appointed to a position of power by a leader who reportedly referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”. For Rishi Sunak, who had long contemplated resignation, and for Sajid Javid, who previously walked away from Johnson’s cabinet in February 2020, this proved too much.

But no one who accepted a place in Mr Johnson’s government should be surprised that he has been consumed by scandal. The Prime Minister specialises in bypassing legal and ethical obstacles. He ennobled the Tory donor Peter Cruddas (in defiance of the House of Lords Appointments Commission) and the Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev (in defiance of the British intelligence services), broke lockdown laws and breached party funding rules. As the historian Peter Hennessy has observed, Mr Johnson is “the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life, and of our constitutional conventions”.

The Prime Minister has worn many masks throughout his long career, but mendacity has been a constant. As the stakes have grown, so have the lies. The claim that Brexit would gift the UK £350m a week for the NHS; the assurance that there would be no customs checks in the Irish Sea; the insistence that no parties were held at Downing Street during lockdown. All of these have unravelled and have stained the UK’s global reputation. Now, as even his most sycophantic supporters lose faith, the Prime Minister has no one left to lie to.

Mr Johnson’s Britain, in its rampant corruption, seediness and economic decay, increasingly resembles Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy. The Conservative Party, which saw in Mr Johnson an election-winner rather than a huckster unfit to hold the highest public office, must now end this farce or be further damned by its complicity.

But the UK’s malaise will not end with the Prime Minister’s exit. The kingdom is fragmented and if the Union is to endure – the SNP is mobilising for a second Scottish independence referendum, as the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made clear on 28 June, in a speech to the Holyrood parliament – transformative political, constitutional and economic change is urgently required.

Since 2010, the UK has endured a lost decade not only for the economy but also for the nation’s constitution. Far from redressing Britain’s democratic defects and deficits, the Conservatives have intensified them. They have stuffed the House of Lords with yet more donors and stooges. They have extended the use of the arcane first-past-the-post system to mayoral contests and introduced US-style voter ID laws. And they have used the “good chaps” theory of government to entrench Mr Johnson in power. If any of this is to be remedied, it will take more than a Conservative defeat at the next election.

But Mr Johnson should never have become prime minister. It bears remembering that he did not seize Downing Street in a coup d’état; he was nominated by 160 Conservative MPs – who knew his defects – and then overwhelmingly elected by the party membership. He also won a commanding majority in the 2019 general election on the crude pledge to “get Brexit done”, whatever that means.

At every point, Mr Johnson’s advance has depended upon the complicity of others, including the right-wing press. Some of those who knew him well, such as his former editor at the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings, and his former Spectator colleague Matthew Parris, tried in vain to warn Tory MPs that he would betray them just as he had betrayed others. But his dismal rule has shown why the UK needs more than a change of leader: it needs a complete renewal of its moral purpose and governance. Mr Johnson has disgraced the office of prime minister and shamed Britain.”

LIV Golf – money trumps morality

The Saudi backed series of golf events under the LIV brand kicks off in England this week.

54 holes; no cut; ludicrous amounts of prize money; and for the marquee names appearance money that leaves them set up for life even if they finish last in the 48 player field.

There is something vulgar about the whole business. It is as obvious an attempt at sportswashing as one is ever likely to see.

Useful idiots that can be bought for a price and are willing to rebrand and promote the KSA as a benign, warm, sports-loving nation distant from their backing of 9-11; their dismal human rights record; their treatment of women as second class citizens and of course the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

Lining up at the inaugural event are some of the least liked golfers from the US PGA. Phil Mickelson, who memorably described his prospective Saudi benefactors as “scary” people to get involved with, will be there. As will:

Dustin Johnson who is rumoured to have been paid US$150 million just to join the LIV tour. Mickelson even more.

Bryson de Chambeau, Patrick Reed and Ricky Fowler are not playing in London but have apparently all committed to future LIV events. Fowler is a disappointment, I thought he placed more value on the history of the game and the legacy it can leave.

From Europe – European tour veterans Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Graham McDowell. The South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Shwartzel and Branden Grace. All have won or made multiple millions on the European and PGA tours and through their sponsors. But offered another few million for less work and guaranteed pay-outs; thank you very much.

The chief executive of the LIV tour is Australian, Greg Norman. Speaking at a promotional event in the UK last month, the Australian was quizzed about the death of Khashoggi and issued a response that prompted outrage. “Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward,” he said. Greg Norman is the CUI – Chief Useful Idiot.

Most of us do not brutally murder and dismember Washington Post journalists because we do not like what they have written about us.

McDowell, one of Irish golf’s star names, with career winnings of more than $35m, stated that he had “decided that following the LIV opportunity was best for me and my family” even if it is likely to cost the 42-year-old future captaincy of the European Ryder Cup team. Of course, Graham.

Their pre-tournament media interviews have been embarrassing. They are all clearly prepped by a PR firm that, like too many of their kind, also has no moral compass. Feigning outrage; saying that it is all about growing the game and being role models. Would they play a tournament in Putin’s Russia was one of the questions….it is a hypothetical question was the standard reply. Of course they would – for the right price.

Meanwhile the PGA this weeks tees up in Canada for the RBC Canadian Open. A tournament much higher in prestige and that will take a lot more winning. But those competing in it will be acutely aware that its $8.7m purse is a pittance compared to the riches on offer in Hertfordshire for what amounts to morally questionable but far less difficult work.

One standard question is why should golfers- and other sports people – not deal with Saudi Arabia when governments around the world buy their oil; sell them ludicrous amounts of weaponry, much of it used in the Saudi oppression of Yemen, and even now, describe their nations as allies? The state is not an individual – and there is basically a state recognition of a both a dependency on Saudi Arabian oil and a need to retain KSA as an force for a stable Middle East. Geopolitical necessity.

The question remains why should sportspeople be held to a higher moral code?

Which rather misses the point. The issue is that they are not held to a higher standard; but they are very public figures. They are being used specifically for their names; their fame. They are being used as window-dressing by a regime that knows that money can buy anything.

And that is what LIV is counting on – greed. For blood money.

They may well be right. More players will jump to LIV for the cash on offer. The European Tour (now unfortunately known as the DP World Tour) is near death; the purses are too small; the players are not good enough; and for the most part no one, other than family friends or Sky Sports actually cares. Name the winner of last week’s Porsche European Open? I doubt many can.

The Asian tour has already hitched its future to the LIV tour with 13 Asian Tour golfers lined up to play in this week’s LIV tournament.

Outline a possible future: there will be two primary tours; LIV and the US PGA (which will have to go global and incorporate the European Tour.) The Majors will continue – for instance the US Open is run by the USGA not the USPGA. But the majors will also need to go global as well. That 3 of the 4 majors are in the USA is head in the sands stuff!

The problem with the US PGA tour is that it is too parochial; too local and too comfortable. Patrick Reed, love him or hate him, embraced the European Tour because of the challenges of different countries, courses, climate etc. The US PGA is pretty much cookie-cutter courses played by cookie-cutter golfers each week.

The European tour will become a development tour – much like the Korn Ferry Tour in the USA.

Prize money will need to increase to create near parity of the remaining tours. Golf will need to appeal to a new generation; the 54 hole shotgun format may work; a 2pm start each day with everyone finished by 6.30pm. Think T20 cricket rather than a test match. Louder; noisier, brasher; better suited to an audience that has a myriad of other distractions.

LIV may in the end be necessary for golf; but it needs to be honest and transparent in its actions and objectives. As do the mercenaries that have already signed up.

The LIV 2022 tournament schedule is:

1 Centurion Club Hertfordshire, England June 9-11
2 Pumpkin Ridge Portland, Oregon June 30 – July 2
3 Trump National Golf Club Bedminster Bedminster, New Jersey July 29-31
4 The International Boston, Massachusetts September 2-4
5 Rich Harvest Farms Chicago, Illinois September 16-18
6 Stonehill Bangkok, Thailand October 7-9
7 Royal Greens Golf & Country Club Jeddah, Saudi Arabia October 14-16
8 Trump National Golf Club Doral Miami, Florida October 27-30

Ros Atkins of the “future of news.”

Last week, I gave a speech at the Society of Editors. There’s been some interest in it so, if you’ll indulge me, I thought I’d post it here. I was asked to talk on ‘future of news’. Once I’d cleared up that I definitely don’t know that, I launched in.

I don’t know what’s next but I have spent long enough trying to guess where we’re heading to have some rules of thumb – some guidelines that help me to work out how to give new types of journalism the best chance. And my speech was based on those – this is what I said. 

The work of innovation and modernisation can sometimes feel like an extra. The form our journalism takes – the way we structure staffing, the way we structure daily output, developing products – can feel secondary to the stories. 

And I get that – we all became journalists because of a desire to hold to account, to uncover stories – to tell stories. None of that has gone anywhere. 

But for me the moment we’ve reached is asking fundamental questions about where journalism fits into our world. News is not a given in people’s lives. It can’t be assumed people will seek to learn about our world via journalism. 

It can’t be assumed people understand and value the way that journalism work or why we think that gives the information we produce has value. It can’t be assumed that the way we tell stories is the way people want to hear them. Our place in people’s lives is not a guarantee. 

And so when I look at the need to innovate, to reimagine, to restructure what we do – it’s not because change is fun and creative and exciting – though it can be all of those things. For me this is a necessity. 

If you believe in the importance of journalism to our society – and to the world – then actively engaging in what we need to become isn’t optional. This isn’t some distant moment. 

When we talk about the future of news – what we really mean is what do we need to do now. Because we can see how radically people’s media consumption habits are shifting. There is though a catch here. 

We can observe those shifts in habits – from linear TV to streaming, from print to digital, from branded digital destinations to social. But it very hard to know what to do about it. My career is littered with evidence of this. 

In 2015, I was in Athens for the Greek debt crisis – and amongst other things was recording six second summaries of the story on Vine. That soon passed. 

Or in 2017, I was doing livestreams on facebook from the BBC newsroom. They felt like the future. I’ve not done one for several years. 

Or in 2018, I tried to persuade the BBC to develop an app based around the touchscreen I used to use on Outside Source. The BBC declined – rightly arguing that we didn’t need another digital destination. Those are three examples. Believe me, I could go on. 

But these false starts weren’t necessarily a problem, though maybe I didn’t feel that way at the time. For me they are inevitable. 

Because the degree of disruption that the internet has brought to our information ecosystem is so total, so huge, so unknown in many ways – we can’t expect anything other than a constant need to change. 

And if there’s a constant need – certain things follow. One is that we expect from ourselves – that this becomes a non-negotiable – just as coming being factually accurate, fairness, nigh production standards already are. 

What also follows if the need is constant – our innovation should be constant. We should keep doing it. Again and again. Not everything is going to work of course – but there are things we can to do give ourselves the best chance. 

I’ve been lucky enough to see some of my ideas blossom – from Outside Source to the 50:50 Project to our explainers to my podcast with Keith Olbermann. And I think I can see some patterns. In what I’ve done – in what the BBC has done. 

And I now have a list of things – 7 for me, 4 broader ones – that I ask myself if I’m working on a one-off idea – or a new product. Some of this may seem obvious – but it’s helpful to me. 

1. What problem are we helping with? Are we clear on the need we’re meeting? On one level, journalism is a service. It’s offering help. So what help is our idea offering? 

2. What is different with this idea? An old editor of mine used to say – ‘we’re making news for people who know the news’. Beyond the basic facts of a story that may well be known – what is different here? What are we adding? Bluntly, why are we doing this? 

3. Show them the journalism. Don’t assume people understand why we believe the information we have is of value. Show people the evidence – don’t just assert things. Make the case for journalism. Earn people’s trust. Our processes, our journalism is our greatest asset. 

4. The idea needs a digital and social dimension. Money spent on journalism without a digital element is not making the most of your investment. 

And success connects to sharing. My drum and bass mix on 6 Music is one of their most downloaded programmes of the year. Evidently, it’s not news – but there’s still a lesson there. 

First, I had to try and do a good mix – if the product isn’t there the rest won’t follow. But then I spent the day before it was released writing a twitter thread about DJing in my 20s and connecting it to this mix. 

It was designed to go viral and promote the mix and, happily in this case, it did. Without that too the mix wouldn’t be one of the most downloaded programmes. |

5. Assemble a multi-disciplinary team. In 2016, I visited Stanford University. I spent a very high impact hour with an academic called Justin Ferrell. He talked about small multi-disciplinary teams are incredibly powerful – even in big organisations. He’s right. 

Build one – however informal – around your idea as soon as possible. When we began the relaunch of Outside Source in 2020 – we immediately involved designers, producers, editors, directors, marketing, engineers, digital. You maximise the chance of the idea developing well. 

6. What’s your definition of success? Be clear on what you’re hoping to achieve – and if it’s not happening, stop or change how you’re doing it. Being able to stop is an important as being able to start.

I see so many digital examples of news organisations doing things because they feel they should – but no-one is consuming what they’re doing. And they carry on. That it’s not working isn’t a problem. Not stopping is. You damage your brand and waste resources. 

There’s one more on my list – arguably the most important one. How do you want to tell the story? This might seem obvious – we ask ourselves this every day. But our answers are often the same ones we’ve been giving for a while. And there’s a risk here. 

Digital isn’t only a distribution revolution – it’s a story-telling revolution too. Look around at how people are sharing their stories – it often doesn’t look anything like news. From TikTok to gaming livestreams to comedy on YouTube to threads on twitter to podcasts. 

We are in an era of extreme creativity – we need to match that in news. We need to look far and wide for our inspiration. Otherwise the news risks feeling tired and constrained to our audiences compared to everything else they can consume. 

That’s my 7 points. But if individuals or teams are doing all of this – you’ll need an organisation that is doing certain things too. I’ve four things on this list – again they may seem obvious but I keep an eye out for them. 

1. Build product and story innovation into your processes. If you make it part of your systems and routines – you have a far greater chance of it becoming habit. It also communicates that this is something the organisation expects. 

Second, think about how you process and assess ideas. If you’re asking for them, you may a lot of ideas coming your way. But commitment to innovation, doesn’t mean doing all of it. Saying no is important. So you need to clear on your criteria. 

Third – don’t assume your brand will be enough. Brands can help a lot (I, of course, am completely reliant on the BBC’s journalism and reputation) – but brands count for little if the content isn’t right. 

Be humble when taking this on – you’re going to have to fight for this however big you are. I start from the point of view that a new idea is not going to work (even if it’s a good one!) – and try and address all the reasons it could get stuck. 

And fourth – you need flexibility in your newsroom. The rhythm of news has changed – daily papers and shows are being replaced by whatever we like – new products and new stories can take many different forms. 

That will require flexibility in how we manage staffing and budgets. It will require flexibility in your output structures – in other words we tend to make journalism in fixed forms and then distribute in fixed ways. New ideas may not fit into this. 

Without that flexibility, your best ideas will struggle. Don’t underestimate the number of blocks that exist to the idea being made and being distributed well. 

All of these things helps me work out how to have the best chance of creating journalism that works for our audiences. I should add that what works now, won’t necessarily work next year so this remains a work in progress. That’s exciting as well as challenging. 

But let us also be honest – as we survey British journalism, the form it takes in many cases is much like the news I consumed in the 90s – the news that inspired me – that made me want to be a journalist. But that was some while ago. 

The future of news is here – it’s all around us in how people consume media content in a multitude of different ways – the test for all of us is whether we’re willing to take part. 

…so that is the speech. If you got this far, I’m flattered and impressed! I’m sure there are many journalists and consumers who have many better thoughts on what we can do. I’m all ears. As ever, I’m feeling my way. 

Farewell to Hong Kong

Western Market terminal on Hong Kong Island

Bloomberg’s Matthew Brooker reports on “The Hard Way Home to the UK From Hong Kong
A look at the challenges and frustrations of uprooting from the Chinese city to travel back to Britain after three decades away.”

He is braver than I am – and has family reasons for returning to the UK – but after 28 years in Hong Kong the UK will be a hard place to settle down. I left in 1988. I have not lived there since and have no family reason or personal need to live there again.

This was Matthew’s commentary – every word of it feels familiar:

“The light on the harbor; the hum of escalators on the MTR; the battered orange Ikea sofa that I will leave behind. Even the most mundane sights and sounds have become invested recently with the rare and precious significance that impending loss brings. More than 100,000 Hong Kong people have taken steps to move to the UK in the past year. Sometime in the next two months or so, I will join them.

Hong Kong isn’t what it was. The exuberantly free and pluralist society that I knew for 28 years has largely vanished. Activists for a kaleidoscope of political and social causes no longer line the road outside Causeway Bay station. People who were part of the fabric of public life for decades are in prison; others have fled. Walls have been scrubbed clean of graffiti. Hong Kong officials say the national security law that China imposed on the city in 2020 ended the chaos and violence of the 2019 pro-democracy protests and restored order. It did a lot more than that.

“It was as if, in order to fix a leaky pipe, the builders had pulled down the entire house and plowed up the land under its foundations,” as Louisa Lim writes in Indelible City, published last month. After three years marked by the worst unrest since the return to Chinese rule, an unprecedented security crackdown and political purge, and the enforced isolation of draconian Covid restrictions, Hong Kong is a city with PTSD. To that, add the mental pressure of feeling gaslighted almost constantly. On Sunday, Hong Kong held an “election” for its next leader, with one candidate approved by a committee of 1,500 Beijing loyalists, hailed by officials and state media as an example of the city’s “improved” electoral system in action.

In April, I marked the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Hong Kong. The decision to leave is nerve-wracking, and not without pain and doubt. British bureaucracy and London property prices are providing a fair share of each. There’s also the stress of uprooting my family from a stable life when no one is forcing me to. Am I sure about what I’m doing?

There’s a sense of being suspended between two netherworlds: the Hong Kong that has disappeared; and the land of my birth, a country that I no longer know in any meaningful way after so long away. The UK is still more of an idea than a reality to me, apprehended through endless Rightmove searches, school application emails and the occasional Zoom call. I wait for the day when I will have solid ground under my feet once again.

There are personal reasons for leaving. My mother will be 86 this year, and I have a three-year-old boy, a late-life addition that I couldn’t have expected a few years ago. Filial duty is only part of it, though. To contemplate remaining would be a bittersweet prospect, knowing what Hong Kong was and what it has become. It would be so easy to stay. The guilty secret is that this city is kind to foreigners like me, and probably will continue to be — as long as they serve its functions of being an international financial and business center. Taxes are low, domestic help is cheap and available, transport connections are fast and efficient.

These comforts have started to weigh more heavily. It was one thing to accept all that Hong Kong had to offer when the city was, in effect, a benign autocracy — one that didn’t offer meaningful democracy, but where individuals were subject to minimal interference by the state, and where a vigorous civil society flourished. Now the benign part has gone. To continue enjoying the ease of life when the people of Hong Kong have had so many of their freedoms stripped away feels like complicity.

Yet even now, I am torn. Some might argue that the braver course would be to stay in Hong Kong and keep bearing witness. But I ask myself: Is this the society that I wish my three-year-old half-Chinese boy to grow up in? And the answer has to be no.

The financial implications of moving to Britain are bracing. Hong Kong’s standard tax rate is 15%. The UK’s starts at 20% and goes up to 45%. Hong Kong also has an array of allowances and deductions (for children, for example) that can reduce your tax bill. The UK, as far as I can gather, has no such equivalents. It’s hard to look at the figures and not imagine that this will mean a financial sacrifice. Liberty has a price, as one Hong Kong local who’s relocating to the UK remarked to me ruefully.

It wouldn’t be so bad if cheaper property prices balanced out one of Hong Kong’s standout expenses. Outside London, that’s certainly the case. In London, not so much. The cost of renting in the capital looks dizzying to me, relative to the quality of what is within my budget. Hong Kong has famously unaffordable housing prices, yet considering the differences in tax rates, London looks possibly even more extreme. It doesn’t seem to add up. I find myself wondering about the size of the black economy.

To buy would make more sense, but that depends on being able to sell our apartment in Hong Kong first. We put our suburban mass-residential unit on the market at the beginning of December, thinking that was plenty of time and wanting to stay in our marital home for as long as possible. Then Hong Kong’s fifth wave came along and Russia invaded Ukraine. Now the U.S. is raising interest rates, a key factor for the city’s property market because of the currency peg. We are making contingency plans in case we can’t sell before we leave. It feels like a bare-knuckle ride.

Then there’s shipping. Container freight rates have increased by about five times since the start of the pandemic, rendering it uneconomic to move many of our belongings. I have been quoted the equivalent of more than $9,000 to ship even a reduced volume of goods. As a result, I am busy disposing of three decades’ worth of accumulated books. So many people are leaving Hong Kong that most second-hand bookshops have stopped accepting donations. Luckily, I have found one that’s still interested in my eclectic (and often faded) collection of China, World War II, business, spiritual and fiction texts.

Beyond finances, there is the issue of culture shock. My wife, my 15-year-old stepson and my three-year-old will all have to go through their own adjustment. I may not be immune myself. By choice, I would probably go to live somewhere in southwest London, an area I know well enough. The exigencies of school placement mean that we will probably be heading to the outskirts of north London, an area that is not part of my mental geography. It may be on the tube, but using Google Maps’ street view to cruise around the neighborhood, it looks almost rural.

The Hong Kong writer Karen Cheung describes having a near-panic attack when she left the city for the first time for an exchange semester in Glasgow. “Where are all the people?” she writes in The Impossible City, another outstanding Hong Kong memoir that was published this year. “There was less than a tenth of the crowd I would see back home.” I’ve been in Hong Kong for so long. Will I be struck by pangs of anxiety one day on my suburban street, wondering where all the crowds, all that familiar “frenzied energy” and “language of alienation and impatience” have gone?

Besides being densely packed, Hong Kong also moves fast. Red tape is minimal. Already, I can see this may be a challenge. We applied for UK family visas for my wife and stepson in January. We’re still waiting, with the clock ticking until our planned departure (more bare knuckles). The process itself is worth recalling. To apply for a UK visa, gather: a computer that doesn’t tend to crash (do as I say, not as I do); a print or scan of every official document that everyone in your extended family has ever handled or been named in since the dawn of time; a lot of money (9,000 pounds, or about $11,300, in my case). And set aside the rest of the day.

What follows several weeks later is an appointment at a nondescript industrial building on Hong Kong island, where a private sector agency checks all the documents that you have been told to produce. I arrive with a sheaf of them as thick as my thumb. An elderly Hong Kong employee with a kindly manner helps to arrange the papers into folders to save time once our number is called. The first document he asks for is one I don’t have. The second document he asks for is one I don’t have. Where’s your document checklist, he asks. I show him the list. Not that list, the other list – the one that the UK government website shows you. I have no recollection of the other list. Don’t even ask me about Ecctis letters. I suspect there will be plenty more such experiences after arrival in England.

I have no right to gripe. I may be waking up regularly in a cold sweat, wondering if I am making a terrible mistake. But the challenges I face have solutions, even if I haven’t found all of them yet. At least we have some resources. So many Hong Kong people have left for the UK with far less, seeking a better life in a country they don’t know at all. Their intrepidity should put me to shame.

A March documentary by Singapore’s Channel News Asia focused on a Hong Kong family with two young children who emigrate. They land at Heathrow and drive to an Airbnb house in Crewe in the northwest. An immigration consultant tells the camera that he gives them only a 50-50 chance of being able to adjust to life in the UK. Several months later they have spent half their HK$1 million ($127,000) savings and no longer meet the financial requirements for the British National (Overseas) visa, which they hadn’t obtained before leaving. I stopped watching, my heart sinking and fearing the worst.

I needn’t have worried. When I went back to complete the program, I discovered it was ultimately uplifting rather than depressing. They form networks, find better jobs, look to buy their own house. By the end, they appear to be flourishing. The wife, Fiona Lai, is a classic Hong Kong character: smart, resilient, adaptable. Each part of the two-part documentary has more than 1 million viewers on YouTube; the second has more than 4,000 comments.

They call it the Lion Rock spirit, after a TV show about the lives of everyday Hong Kong citizens that started in the 1970s. The series, named after an iconic Kowloon mountain, embodied the Hong Kong values of perseverance and solidarity that underpinned the city’s rise to prosperity.

I’ve always, from the depth of my soul, admired that spirit: the humor, the irreverence, the will to live and endure of Hong Kong people. If I take one thing with me when I leave, let it be that.

Bubble double toil and trouble

Earlier this year I questioned a tweet from ThaiLeagueCentral promoting Thai League NFTs promoted through their new relationship with Bitkub.

The future is here. A historic event for Thai football as the @thaileague has partnered with @BitkubOfficial to release over 1.2m NFT cards. Go get yours today at:”

As I pointed out at the time “1.2m cards hardly gives them the uniqueness that is where trading cards (inc. NFT cards) get their value. People could lose a lot of money trying to find an NFT trading card that turns out to be a rare winner.”

It should be noted here that I have been writing articles for ThaiLeagueCentral during the season that is coming to a close.

One of the founders of Thai League Central suggested that I did not understand the appeal/value of NFTs and that our disagreement may be a generational issue.

A little reality check – I have far more investment experience, and a far greater understanding of risk, at a personal and corporate level than he does.

Here is a piece in today’s Guardian on “NFT scams, toxic ‘mines’ and lost life savings: the cryptocurrency dream is fading fast”

One of the comments under the article covers rules for investing, these are as valid now as they were in the days of every bubble that we have ever known – from South Sea bubble to Internet bubble.

  1. Do I broadly understand what I’m buying?
  2. Is it something for which there is a liquid market of buyers?
  3. Is it’s pricing easy to understand?
  4. Am I happy with the cost of buying it and owning it (and not just the cost of purchase)?
  5. If I couldn’t know the value of it for ten years, would I still be happy that I owned it?
  6. Is it something I can hold on to indefinitely if I choose to do that, confident I can exchange it for cash at any time?
  7. Is it regulated to a degree that I find acceptable?
  8. Is it legal to buy, own and sell?
  9. If it’s a derivative, can I identify at least 90% of its underlying composition?
  10. Can I explain my entire investing strategy to somebody else in less than two minutes and do they understand it?

If you can’t do all of the above when you buy something……’re going to lose your shirt sooner or later.

An earthquake in Northern Ireland

My Protestant father passed away 16 years ago. I doubt he ever thought the day would come when Sinn Féin massively outpolled the Democratic Unionist party in Northern Ireland’s assembly election.

But here we are; a majority of Northern Ireland’s people has voted to have as first minister a republican whose party wants a united Ireland. Sinn Féin gained an astonishing 29% of first preference votes in Thursday’s assembly elections. The DUP got 21.3%, a drop of 6.7% on its last performance.

Northern Ireland was set up 101 years ago to be an exclusively unionist state. Now, and maybe this is even partly down to Brexit, Sinn Féin’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, has already said that preparations for a border poll should begin immediately and that it could be held within five years.

A party that does not want Northern Ireland to exist and refuses to even use the term Northern Ireland has become its biggest.

This election has simplified the political landscape, while also making it more interesting, not least because of the massive success of Alliance, which has emerged as the third largest party taking 13.5% of first preference votes and gaining numerous seats through transferred votes. It takes no position on the constitutional question and draws voters from unionist, nationalist and other backgrounds. Alliance used to be the party that “nice” unionists said they voted for when they didn’t want to admit they voted for the Reverend Ian Paisley. It has attracted a broad range of people, including many young people from the Protestant community who have rejected the DUP’s fundamentalism and intransigence.

The success of Alliance will ensure that Sinn Féin and the DUP, should they form an executive office together, must represent the interests of a diverse society.

Northern Ireland has had a transformative election. But do not expect rapid change.

The emotional roller-coaster

Picture – @cmfc_official

Rayong FC 3 Chiang Mai FC 2

Thai M150 Championship
Saturday 30 April 2022
Rayong Province Stadium

Starting XI Kiadtiphon

What a wonderful roller-coaster football can be. All of life wrapped up in 90 minutes, and like life, with a decent chunk of injury time for redemption.

The despondency: drive for 12 hours and see your team concede a ludicrously soft goal within 2 minutes.

Tanpisit’s long pass from his own half was perfectly aimed into the space opening up for Jakkit’s diagonal run from the right side. Veljko and Meedech were pushing forward. Sumeth for some reason was going the other way until he realized that was a bad idea. By then Jakkit, clearly onside, had a ten yard start on any defender; he calmly bore down on goal and slid the ball past Kiadtiphon.

The optimism; Chiang Mai almost immediately responded and it took a fine save by Noppakun to keep out Suchanon’s shot as he ran onto a pass from Pongrawit.

The relief: Jakkit wins a header at the back post directing the ball at Pitbull (yes that really is what it says on his shirt). Pitbull cocks a leg (he did, honestly) to redirect the ball to Kenzo Nambu at the back post. Nambu’s first attempt rebounds from the woodwork and his follow up was well saved by Kiadtiphon.

 A Pitbull spin and shot went narrowly wide. advises that Pitbull is paid Baht 150,000 a week. Which makes his one goal from 17 games played one of the most expensive goals scored by a foreign player in Thailand.

The dismay; Jakkit has drifted wide right. Sumeth has not got close enough to him to stop his cross into the area. But he is close enough that the ball hits Sumeth and both deflects and spins inside the near post with Kiadtiphon stranded. Jakkit may claim the goal but it was an own goal.

The debate: Sumeth is not a left back. Sarawin on the other side is not a right back. Chiang Mai looked exposed down both wings. Sumeth was substituted after 36 minutes, by Chaiyapruek, and the defense looked a little more organized.

The predictability: There was still time for Pitbull to move forward from half-way finishing with a powerful shot narrowly clearing the crossbar.

The anxiety: Chiang Mai came close to conceding another goal as the second half commenced. Kiadtiphon, possibly distracted by Poomphat, was unable to gather Kirati’s low cross from the left. Kenzo Nambu was first to the loose ball but shot against the crossbar.

The hope: Surasak is in the Rayong penalty area and heading away from goal. Even so Wasusiwaki still clips his ankles to bring him down. Penalty. Calmly stroked to the goalkeeper’s left by Pongrawit. 2-1 to the home side.

The elation: Five minutes later Tawan spreads the ball wide left for Gustavsson, on as substitute for Phommin. Gustavsson, at pace, reaches the left side of the penalty area and unselfishly pulls the ball square for the onrushing Suchanon to score at the far post. It was a high quality, fluid move. We have not seen enough of that this season. 2-2.

The heartbreak: With ten minutes to go Kittikai plays a give and go on the right side and cuts into the penalty area between Poomphat and Pongrawit to calmly finish a well-worked move past the Chiang Mai goalkeeper.

And that, bar a little pushing and shoving was it. A 3-2 win for the home side who had been outplayed for much of the second half.

Chiang Mai could spend the 12+ hours of their drive home wondering just how that did not get at least a point from that game.

But this was the last game of a long and difficult season and the result does not impact any of the relegation or promotion issues. Thoughts, instead, turn to vacations and to new contracts for next season.

See you again in August 2022.

In other T2 news; Lamphun won the League title; Sukhothai join them as the automatically promoted sides.

Rajpracha, Khon Kaen and Navy are relegated.

The play-off semi finals with be between Trat and Phrae and between Lampang and Chainat.

Unfulfilled potential

Too quiet – much too quiet

Chiang Mai FC 1 Udon Thani FC 1
Thai M150 Championship
Saturday 23 April 2022
700th Anniversary Stadium

Starting XI

Udon Thani came to Chiang Mai a changed team from the side that won convincingly at home in early December.

Half way through the season the Orange Giants had 34 points from their first round of 17 games and were in a strong third place. In the second half of the season their depleted squad has just 13 points from 16 games. Yet a playoff spot was still a remote possibility if other results were in their favour.

With T2 safety assured for Chiang Mai, after wins at home to Navy and away at Nakhorn Pathom, the 716 fans that attended this last home game of the season might have hoped for a little more entertainment.

But Chiang Mai for only the second time this season were without any of their main strikers; Danilo, Kabaev and Gustavsson, all presumed injured. This left, literally, a lightweight front two of Seiya and Tawan.

Chiang Mai made two changes to the side that won last week at Nakhon Pathom. Somyot replaced Phosri and Supasak came in for Danilo. It was a team strong on defense but light on offense.

Udon started slowly; like a team that had spend far too long on a bus. Chiang Mai attacked down the right side. Udon played give-away in their own half. Tawan looked lively; Seiya had a shot blocked and did put the ball in the net; but it was disallowed for offside.

Yet by the half way point of the first half Udon were settling into the game and pushing forward.

With 23 minutes gone Jongrak aimed a long ball forward for Skraparas; his one significant contribution to the game was to flick the ball into the penalty area behind Veljko; the defender tried to shield the ball for Kiadtiphon to collect. Suew was more alert than both Chiang Mai players and ran between them to volley home from 12 yards.

There were half chances on the break for Chiang Mai. Suchanon shot wide. Pongrawit shot high. Somyot did both at the same time.

Aleks Kapisoda had to leave the game with an injury while stretching to deflect a Tawan cross away from Seiya lurking at the far post. A big loss for the Udon Thani defense.

Udon started the second half as poorly as the first. Supasak deep on the left side in his own half whipped a crossfield ball into a big empty space on the right for Tawan to run onto and into the penalty area; where with great composure he slid the ball inside Sornnarai’s near post for Chiang Mai’s equalizer.

Udon might have restored their lead when Lim received Kittiphong’s pass in the Chiang Mai area; turned, too easily, away from Veljko and from twelve yards his shot was well struck but straight at the legs of Kiadtiphon.

Another Tawan cross from the right was met by a combination of Seiya and a defender; enough to send the ball wide.

Phommin made his Chiang Mai debut replacing Somyot. Phommin had moved from Khon Kaen at the start of the season and has not been seen since.

Tawan remained the main threat for Chiang Mai; last week he was a stand-in right back. Tonight he had the freedom to move around the front line; creating chances for himself and team-mates. He would likely be the first to admit that he needs greater consistency; too many opportunities are wasted from good positions and too often the goalkeeper is not tested.

The final minutes would produce the better chances of the half.

Veljko galloped down the right and hit a firm low cross into the path of Nattawut at the far post; the striker could not convert.

For Udon Thani Lim shot powerfully over the crossbar from 20 yards.

Tawan then set up Sarawin to cross from the right side and Seiya’s powerful low header flashed past the near post. Once again Sornnarai did not have to make a save.

Tawan’s season was also Chiang Mai’s season; plenty of potential but, in the end, not good enough. If he remains another season it would be good to see how he develops.

So a basically a meaningless game between two mid-table teams ended 1-1 and no one was unhappy. Both teams will now be hoping for much greater success next season.

I wonder how many of that squad the Chiang Mai fans were saying goodbye to this evening. We will know in the next few months.

Into the final straight

Kasetsart University Stadium – at home to Sukhothai last weekend.

Thai League 2 – mid April 2022 and just two match days remaining

There are just two match days left in the League 2 season – and as Donald Rumsfeld infamously said: “there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

The known knowns: Navy FC and Khon Kaen FC are both relegated from T2. Promoted from T3 to T2 are Krabi FC and Uthai Thani FC, who return to T2 after just one season. Chiang Mai United are relegated from T1.

One of the top three (Trat, assuming neither Lamphun nor Sukhothai drop points) will finish third and be the top team in the play-offs. Chainat are also certain of a play-off spot.

The known unknowns: One of Rajpracha FC or Ladkrabang Customs United will be relegated from T2 to T3. Either Nahkon Si United or Phitsanulok will join T2. They are tied 1-1 after the first leg of their T3 play-off.

The remaining two play-off places are between Lampang, Muangkan, Phrae and a (very) remote chance for Udon Thani should other results go their way. Lampang have to travel away to both Trat and Muangkan. Phrae would be disappointed not to take six points from their last two games. Muangkan should pick up three points at home to Navy leaving the Muangkan v Lampang match on 30 April to decide the final play-off place.

Phrae and Chainat were the beaten semi-finalists in last season’s play-offs.

Who comes down with Chiang Mai United is a mystery? Samut Prakan City are very unlikely to survive; Suphanburi have a Houdini-like habit of last-minute escapes. PT Prachuap would be a welcome addition to the increasingly diverse destinations of T2.

The unknown unknowns; will every T2 team return for next season? Too much red ink is not sustainable. There are rumours; there will always be rumours. But a club needs a FAT license, a stadium, a squad of players and above all else enough money to operate; and even more money to be successful. Sponsors are few and far between and are more goods-in-kind than hard currency. Wealthy benefactors are needed; and as Lamphun has shown wealthy benefactors can reset the ambitions of both a club and its supporters within a season.

If an existing T2 club folds is a lifeline thrown to the relegated club or to the club that loses the T3 play-promotion play-off?

And so to the final two weeks of the season: next Sunday the two leading teams in T2 play the two teams trying to avoid the drop. Lamphun will be certain of promotion if they win their home game with Rajpracha while Sukhothai play at home to Customs United. Both Lamphun and Sukhothai have won all three games played in April; the only teams in the League to do so.

Meanwhile, Trat are at home to Lampang on Saturday in a must win game for the long time leaders of T2. If Sukhothai and Trat both win then the final automatic promotion place will not be decided until the final round of games and Trat have the head-to-head results advantage over Sukhothai.

To take one of the automatic promotion places Trat have to hope that either of Lamphun or Sukhothai drops points in their remaining two games.

The T2 promotion play-off semi-finals will take place over four weekends in May. Last year’s play-off winners were Khon Kaen United who beat Nakhon Pathom on penalties behind Covid-closed doors. Expect more play-off drama this year.