An Evening of Football in Chiang Mai

Last night I headed down to the 700 Year Old Stadium to get my first taste of football in Chiang Mai. Also known as the Lanna Tigers, Chiang Mai FC would be taking on Chiang Rai City. Upon heading to the game with friends I’d commented that there must be quite a fierce rivalry between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The two cities have relatively big populations and often are perceived to be next door to one another by the travelling community. It was whilst speaking that I then realised that in reality the travel time between these two northern Thai cities is about 3 hours. I think I need to work on my Thai geography. Fierce rivalry, car park clashes and blood shed in the streets there would (fortunately) not be.

In stark juxtaposition to my earlier misconceptions the game was more a fun, joyous family affair full of smiles, laughs and sing-songs not too dissimilar to the English game I have remained addicted to since I was a young boy. It is no doubt in sharing passionate characteristics with the football I have grown accustomed to 10,000 miles away that Chiang Mai FC seem to have built up a relatively strong following of foreign fans. Many expat and tourist faces mingle amongst the local crowds both outside and inside the stadium.

Father and son taking a sunny stroll towards the ground.
Father and son taking a sunny stroll towards the ground.
A huge Chiang Mai FC flag is waved before a mountainous backdrop to greet visitors on arrival.
A huge Chiang Mai FC flag is waved before a mountainous backdrop to greet visitors on arrival.

One huge difference between watching football at home in comparison to attending a game in Thailand is undoubtedly the ticket price. Tickets at the 700 Year Old Stadium to watch the football in Chiang Mai comes in three flavours: 40฿ (86p), 60฿ (£1.30) or 80฿ (£1.73) price tiers. Choosing the most expensive ticket guarantees a seat in the newest part of the stadium complete with fold down chairs and a roof top whilst the cheapest tickets secure a spot behind either goal to which on one side will be closest to the away fans on colosseum style high step seating. It’s this kind of seating you will also find for the middle road 60฿ tickets which oppose the main stand. Here you’ll find the loudest, most serious fans whose vocals are supported by a drum beating band. This is where we sat.

The great thing about paying so little for your tickets of course means you have more money to spend on this:

Support Chiang Mai FC. Drink beer!
Support Chiang Mai FC. Drink beer!

There are actually no catering services within the stadium itself. Food and drink is served by local street vendors who set up shop around the various entrances. After being given a stamp you can freely roam out of the stadium and bring back in whatever food and drink you like. This is a great model which not only provides fans with a huge selection of eats and treats but also supports the local community.

Chiang Mai vs. Chiang Rai kicks off beneath the falling sun.
Chiang Mai vs. Chiang Rai kicks off beneath the falling sun.

Every football match in Thailand is preluded with the national anthem which regardless of whether you are seated inside the stadium or running around it to try and find your gate requires you to stop everything and stand still until conclusion. Kick off for the game was meant to be 6pm but in true Thai style ended up beginning a bit beyond that. I can only assume that all games in Thailand have late kick offs due to the near 40°c temperatures which can accompany the early hours of the afternoon. As we took to the stadium and sat down a harsh Saturday sun was fortunately beginning to dip behind the main stand. I’ve no doubt thirty minutes longer whilst completely exposed in the stands would have had us all looking like lobsters.

Whilst my knowledge of Thai football is poor, I was a little surprised to learn that this was not a particularly high profile match. Despite representing Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai currently sit in the Thai Division 2 North Region.Whilst they are top of the league at present and angling for promotion I must admit I had expected they would be two flights above in the Thai Premier League. A quick glance at the league table suggests that Thai football hasn’t necessarily evolved through pure representation of towns and cities. Of note – Army United and Police United currently languish in top flight mid table. Now there’s two games I wouldn’t want to bet on! Most of the teams also take on a USA Major League Soccer style modern sounding (and usually animal themed) nickname and logo.

The crowd is orchestrated by a man with a megaphone.
The crowd is orchestrated by a man with a megaphone.

As darkness fell, pints of beer drained and consequently the energy of the crowd bolstered, merry Chiang Mai fans sang their team to a 3-1 victory. Despite the relatively low calibre of the game the football was at time surpisingly skilful with an emphasis on direct play and quick movements as opposed to the hoof-the-ball-upfield approach that is oh so common in the bottom ranks of the English game.

Jumping in a 30฿ songteaw back into the city from the ground I found myself suitably sozzled and pleased with my first Thai style football experience. If you ever get the opportunity to go watch the football in Chiang Mai then you definitely should make the effort to go take a look. Even if you don’t like football it’s worth going to just soak up the atmosphere and ready yourself for your evening antics. For the money you can’t go wrong! I’ve got a feeling I may even become a regular.

Have you ever watched football in Thailand or anywhere else whilst travelling? How did you find it?

Comments

A Cook Not Mad (Nat)
Reply

Sounds like great fun. I wish the stadiums in North America had street vendors instead of overpriced junk food.

northierthanthou
Reply

Totally digging the vendor policy. That does sound like a good way to go.

Chris
Reply

Yeah. The selection of food and drink is really great also!

Chris
Reply

Definitely do so Shane. If you’re ever headed on down let me know!

Charli l Wanderlusters
Reply

Wow street food and a cold beer sound like the perfect match for a little footy in Chiang Mai. Why do the US stadiums serve such overpriced junk? Looks like a great experience!

Nick
Reply

I like to go… not quite Upton Park but there are other benefits for sure

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