BURIRAM UNITED, TAO

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Buriram United F.C. Tao. Admiralty, Hong Kong. November 2014.

It could have been any other of over twenty original shirts from different countries he owns, but gods of coincidence decided it’s going to be a Buriram United’s dark blue Tao will wear that day, almost a year ago between protesters in Hong Kong’s Admiralty. The protest colours, yellow was the most dominant, exploded over central Hong Kong in October 2014 and I was practically colour blind after shooting millions of pictures every day. But two Chang elephants and that beautiful blue, my favourite of all Asian football colours I could not possibly miss.

Besides sporting such a beautiful shirt and being Thailand’s champions several times, Buriram United F.C. is not the most loving sports club in the Land of Smiles. It’s one of those money-can-buy-you-all-but-not-really clubs that many people love to hate. Since it was bought by a local politician in 2009 who renamed it and moved to his hometown (original name PEA, colours purple/white), Buriram United is a powerhouse of Thai football. They have amazing new stadium, one of wonders of Buriram, a strong team and even stronger rivalry with Bangkok’s Muangthong United for which Robbie the God Fowler, pushing his wasted body to the limits, use to play.

The day I met Tao and his beautiful family, Buriram United beat Police United 2-1 to secure another league title. A year after they remain atop the Thai Premier league together with Muangthong United, 56 points each. At the same time in Hong Kong, few hundreds pro-democracy protesters with yellow umbrellas are taking streets of Admiralty again to mark the anniversary of protest – is Tao there and what shirt he wears?

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Hong Kong, the protest site, 2014.


LIVERPOOL, KHUN BIRD

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Liverpool. Bird. Phuket, Thailand, 2014

WTF?, I asked.

“You know, Bird loves Liverpool”, said one of his friends.

The idea and and rule of Footballists, simple and never-changing, is to talk and take pictures of people wearing shirts of their favourite football teams. This is, obviously, a special edition on our blog so let’s make an exception. If Khun Bird would be wearing his favourite shirt today the gods would be angry, that’s what his rule says. Actually, Khun Bird is a god today. More precisely, a god possess his body. It’s complicated.

The bizarre vegetarian festival on Phuket, the island known to be a tourist heaven in southern Thailand, easily tops otherwise very bizarre list of events I normally attend in my wanderings through Southeast Asia. In short, the festival, featuring face and every other piercing, spirit mediums and strict vegetarianism is a part of the local Chinese community’s belief that will help them obtain good health, and the rest that comes with pleading with Nine Emperor Gods. However, the original idea somehow developed into a spectacular festival of mind blowing rituals. Besides usual self-mutilation that is known to other religions in other parts of the world, what makes veggie fest in Phuket very special is variety of objects that are used to piece bodies. Car exhaust pipes and alloy wheels, chandeliers, nunchakus, models of racing cars and sailing ships, umbrellas, barbed wire and every possible kind of spikes, knifes and screwers plus M16s and other weapons – it is all pierced through cheeks and mouths of devotees of different Chinese temples as they parade through Phuket. That and many other unimaginable objects sharpened to cut through flesh. If you are in the mood, probably not, for some more pictures and attempts to explain the unexplainable, please look here and here.

Khun Bird, god for a day, loves Liverpool. I had no chance to talk to him directly as he was in trance with two metal rods carrying LFC flags, oranges stuck at their sharp ends, pierced through his mouth but members of his entourage, all wearing original Liverpool shirts, briefly explained his passion to me. So I took some pictures and then followed another god, fishing net coming from his mouth, into the crowd. For true believers this would be another strong proof that if you choose the right team, here and elsewhere, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Bird Phukets

The gods never walk alone.


LIVERPOOL, NURUL AMIN

Liverpool. Nurul. At the shelter. Phuket. Thailand, 2013

Liverpool. Nurul. At the shelter. Phuket. Thailand, 2013

Why Liverpool? I asked.

“What is Liverpool?”

I suspected that would be the answer even before I asked the question we usually ask for this blog. Nurul Amin simply doesn’t know Liverpool nor does he know much about other teams and players. However, he knows football and loves it.

Nurul Amin is a Rohingya refugee and that is as bad as being a Bosnian but hundred times worse. Escaping recent violence, he left his village in Rakhine state on a rickety boat for a super dangerous trip across the Andaman see toward Malaysia, a heaven-like place almost every Muslim in the northern Myanmar dreams about. Nurul Amin was strong and lucky enough to survive the trip (people die on these boats) but his vessel didn’t make it all way to Malaysia. It was stopped in Thailand and now Nurul Amin spends time at a shelter for women and children waiting to see what else the brutal life will unload on him.

There is not much he can do at the shelter except playing football with other kids. Good people donated some clothes and some toys, among them few balls and some jerseys. Nurul Amin got a Liverpool one. While he posed for a picture (proving that a professional pose and associated hair style is something you are born with) smaller kids wearing donated football shirts stood around. As if someone opened a matryoshka doll and different sizes of misery jumped out, all looking straight in my eyes.

The cutest among them, by far, was one little “Ibrahimovic” in AC Milan shirt that grabbed my leg and released it only to be photographed.

Little Ibrahimovic wants to be photographed.

Little “Ibrahimovic” wants to be photographed.


THAI PORT, LILLIAN

Lil June 9, 2013

Thai Port. Lillian. Studio at Nana, 2013

Why Thai Port? I asked.

“Well, the stadium is only five minutes from where I live. That’s how all started.”

The rest is a long and ongoing story. On her twitter profile (worth following for some thoughtful and funny observation about football and Thai society) otherwise very cool Lillian describes herself as “Artist/Photographer. Dirty Liberal Feminist. Apathetic Gooner. KlongtoeyArmy Conscript”. There @TheLilyfish mentions two football clubs that play a big part in her life – Arsenal and Thai Port (Klong Toey army are their supporters). While following Arsenal is reduced to late night/early morning matches on TV (she use to live in the UK and was regular at stadiums), the passion for Thai Port takes her, together with a weird mix of tough boys from the notorious Klong Toey slum and local expats, on a colorful journey through the amazing Thailand and its even more amazing football league.

Unfortunately, the Port was relegated last year (“it must be some sort of a plot against us”) and they now play in the second division against clubs strong as an ambitious junior German amateur team, but their supporters are united as ever. From their home games in the slum (great stadium, thought) to away games played on rice fields across the country – the Klong Toey army is there. Week in and out Lillian is with them. “It is not like some other club with lots of sponsors but no soul. This is different”.

I photographed Lillian in her studio where she is usually behind the camera taking portraits of people for her fascinating photo project “I’m Bangkok”. She didn’t need to pose much nor I needed to edit my pictures – Lillian wears this jersey so naturally that every shot looked perfect.


MILAN, SOE

Soe Phuket June 19, 2013

Soe. Milan. Phuket, Thailand, 2013

Why Milan?, I asked.

“I like it because of that striker. I forgot his name.”

No wonder he can’t remember the striker’s name. Last time I’ve been drinking what Soe is drinking on a hot and humid summer day I had serious difficulties recalling anything. Thai rice whiskey, although less than 30 degree strong is a dangerous thing. The myth, truthless as only a myth can be, says this drink contains opium and poison.

Or perhaps Soe just doesn’t care and wants me to go away so he and his friend Zoe (Argentina shirt, “because of Messi”) can continue loiter in the shade of a scrappy shop enjoying a little drink after another heavy day at work.

Far away from their homeland Myanmar, these gentlemen live hard lives of fishermen on Thailand’s island of Phuket, better known as a tourist’s heaven. I assume there is not much beside football and Thai whiskey that matter to them at this point. However, they both agreed to pose for a picture. Cheers!

Soe Zoe June 19, 2013

Fishermen in the shade.


ROMA, DARIO

Roma. Dario. Bangkok, Thailand, 2013 © Damir Šagolj

“Why Roma?”, I asked.

 “Gialla com er sole, rosso come er come mio! Chi tifa Roma non perde mai.” (Yellow like the sun, red as my heart! Who supports Roma never loses.)

When recently Lazio beat Roma (Senad Lulic, 71min) in the finals of the Italian cup, my natural reaction was to immediately send Dario a teasing text message saying that such a tragedy happens only because you leave your Bosnian on the bench (wunderkind Pjanic) while the other team’s double Bosnian trouble is at their bests (Lulic plus coach Petkovic). After dramatic minutes of silence (maybe it was too much, too soon?) his reply unveiled a serious diagnosis similar to the Stockholm syndrome – he said that the Lazio coach transformed a group of assholes into lions while Roma players were %#*$^*(@.

Just as it should be, I’m not sure where Dario’s great love for Roma stops and where the disregard (hate?) towards Lazio begins. However, his southern mentality that gets berserk especially when we talk about football makes my years away from home less painful. He is my best friend in Bangkok, where we both live, and yes he really wears his Roma shirt like it is Caesar’s best toga.


ARSENAL, DAMIR

This is a fantastic news for all of you Footballists fans:

Damir Šagolj, a friend, and a reporter who works for Reuters news agency and is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, joins Footballists and will be our regular contributor. Here is his first post. Enjoy!

Damir June 15, 2013

Arsenal. Damir. Bangkok, Thailand, 2013, photo by Dario Pignatelli

Why Arsenal? I asked myself.

“Because Samir brought me this shirt.”

Indeed, although it is bit awkward for one displaced Bosnian (Samir, Lodon) visiting another even more displaced (Damir, Bangkok) to have a foreign team’s shirt as the present – this one worked very well and I liked it from the first moment.

Despite supporting a wrong team back home in Sarajevo – almost an inexcusable blunder – Samir is one of my dearest friends and I would be happy if he had brought me any other shirt. Liverpool let’s say or, God forbid, Chelsea. But, he chooses the Arsenal and even had their shop at Emirates made a shirt with my name on it.

For years now, Samir has his seat just above one of the corner flags at Arsenal stadium and I get my face into the screen trying to see him every time camera stops there. I started following and cheering for Arsenal because of Samir and even that little prick RVP didn’t make me change my mind.

However, I know one day Samir and Damir will take these shirts off and put back red and blue of their Sarajevo teams, the only ones that really matter. But, for now let it be Arsenal.

Damir Samir

Damir & Samir, Bangkok, Thailand, 2013

Ps… this is my first post for footballists.com, one of the coolest things that exist on the Internet. I could have put my two sizes too small Zeljo shirt for it, but it should be no surprise really why I choose to have Samir mentioned in my introduction – both him and Veba, the author of this genial blog, are very similar in what they do, and how they do it. Quiet and not-pretentious and good and so smooth that all of the others, me included, should learn a big lesson from these fine gentlemen.

I live and travel mostly in Asia so I hope to bring little bit of oriental spice to the Footballists. It is my honor and commitment to be a part of it.