Friday, June 22, 2007

Thai EPL fans: football, image and loving to bet

Thais, like most of South-East Asia, are nuts about football. Above all they are crazy about the English Premier League, which is broadcast throughout the season with repeats for top-up fixes during the week. But allegiances do not stray much beyond the "big four" of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Even Everton, whose shirt sponsors are Thailand's Chang beer brand, do not get much of a look-in.

What hope, then, for Manchester City? The Guardian's Ian MacKinnon tested public opinion in Bankok on the club's imminent acquisition by Thailand's exiled former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra:


Certainly Sittisak Ruangcharoen, 25, a telecoms manager and Manchester United supporter, harbours suspicions about Thaksin's motives. "Not many care about Manchester City," he said. "I know he's interested in football, but I think it's just another business deal for him. Perhaps he also wants the attention since he was thrown out of power."

Although Dew Sumonchate, 25, a DHL courier service clerk, is a similarly devoted Manchester United fan she sees things through a different prism. "This is great, because it will make people around the world think differently about Thai people," she said. "They'll not think we're poor and backward if he pulls this off. My team's Man United, but at least it's the same city."

Nootari Unruan, 28, a Bangkok travel agent, dismisses all the fervour. She maintains that football fever in Thailand is false and about only one thing. "Thais like English football because they like to bet on the games. That's why they care."

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