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A visit to Thailand's ancient place of Thai football

Off the pitch - Report Football museum Thailand

The home of Thai Football
image: © thai-fussball.com

England has one, Japan has one and even Thailand already has what Germany will only have from 2014: a national football museum. So stunning it may be that the German Football Association will only have such a museum from next year; the more we were amazed that there is such a place in Thailand. So we were bound to visit it.

Certainly the "Museum of Siam Football", as it is called, doesn’t compare with those in England, Japan or the upcoming one in Germany. But along with the area on which it is located, it seems to be unique in its setup and is worth a trip now we have discovered it. Surprisingly, the historical centre of Thai football is not located in Bangkok where the association was founded 97 years ago – also not in our office where the amount of collector items grows steadily – but a good hour’s drive to the west of the metropolis in the contemplative Nakhon Pathom, which is better known for the tallest Buddhist temple in the world.

The easiest way to get to the place, taken you are coming from Bangkok and provided you don’t call a vehicle of your own, is by mini-van. These coaches leave from Victory Monument at the heart of Bangkok and will drive you for just 60 Baht to your destination. You should get off at the Big C shopping centre in the town and you’d better tell the driver you’d like to get off there otherwise you may miss the stop.

Upon arrival you will soon notice the notorious motorbike taxis already waiting for customers. The museum is in the grounds of the Sanam Chandra Palace which was established and used as residence by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI. The choice of location does not come by chance since it was Vajiravudh who studied in Oxford and in 1916 founded the Football Association of Thailand.

So after a journey of 10-15 minutes through the town perched on the back seat of the bike, past the Phra Pathom Chedi, you are there. The entrance fee for foreigners is 60 Baht and includes the visit to the football museum. It is located right away on the left hand side behind the entrance. Who takes his time, and walks on ahead for a few metres, is grasped by the beauty of the design and the buildings: a lovely green park shines in the sunlight and a building resembling a castle all in a western style. By now you will have come to the conclusion that a visit is worthwhile not only because of the football museum.

The Museum

The idea to find a place serving as permanent home of Thai football was sparked in 2002 on the edge of an exhibition to honour Rama VI. The "Association of the Football History of Thailand" has a large number of members – many fans, academics and also former internationals being a part of it. On this occasion they donated their possessions relating to the history of Thai football and expressed the wish the Association would find a suitable place where the artifacts could be kept and displayed. As a result the Association asked for permission to use some land on the area of the Palace. But it was only five years later that it opened its gates for the first time, when the Palace celebrated its first centennial.

Thai Football Team 1915

1915: King Rama VI in the middle

Accommodated in the building named "Tap Kaew", the museum is divided primarily into two sections. One consists of pictures which King Vajiravudh made and gave to the football team of the Suankularb Wittayalai School. Hence it led to the fact that many schools began to found football teams in Thailand. In an ironic manner this could be one of the reasons for the missing football club culture in Thailand, as we know it in Europe where it is rooted into society, and the absence of a youth league. The latter hindered by schools who strive for competition among themselves.

However, even in the King's court football was played, much to the pleasure and entertainment of the Monarch himself. Thus, it does not surprise further that till the 90s the "Bureau of the Royal Household" can be found as a team in the annals of the Thai league. The aforementioned Suankularb Wittayalai School, by the way, became two time Thai champions in 1928 and 1929. Also documented in the museum are the names of the first internationals in the era under King Vajiravudh.

Even Pele's autograph is here

Without a doubt, for many the most interesting part of the museum is to be found in the second section. You will find yourself right in the middle of it after entering the building. Here, several cabinets with all kinds of devoted objects can be found: match-worn shirts, tickets, medals as well as programmes and pictures of various national football heroes. The shirt collection, ranging from the early years of the national team up to today's time is really impressive.

At the sight of the shirt in blue with a red S and with the logo of German side FC Saarbrucken, one should not feel in the wrong place. These are loans from Witthaya Loahakul, the current coach of Chonburi FC. He is the only Thai who ever made it to the German Bundesliga as he played for Hertha Berlin and Saarbrucken at the end of the 70s. Some of the displayed shirts were also shown during recent TPL Expos.

And who knew Thailand has twice taken part in the Olympic Football Tournament? In 1956 and the last time in 1968. Though they went back home in each case without a point; however, the heroes are found perpetuated here. Moreover, in the upper floor one finds an old game ball which carries the signature of Pelé. In 1972, FC Santos played a friendly match against today's Regional League side Raj-Pracha FC which had eight Thai internationals in its ranks at the time, and the superstar put a pen to ball.

Thai football museum

View into the Museum
image: © thai-fussball.com

All together the museum makes a homely impression and at some places rather makes the impression of an antiquated local museum where crochet patterns are shown. A learnèd museophile would find a rewarding task here. Unfortunately, the overall history of the Thai league, youth teams and futsal is almost not present, and so it is more like a museum of the history of the national team and the early years of the FA. Pictures of former league and cup champions are omitted as well as anything of the teams who appeared in the continental Champions League.

The Museum and its organization does issue magazines on a regular basis, where partial reports on the Thai League can be found. These magazines can be purchased at the entrance. And because the rush of visitors is not that big, some of the early issues can still be grabbed.

The official language in the museum is not English, of course. Only a few foreign tourists might get lost and end up at  Sanam Chandra – we did not see any on the day apart from us – and still less to visit the place only because of football. This is the more regrettable, as director Chirat Chanthasane could tell a vast number of stories of the exhibits and a talking shop of several hours would be on the agenda!

The Palace is open every day from 9:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M. All-important! Everybody should keep the ticket with themselves up to the end: it has to be shown at the entrance of every building which is on the site and it will be stamped on the back.

Fancy some live football?

For football fans or “groundhoppers” looking for less crowded tourist places, interested in architecture and the history of Thailand, an excursion to Nakhon Pathom is almost a must. Also, one need not miss 90 minutes of live football, provided you plan well.

After inspecting the Palace, for which one should plan for a good three hours if one wants to visit all the buildings in detail plus one hour for the football museum, one can head towards the Big Chedi. It can be seen from the area and is just two kilometres away. As there is not really much to be seen at the Big Chedi, a brief stop should do it to take a picture for the hard disk album and off you go to the stadium of Nakhon Pathom United.

To get to the stadium, one takes the same way back, almost up to the Big C at which we arrived earlier in the day, and from there just another ten minutes. You can find motorbike taxis opposite the Chedi, just tell them where you want to go. If the weather is still behaving itself, one has accomplished a fantastic day with football, culture and a day out in a green park.

For those are interested in sports museums in general, at this point we can recommended one more exhibition. Located in Bangkok inside the Rajamangala National Stadium, the museum of the Sport Authority of Thailand (SAT) can be find which is devoted to the success and the history of sport in Thailand in general.

ball with Pele's signature

The ball with Pele's signature
image: © thai-fussball.com

videoroom

Even a small video room is there
image: © thai-fussball.com

Sanam Chandra Palace

A few into the park
image: © thai-fussball.com

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