The ABC of Thai Football - The Amateurs

Off the pitch - Report Kor Cup

98 years old: The Kor Royal Cup
image: Thananuwat Srirasant

Thailand's league system as it is today is presumably familiar to most of you dear readers. But how has it originated, how has it changed, and above all what is with amateur football? We followed these questions for you.

The history of Thai football is full of secrets and riddles. For outsiders just as much as insiders. Whereas in European football where any statistics of the past 100 years are handed to you on a silver platter, one needs to dig deep for many things concerning Thai football. If one get his teeth into it on a daily basis, there are almost always new things to discover. This, of course, makes the whole thing very exciting on one hand, but can be confusing at times on the other hand.

This extends, above all, to Thailand's league system. How did it look almost 100 years ago and how has it progressed over the past decades to the one we know today? And are there really only three tiers in Thailand? What about amateur sides? A small digression through the Thai leagues.

For nearly 100 years now, football teams in Thailand have fought for fame and honor in the form of cups. Until the league structure of Thai Premier League, Division 1, Regional League as well as League and FA Cup, structured as we know it today, the Thai league system underwent several changes. However, basically it is based on an ABC system which was introduced in 1963 and is somehow still valid in the present age.

The first ever final to a Thai championship, contested at that time by a total of ten teams, was held on 13th September 1916. The fact that these ten teams were teams in the purest sense of the word who played football because they liked to play the game and were not football clubs in the European model stretches through the culture of Thai football up until today. The names of the two finalists speak volumes: Department of Performing Arts and the Ministry of Justice.

Under the eyes of King Rama VI, who founded the Football Association of Thailand in the same year, the artists kept the upper hand. Even today the place on which the first championship was played can be examined. It can be found on the forecourt of the Armed Forces Development Command Headquarters in Dusit Thani, only a few metres away from the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok.

The cup, which was handed over to the first ever winner in 1916 by King Vajiravudh, still exists and is therefore 98 years old. Today the trophy is still handed over by a representative of the royal family to the winner. At that time going under the name of Yai Cup, it is known under the name of Kor Royal Cup nowadays, and played between the league champions and cup winners.

On account of the growing popularity of football in Thailand and the increasing number of teams, the Association changed its pyramid in 1962, after a period of 46 years, for the first time. The Yai cup (ถ้วยใหญ่) and the Noi cup (ถ้วยน้อย), if you like the first and second division, were replaced with the Kor Royal Cup (ถ้วย ก.) and the Khǒr Royal Cup (ถ้วย ข.). As third and fourth league, the Khor Royal Cup (ถ้วย ค.) and Ngor Royal Cup (ถ้วย ง.) were introduced. The ABC of Thai football was born and existed in this form till 1996.

Department of Theatre

Department of Theatre, 1916
image: unknown

The Thai alphabet does not really have an A-B-C, but maybe it can be explained thus. The Thai alphabet does not start with an "a" but with "ก", what corresponds to our "g". This is the Kor Cup. The "ก" then is followed by five other K-consonants, from which two are not used in today's written language any more. So next would be "ข" and this is the Khǒr Cup. Then the C-Cup would be "ค" - the Khor Cup. Because the next "k" in the Thai alphabet "ฆ" is rarely used as an initial one goes to the next letter "ง" which is the seventh letter. Hence we have the D-Cup or the Ngor Cup. There we have our Football Alphabet!

It would have been maybe more logical and consistent to continue the new professional league, which was introduced in 1996 and is known to us today as the Thai Premier League, as Kor Royal Cup or Kor Royal League because of the unique selling point and the local colour alone. However, the English league and the seemingly almost absurd obsession with all things to do with the Island, is almost overpowering in the Land of Smiles. At least they avoided joining in the choir of the single-letter-leagues like A-League, J-League or V-League. Nevertheless, the three amateur championships are still held in cup mode with group games and knock-out stages.

So the "old cup", the Kor, was pushed into the sidings and has since only been held between the champions and runners-up or the cup winner. Also, the remaining three competitions were devalued after the introduction of the second division in 1997 and third divisions in 2006 respectively, and annexed below them. With it, Khǒr, Khor and Ngor Cups have dwindled to pure amateur events, even if, of course, they were such during the years before. Nowadays, as in the past, mostly teams of institutions, companies, universities and colleges romp about in these three competitions.

In the course of a season or one year, the two best qualify for the third division. The way to get there can be damned hard and rocky although the entrance level is very low. If you wish to start in the D-Cup, you can simply apply with 10,000 Baht (200 euros) registration fee. But at the last Ngor Royal Cup the insane number of 109 teams took part. Only the eight best qualify for the next level, the Khor Royal Cup, with an average of approximately 40 teams. The best four from that are then eligible to play in the Khǒr Royal Cup in which a good 20 to 30 teams take part. Eventually the two finalists are through to the Regional League from this level regardless of their provincial affiliation and how long they have been in existence. In each case they are entitled to start in the Bangkok Zone. Should, for example, a team from the South qualify then the other teams in the South Zone would be asked whether they agree with a new participant in their division.

Amateurs at a Khor Cup game

Amateurs at a Khor Cup game

Although there is promotion and relegation within the amateur cups, teams from the third division can't drop down; they only drop out for a break. So Thailand's third tier is a rather closed system downward. How this exactly functions, we worry about in an other article of this series, in which we will take a closer look at the three professional leagues.

From outside, however, it doesn't always manifest easily which three amateur competition teams qualify. Recently, several cups of the same level took place within one year sometimes and they did not always followed a logical sequence, or did not always take place in the same period.

Because of, though not limited to those reasons, to pursue the games of the amateurs, or to just "drop by" doesn't happen so easily. There are no firm places where the games are played. In the past years they reached from Rayong (caused by the floods), to the Leo Stadium or the Thephasadin, up to the pitches at the FA headquarter in Minburi.

Besides, the teams also have to fight with the handicap of the heat. Because, unlike the professionals, there are no kick-off times at 18:00 o'clock or later. And with many games to be played in a short period, it also means many games on one day, and that can start at 10:00 o'clock in the morning. If one has bad luck, one will have to play under the under torrid midday heat.

Kick-off times and places can almost only be found in the Siam Sport newspaper. But, however, they like to change at short notice from time to time. Over the last two years one could even find the fixtures on the FAT webpage and with a one-to-two-day delay there were also the results - a service which probably caused too much work, because this year one was literally left out in the cold.

Of the clubs that are taking part in the Thai Premier League 2014, and managed to make their way into the league after the foundation of the TPL 1996 from the very bottom amateur cup to the top, there is only one: Muang Thong United.

With thanks to @paul__hewitt for the editing.
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