Samui Arena is just the first step towards bringing professional football to Koh Samui.
Thais are fanatical about football, both playing and watching it, with many tuning in to live English Premier League games rather than watch their home-grown teams. Average attendances at Thai Premier League games are around 5,000 with the big local derbies attracting 25,000 a couple of times a season. Nevertheless, Thai passion for the game is not only evident in the supporters at the matches but also on the field.
Apart from the professional leagues, there’re countless amateur leagues throughout Thailand, with 7-a-side games are by far the most popular. Bangkok alone has hundreds of 7 and 5-a-side pitches as do most of the major cities and larger towns in Thailand. Until very recently though, the numerous amateur teams on Koh Samui had to make do with dusty school yard pitches and bumpy patches of spare scrub land. Not quite shirts-for-goalposts but not far from it.
For many years on Koh Samui, there have been leagues and competitions with teams sponsored or represented by hotels, banks, government departments and local businesses. There’s also expat league in Koh Samui, usually sponsored by the local bars. From time to time informal competitions have taken place but there’s been no lasting proper venue – until now.
Samui Arena football stadium opened on Koh Samui in Chaweng in October 2011 and is the brainchild of Khun Peerapol Sathirakul, better known to his family and friends as Moose. His parents own and manage Natien Resort on Chaweng Beach and he helps out there when he can. He spent his early youth in Bangkok before attending high school and university in Perth, Australia. “I’ve always loved playing football and I still do. And at one point I was considering turning professional. I had trials with the Bayswater Soccer Club near Perth but at the time I couldn’t sign professional forms as I was in Australia on a student visa. And there was no way I was leaving university before graduating, my parents have worked very long and hard to provide me with a fantastic education and there were no guarantees that I would have had a successful football career.”
Instead, Moose returned to Bangkok after his studies and formed a design and photographic company (of which he’s still a partner) but his thoughts were always on being involved in football in some way. He wanted to do something with that on Koh Samui. “There’re some very good players on the island but the top scouts never come here and there’s no real coaching programme in place for children. So after lots of discussions locally I forged ahead with Samui Arena. It has two pitches made from artificial grass (it’s best to play with studded boots on it) and it has floodlighting, changing rooms (male and female), space for a restaurant or café and additional areas for, say, a sports shop and for spectators. Local businesses can also advertise on the hoardings around the pitches and enquire about sponsoring teams. And this is just the beginning of my longer-term plans.”
This year, Moose hopes to get a coaching academy started and has already enlisted the help of professional players from the capital. Down the line, he’d ideally like to construct a full-size stadium and have a ‘Samui FC’ team playing in the Thai Premier League. “Just now it’s a vision I have for Koh Samui in the future and we’ll start with small steps by providing a professional arena for local leagues to play in and set up after-school classes to develop real techniques and skills with the island’s youngsters. They are a very important part of the plan and wouldn’t it be fantastic if some of them one day represented their home island at the highest levels of the game in Thailand.”
Koh Samui’s Samui Arena football stadium is open from 10:00am until after midnight (hence the floodlights) and is covered by a roof that deflects the heat of the sun during the day and fully trained referees can be provided for the matches.
You can pop in to Samui Arena to find out more or just have a look around and have a chat with them about organizing some games. If you have Tesco Lotus Chaweng on your right proceed along the ring-road for 1.3 kilometres and it’s on the left, you can’t miss it.
Koh Samui has changed dramatically since Moose first visited as a boy. But sports facilities haven’t kept pace with the construction of resorts and holiday homes. And that’s only been to the detriment of local children and football fanatics alike. His current plans for youth development in football will hopefully herald a new era and perhaps a Samui-born budding Rooney, Ronaldo or Messi is practising his skills right now on a pitch on a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand. If so, remember – you saw him here first.