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Is there a real grassroots football system in place in Thailand?

 by John Ungi

 
Yes, we all know that Thai’s love football just as much as most Europeans. This is prominently due to the global success of the EPL (English Premier League) plus the newly formatted TPL (Thai Premier League) being available on TV across the nation. Add to that the recent success of the National team winning the AFF Suzuki Cup, and you can see why the number of followers continue to rise. Yet even after this success Thailand are currently only ranked 142 in the world by FIFA, which is it’s 2nd lowest ranking since the this system was introduced in 1992. The highest position the nation has held was 45th back in 1998. 
So you may be asking yourself, why with the sport being so popular does the national team fail so badly when it comes to the bigger stage? They have never reached the world cup finals, since the national team were formed back in 1915. The answer to this and many other questions maybe be further down the footballing system.
There is a real lack of grassroots football, or at least organized grassroots football that is supported by the local FA, unlike in many other more successful countries. In the UK teams are registered to leagues, which are supported by the FA, with most of the coaches involved encouraged to do their coaching badges to help create a better network and support system for the kids they teach.  No doubt in Thailand there are plenty of children’s teams, who are coached by eager Thais who want to produce Thailand’s own Ronaldo or Messi, but how can they do this without a structured league system supported by the national FA?  
Yes there are organized and structured events, most of the done by major Thai brands in association with teams from Europe. These events tend to be one week or weekend only events, meaning the clubs involved only have a short time to see kids perform, which is never ideal.  What is really needed is a more structured league system in each region, supported by the Thai FA. Kids no longer need to play on dusty fields with no proper equipment, as if you travel across the country you will see numerous football pitches (generally 3G artificial pitches) popping up in every city, with several football pitches now open in Pattaya. This is due to the high demand from people who play the sport. These pitches are also ideal for leagues to be performed on each week. This can be done all year round as they not affected as badly by the weather conditions. 
Then you need to look at the coaching, as there is currently no structured courses run by the Thai FA unlike the UK where a FA course is run every week. Although there are courses available in Thailand via AFC, which are run sporadically throughout the year, but they aren’t seen as a necessity to improve the coaching standards of the non-professional teams at grassroots level.  A change in thinking would be a massive benefit to the kids and coaches in the local communities, bring about better coaching practices and improving the standards. 
We are lucky in Pattaya, as we have several locations were you play football, all with facilities to suit everyone’s budget. But if we are looking for places that have had the philosophy to improve and support the grassroots football in this community, then only place you can go.. Planet Football.  From it’s opening in 2010 it has been at the forefront of running competitive kids leagues, with teams from all over Pattaya involved.  They run the leagues and many other shorter competitions all year round and are aimed at kids from 7years and upwards. 
They are keen to keep this project progressing and as such plan to open a new 11-A-Side facility in May, which will benefit children of all ages into the next stages of development. There also similar projects being created in other regions, so there does seems that issue is improving. But the next step would be for input and help from the Thai FA, so that these teams can help and support the national league and team.