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Why are there so many Newcastle United fans in Thailand? It seemed as though only Man U and Arsenal were more popular…

2 years ago
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My last Newcastle United game (in the flesh) was the 2-1 win over Bournemouth on the 11th of November. Since then I have kept tabs on United from abroad.

This time last year, the football on the pitch became something of a sideshow as I think even the most sceptical fans amongst us held a flicker of hope that the Amanda Staveley led bid was about to buy the club and the bad times would soon be coming to an end.

This time around it has been the opposite. I have only read a few takeover related articles, and the tweets of journalists, of whom I had held on to their every word last year, have all been unfollowed on social media. To be honest, it was quite nice being far from the UK, in a completely different time zone, and having your only NUFC related interaction being when the team is actually playing football on the pitch.

The only downside of course is that the interaction I refer to often means staying up until the middle of the night to see it. In the case of the Burnley game this meant setting my alarm for 3am, only to wake up and find out that the game had been delayed by 30 minutes. “Great! An extra 30 minutes in bed”… only by the time I had woken up again we were winning 2-0 and the rest of the game was rather nondescript, or at least that’s what it felt like.

What can be said though is that there aren’t too many better sights than watching a sunrise and watching Newcastle win simultaneously.

Aside from the Burnley game, results took a disappointing twist with failure to get a win against Everton, West Ham and of course a last minute defeat to Wolves. Add to that the treachery of the protest movement and local media in the lead up to the Wolves game (which I have already wrote about), and it wasn’t looking like a great cocktail to come home to was it?

Just as well I was based in another football mad city!

Football may not be the first thing you associate with Bangkok and while I have an idea what you might be thinking, let me tell you that Thai people are just as passionate about their football as any other. I experienced this myself as I took in Thailand vs Singapore in front of a very loud 30,000 fans at the Rajamangala Stadium.

Aside from the game itself, with my hotel being based opposite the National Stadium and my room in fact overlooking the pitch, which hosted football teams from 8am-6pm every single day, there was always a game of live football to watch in my spare time.

One of the things that struck me most throughout the country was the amount of Newcastle shirts.

That isn’t me saying that there was a Toon shirt on every street corner, far from it. Now it may be that my eyes are more easily drawn to a black and white shirt than they are to others, but with the exception of Man Utd and Arsenal shirts, which most football fans wore, Newcastle was genuinely number three on the list!

That includes stalls and markets that sold English football shirts. You can guarantee that every stall would have a Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle shirt. Strange! You weren’t always guaranteed Man City, or Spurs, but you were Newcastle.

As mentioned, the locals are football mad and a few even knew their stuff when it came to United. At my hotel in Bangkok, the concierge approached me to ask me why I supported Leicester City, after my close friend, whose family the hotel belonged to, had asked for directions to the club store for me (The reason being my girlfriend’s family are Leicester City fans and I needed a gift).

I explained to him that I was actually a Newcastle fan and his face lit up with excitement. “Ahh Newcastle! When I was small they were my favourite team”. Now, having met a lot of Newcastle fans from around the world, I was half expecting his next sentence to be based on how much he loved Alan Shearer. However, that wasn’t to be the case. Instead I was greeted with cries of “Asprilla, Asprilla” who he had seen play at the World Cup in the USA, and later watched him on the tele in Serie A, which of course was much bigger in the 90s than it is now. His knowledge of the club surprised me somewhat as he continued to reel off names such as Ferdinand and Ginola, as well as making reference to how cold the weather was in the North East simply because of those pictures of Tino signing for us in the snow.

I imagined that would be my only real conversation about Newcastle United, but I was to be surprised even further, by a taxi driver dropping me back at my friend’s place. As mentioned, the Thais are crazy about their football, so whenever they find out you are British, there are two things they say straight away.

The first is, they will ask if you have seen any football in Thailand, and then immediately apologise for the standard not being as good as the standard they see in the Premier League!

The second is that they ask which team you support, invariably taking guesses of Man United and Arsenal before you manage to get your answer in. On this occasion, as I sat in the taxi and replied ‘Newcastle United’, the driver, whose facial expression had moved to one of shock, and was no longer concentrating on the road in front, gasped ‘me too, me too! Since I was 13, Newcastle Newcastle!’. Amazing, ey?

Just why on earth did this guy, who had never been to England, and as it turns out, wasn’t that much of a football fan, support Newcastle United? Well it turns out that when he was 13, his older brother took him to his first ever football game, which just so happened to be Thailand vs Newcastle United.

I didn’t even know Newcastle had even played Thailand! Definitely not in my lifetime anyway. Yet, he was there to tell me I am wrong, and put me in my place. Apparently Shearer played, Mr Bobby was manager and Lee Bowyer scored for Newcastle! The score finished 1-1 and Thailand won on penalties. There you have it. How many people remember that?

Now I don’t want to start any sort of ‘are Newcastle a big club?’ debate because it is a stupid, and quite frankly pointless discussion, but it does leave me immensely proud that wherever I seem to go in the world, people know who Newcastle United are. I am not sure that the same can be said for most of the teams in the Premier League, or any team in League One.

Returning to the UK and having an operation straight away means I won’t be at any games over Christmas either.

I have to be honest, that doesn’t bother me so much. Under Mike Ashley, the club remains a shell, and as I have mentioned before, there really is no impending takeover to speak of.

Since I have got back though, I have resorted to social media once again, constantly flicking through for the faintest of a hopeful news story. Football, and especially supporting Newcastle United, was just so much easier when you only have to think about the football.

One day! Maybe…

You can follow the author on Twitter @_jonthandc
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