The other day when I was at the Army Stadium watching Army United against Thai Port, it was rather noticeable that there were a large number of expats supporting Thai Port. At an estimate, I'd say there were about 100 foreigners there to cheer on the side from Klong Toei.
So it got me thinking, why have these foreigners opted for Thai Port rather than the other two downtown based TPL clubs BEC Tero Sasana and Army United? When you study the TPL table there isn't much difference between the 3 clubs position wise. All the stadiums are centrally located with BEC Tero and Thai Port being easily reached by public transport.
In fairness to Army United, it's only this season that their fan base has increased to the Thai public so it's perhaps too early for them to be attracting masses of newcomers. Nevertheless, there are still a handful of foreigners dawning the bright green shirts of Army United this season.
BEC Tero on the other hand, have been established as one of the strongest teams in Thailand for several years now and it's only the last couple of seasons that they've slid down the table. There are a few farangs following them but not as many as you would expect for a centrally based Bangkok side. For me the most off putting thing about BEC is their stadium. Despite it being conveniently positioned next to the shopping malls of Siam, it's never really been a stadium I've enjoyed visiting. The view from inside is terrible wherever you sit and there is very little legroom for the average Westerner to stretch their legs whilst seated.
In my opinion, there are two things that make Thai Port more appealing than the other two teams. The first is the PAT Stadium. The stadium is one of the few in Thailand that doesn't have a running track around the pitch, and that makes viewing far more pleasurable. Also as the fans are close to the pitch, it creates a better atmosphere around the stadium. The second is the friendliness of the Klong Toei Army. They have a reputation with other Thai fans as being a bit rough and ready, but to the foreigner they are always welcoming and proud that these people have chosen to follow their team. At the Army Stadium, many of their supporters are still new to Thai football and are still learning the game themselves. The BEC Tero fans appear more middle-class and hence more reserved.
Further afield from downtown Bangkok, arguably the team with the most foreign supporters is Muangthong United. Even though they play in Nontaburi, much of their support is drawn from Bangkok. The attraction is fairly evident. They are the 2 time reigning champions, the team play entertaining football and the atmosphere inside the Yamaha Stadium is one of the best in Thailand. Throw into the mix that they've just signed Robbie Fowler, then you can see why they are so appealing to Thai and Western football fans.
Muangthong's ex-tenants, TOT, have recently moved back to their snug stadium in Chaeng Wattana Road. The telephone company barely have any Thai fans so the chances of them attracting fans from another country is minimal.
In Pathumthani to the north of Bangkok, most farangs have aligned themselves with Bangkok Glass rather than Police United. The big spending Glass Rabbits have bought several of the top players in Thailand in the last couple of years even though a major trophy continues to allude them. The big signings along with the fact that their home stadium is called the Leo Stadium has attracted many newcomers to watch their football on the Rangsit- Nakhon Nayok Road rather than Thammasart University where Police United play. In regards to Police United, their association with the uniformed boys in brown must surely put off some potential supporters from following them.
Elsewhere in the TPL, Buriram PEA, Chonburi and Pattaya United all have several expats following them too. If Pattaya United ever finish building their stadium in Pattaya, the foreign support that they could attract would be phenomenal. It's a pity for them that they are currently homeless and playing their home games 60km away in Chonburi.
The first division boasts a plethora of teams based in Bangkok and its environs. They include BBCU, Bangkok United, Bangkok FC, Air Force United, RBAC, Thai Honda, JW Rangsit, Raj Pracha and Samut Prakarn Customs. However, unlike the TPL, the Thai 1st division attracts very few foreign fans. At many of these games, you'll struggle to spot another white face in the crowd. That may change at BBCU next season if they can win promotion to the TPL and Bangkok United should become more appealing now that they've moved back to the Thai-Japanese Stadium in Din Daeng.
The second division is similar to the first as it hasn't yet captivated the attention of non-Thais. On my one visit to watch Raj Vithi, it was surprising to see that many of the fans in attendance were Africans. Raj Vithi do have several African players so I'd guess that most of them were there as friends of the players rather than as supporters of Raj Vithi.
It has been a remarkable transition in the last couple of years in Thai football. Before 2008 there were only a scattering of Thai fans watching Thai football let alone foreigners. Wind the clock forward 3 years and there was a crowd of 35,000 to watch a 1st division game between Songkla and Buriram FC earlier this month. The increase in support has been good for the Thai game and thankfully the locals see the foreign fans are a welcome addition to the Thai stadiums.