Chiang Mai FC
Posted by Lizz and Pete Maycock at 08:58 on 9th May 2011
Last Saturday night I took Abigail (5 years old) and Jacob (3) to their first ever football game. Chiang Mai FC were playing RBAC FC (from Bangkok) in a Thai First Division clash. It was quite a strange experience!
In many ways, the experience was authentically Thai. Scheduled to start at 6pm, the game was delayed for 15 minutes by various formalities and lengthy introductionsof important sponsors and dignitaries.
Being monsoon season, heavy rain had fallen all afternoon, and the pitch was seriously waterlogged with some enormous puddles. Despite the rain, though, the temperature was still a balmy 28 degrees C. The ticket cost was another surprise - 60 Baht (about 1 pound 10 pence) - and no charge for Abi and Jacob!
As we entered the stand, I noticed the complete lack of stewards anywhere inside the stadium. There were, however, six soldiers stood to attention behind the dugouts. Their (lightly) armed presence was, I supposed, an effective deterrent against pitch invasions!
Even with the Thai touches, the crowd of about 3,000 spectators were clearly influenced by watching English football on TV. Many were wearing replica Chiang Mai FC shirts, scarves and carrying flags. The cheerleaders were leading songs to the same tunes as you would hear in an English football ground - and even singing a few in English!
There were several bands with drums and trumpets around the ground (although thankfully no vuvuzelas). Enthusiastic participation was fueled by the level of alcohol consumption among the crowd. Unusually for Thailand (outside of bars and clubs), a large majority of spectators were drinking - and in many cases, fairly heavily!
As for the match, my loyalties were split, as there are three Karen players in the RBAC FC squad. Football is a popular sport among the Karen - I know many young Karen Christians who come to watch Chiang Mai FC regularly. Indeed, as I looked around the whole crowd I was struck by their youth - there were hardly any older people there.
The game itself was fairly dire - the waterlogged pitch was not helping, and in any case both teams are stuck in the relegation zone. My thoughts soon strayed from the action on the field to a far more interesting issue: how can the Karen churches reach out effectively to the young people packed into this stadium? What would it mean to present the gospel relevantly to this generation? What has to change? How can the churches adapt?
The close-knit Christian communities of traditional Karen Baptist villages (left) are a world away from this football stadium. But this is where the young people are. And here, in the midst of this confusing mix of Thai and Western influences, in this noisy, colourful, chaotic, youth-dominated atmosphere, with its liberal social attitudes and rejection of traditional morality, is where young Karen from those villages are attempting to live out their faith.
On the 27th May, the newly elected committee of the Karen Baptist Youth Department will be holding their first meeting. I'll be encouraging them to think about how the changing realities facing Karen young people today should shape our future planning. And maybe I'll invite them all to the next Chiang Mai FC game to do some research.
By the way, Chiang Mai FC lost the game 1-0.