Football enthusiasts in the southernmost district of Thailand are hoping to showcase local talent by entering their own team in Division 2 of the Thai Football League next season.
To test their readiness to compete against the best teams in Thailand's Southern region, Betong FC hosted a four-team tournament at their attractive stadium nestled in the hillsides of Betong late last month.
Although a "friendly" tournament, the winners stood to gain bragging rights as the best team in the Deep South, where three sides – Pattani FC, Nara United and Yala FC – already compete in the AIS (Ambassadors In Sport) Regional League Division 2 South.
The Thai football league system is largely patterned after the English Premier League (EPL), which has been hugely popular in Thailand for decades. It comprises an elite Thai Premier League (TPL) with 18 sides, an 18-club Division 1 and five Division 2 regional leagues. Like the EPL, the entire structure operates on a system of promotion and relegation to allow up-and-coming teams to move up to a higher bracket.
Although Betong FC lost 4-2 in the first round of the knockout competition to Yala FC, club chairman Sabri Damorh is confident the team will be accepted into Division 2 and be competitive there.
"We were ready to host and compete in this competition because we spent many months in preparation. Our aim was to provide a New Year's gift to all local football fans. We also want to show off our 5,000-seat stadium to tourists travelling in the area so they can appreciate the cool hillside location and panoramic views it affords of the surrounding countryside," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.
He added that security measures in place for the event were very strict, even though Betong has been spared the kind of terror attacks that have plagued other districts in the region. Police Colonel Thawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC), presided over the tournament's opening ceremony on December 29th.
"We … hope it will be effective in improving relations among people in the three southernmost border provinces through sports," he told Khabar. "I want to see our athletes make it all the way to the Premier League and perhaps even find spots on the Thai national team. SBPAC is very pleased with all the fine work done by Betong Municipality in organising this event.
"Football is all about teamwork and is a great equaliser – anyone can play, rich or poor. We can all come together to support and cheer on our teams even if we have different opinions about some other matters."
Betong FC supporter Supatuch Mamutipong told Khabar, "Even though our side could only manage a tie for third with Nara United, we are so proud with the progress they are making in preparing themselves for the 2013-2014 campaign in Division 2 South. We will cheer them on and follow them from here, the southernmost district of Siam, to wherever their successes take them."
Despite the enthusiasm, Betong FC's management will have its work cut out for it if it hopes to field a side and find success in Division 2 South this year.
The organising body has yet to make an announcement regarding the application, and the game is scheduled to begin February 18th and 19th. In addition, the club has yet to sign any foreign players, which is widely regarded as a key to success.