Violent clashes between rival fans that marred Muangthong United's home league match against Singhtarua last weekend have spawned a landmark in the long-running battle against Thai football hooliganism.
After fighting between Muangthong and Singhtarua fans hogged headlines in the national press, football authorities have a crucial opportunity set a precedent in their effort to stamp out crowd trouble that has long dogged the Thai game.
People are used to seeing mass brawls on the terraces or even the pitch, but the violence that broke out after Muangthong’s 3-1 win made headlines because it took place outside the stadium. Never before has crowd violence spilled out and turned the streets into a battleground. With the case in the public spotlight, the Thai Premier League acted swiftly and decisively. Few, though, envisaged just how hard the TPL disciplinary panel would crack down on the two clubs involved.
Singhtarua and three-time TPL champions Muangthong were each slapped with a nine-point deduction and a hefty fine of Bt300,000, while their supporters were banned from attending three matches. The points will be docked after the last round of TPL fixtures.
It was the heaviest punishment meted out in Thai football since Nakhonpathom FC had its licence revoked for two years following crowd violence in its TPL promotion play-off against Srisaket FC in 2010. That match is remembered for the sight of a man brandishing a gun in the middle of the pitch during the heat of the melee.
Muangthong and Singhtarua have launched appeals against what they deem overly harsh punishment. Should it stand, the points deduction would effectively end Muangthong’s hopes of reclaiming the title, while Singhtarua would be facing a relegation battle with only three games remaining.
But the sanction could have a more important effect off the field, in efforts to tackle soccer-related violence that has plagued the game for decades. TPL officials have made a shrewd move by cracking down and sending a warning to other clubs and supporters.
The severe punishment has not only silenced those who say the TPL lacks decisiveness in dealing with crowd trouble, it has also banished rumours of double standards applied in its treatment of clubs.
There is a long-held view among fans that league officials do not treat each club equally, with, for example, Muangthong afforded privileged status thanks to close links between the club’s management and officialdom at the league and Thai FA.
In handing Muangthong the same punishment as Singhtarua despite confusion over which club was more responsible for the weekend’s hooliganism, TPL officials have quelled those doubts.
While the TPL’s tough measures don’t guarantee an end to violence among fans, they will at least act to deter anyone thinking of causing trouble at football matches in the future.