David Le Bras, a French footballer, has become a familiar and famous figure in NakhonRatchasima and beyond. His artistry on the pitch and tough guy image have combined to make Le Bras the most notable and recognisableforeign player for NakhonRatchasima F.C (‘Swatcats’) and throughout the Northeast of Thailand.
On a cool and windy day in late July, we spent the day playing football, both traditionally and technologically, and eating Isaan food with the 29 year old from La Flèche in the Loire Valley in central France whilst he told us of his passion for Thailand, Isaan, music and tattoos.
How long have you been playing football in Thailand?
“This is my third year at Korat, but I played for BEC TeroSasana and Chonburi before, but I returned to play in Europe. Then I moved back to Thailand.”
Why did you return to Thailand?
“I had been playing in Finland where the weather was very cold – I prefer the warm weather. And I also came back to be with my son who is living in Korat.”
What is it that you like about Thailand? What attracts you to Thailand?
“Sabaisabai!The laid-back relaxed Thai way of life. And now I like Korat so much because I have made so many friends here. It’s good here. Everything’s good.”
So it would be difficult for you to say goodbye to Korat?
“Perhaps, but I am used to moving around. I have moved a lot in my career. Even if I do leave one day there is always the chance that I could come back. I know that in this city no one will forget me. So I could go and come back again.”
You are very popular with the fans. Why do you think that is? They relate to you in some way?
“Because I am just myself. When I arrived the club had nothing – not too many fans, not too much money. Now you look how it has changed, and I have been here since the beginning [of the club’s successful period]. And I think they like my style of football; I’ve scored important goals; I was captain briefly last season. I don’t think it often happens where a foreigner is captain of a Thai side.”
OK, so if we move away from talking about football for a moment and focus on Isaan. Have you seen much of this area? Have you travelled around Isaan?
“Of course, the team was in the Northeast Division of the Regional League, so I’ve been to Loei, Chaiyaphum, Yasothon, Udon, Ubon, Roiet, Mukdahan and so on. It’s a good place. Sabaisabai again!”
So do you prefer this area to Bangkok? You must have lived in Bangkok when you played with BEC Tero.
“When I stayed in Bangkok, I liked it. But after moving here, I definitely prefer this area and this city. Also, it’s in a good location – not too far from Bangkok if you need to go there.”
Let’s talk about the most important issue in Thailand: food! Do you eat the local food? Can you eat anything?
“My favourites are krapao moo, krapaogai – spicy, stir-fried pork or chicken with Thai basil. They [the photographers] want me to eat som tam today! It’s ok, but I can’t eat seafood – I just don’t like it.”
Do you still eat French food? Can you even buy it in Korat?
“Yes, I buy different types of bread from The Mall, Klang Plaza. But some things are difficult to get: cheese and pâté, for example.”
How are you getting on with the Thai language?
“I speak Thai, of course.”
How did you learn?
“Because my friends in Korat don’t speak good English, and the coach before didn’t speak good English, so every day, every day, every day I learn a little more.”
You’ve never had Thai language classes?
“No no. Never. I just learned by living in Thailand.”
Changing the subject completely, your tattoos are a source of interest to many fans. Can you explain them? What are they and why do you have so many?
“I started with just one, but I remember the tattoo artist said “once you have one done, you’ll want more and more” and I said “no no!” but then I did get more and more! Some have meaning. I am a Christian so here [points to the left of his stomach] I have Mary. Sometimes, if I just have nothing to do I’ll go and get a tattoo done!”
Where do you get them done?
“My friend in KhonKaen did some with the traditional bamboo cane. And I have another friend at Save One market in Korat. He knows me well and does the tattoos for a small price.”
How do you spend your time away from football – when you have a day off?
“I spend time with my Thai friends; I play football games on the computer. Sometimes I go out at night if there isn’t a game that weekend.”
You seem to be passionate about music, too. What kinds of music do you like?
“I love music, it’s true. I like some pop music, but not all. I like Eminem. I like some French music, not so much for the music itself but for the lyrics – it’s easier for me to understand. And in Thailand I like SekLoso.”
How do you feel about fame? It’s fair to say you are famous in Korat.
“Yes, but I have to be realistic. I don’t play for Barcelona or Manchester United; I’m not that famous! Sometimes it’s ok; sometimes you are tired after a match and you don’t feel like signing autographs. But if a small guy, ten years old, wants an autograph or photo then, of course, I am happy to do this because that boy is the future of football in Korat; the future of football in Thailand.”
Finally, looking ahead, do you see your future in Thailand?
“I really don’t know. I never plan too far ahead in life. In football you don’t know what will happen next month, next year. I’ve taken good memories away from all of the countries in which I’ve played. But maybe it is fair to say that Thailand is the place I like best.”
Do you have ambitions to play in any other countries? China, for example, is up and coming in the football world.
“Sometimes clubs contact me through my agent. And sometimes you say yes; sometimes you say no; sometimes you make the right choice; sometimes you make the wrong choice. But this is the life of a footballer. You just don’t know what’s in the future.”