A Portable Football
Football is the most widely accepted and most popular sport throughout the world—including in Thailand.
Football began in Thailand in 1897 when Chao Phraya Dharmakirti introduced football for the first time and from there its fame spread widely throughout Thailand.
Regulation sized football fields are rectangular in shape and surfaced with grass. In length they measure between 90-120 meters and in width between 45-90 meters. The goal rises 2.44 meters (8 feet) high off the ground with goal posts 7.3 meters apart (8 yards). While each field can vary, a length of 105 meters and a width of 68 meters are the most popularly used dimensions, as seen at the Camp Nou field in Barcelona or the Old Trafford field of Manchester United.
The other instrument required in the playing of football is the ball itself. The football can be divided into two types: one where the composite leather of the outer layer is sealed with glue; the other where the stitched leather has been bound with thread.
However, around 20 to 30 years ago, the Thai children didn’t like to play with footballs made from leather. Perhaps no more than 10% of them enjoyed playing with a leather ball and those 10% were the children who played football at school.
So of course you might wonder what kind of ball the did the rest like?
The football most popular at the time was made from plastic and was only 1/3 the size of a regulation football. It probably seemed like something a 4 or 5 year olds might play with yet in Thailand this sort of ball was used by children from kindergarten through college, especially by high schoolers. They carried it around in their backpacks as if it were made of gold, taking especially good care of it because it was such a source of enjoyment for them and their friends.
Among its prominent features were its portability, its light weight, its short range, and, importantly, the magical curve it made when you kicked it just right.
As for kicking the plastic football, the students had a special technique. They used a pen to pierce a hole letting air out from the ball to relieve its pressure, and then they rubbed the ball in the dirt to seal the perforation. Another larger problem in playing with plastic footballs was the seams. It was believed that the seams caused the football to split when kicked forcefully. So they had a method of fixing it using tape to bind the seams or rubbing the seams with earth so they would be tighter.
The plastic balls become very popular perhaps due to the fact that at that time schools didn’t allot a budget for sports and for buying leather footballs because they were rather expensive. Some schools didn’t have grass field for football, only basketball courts which had mere cement surfaces. Kicking a leather ball on a cement surface was certainly not as fun. Yet for those who played with plastic footballs they chose it perhaps because they could play indoors or wherever, they didn’t need to fuss with having a goal; they could merely put down some shoes to make a goal and they could play. They could kick the plastic ball with school shoes or without shoes at all, and they didn’t need any equipment like studded shoes or shin guards.
The plastic ball was perfect for the cement surfaced basketball courts because you could use the poles of the basketball hoops for goal posts. Also the ball wasn’t too formidable when knocked into other things. Things like classroom windows, cars, or even people wouldn’t be damaged so much in comparison to being hit by leather.
Nowadays its hard to believe that at that time the country had numerous competitions using plastic footballs for high school students at the nation-wide level with 3-5 players, depending on the format. As for the fields used in the competition, they used basketball courts, and whether it was indoors or outdoors was likewise up to the organizers.
Nowadays plastic balls aren’t very popular as they used to be as they have been replaced by latex and leather. But it’s undeniable that the skills and abilities gained from playing with plastic has played an important part in encouraging the development of football—to an impressive extent. The international football team of Thailand has proceeded into the top ten teams of Southeast Asia, an unexpected result from a team that grew up practicing with just plastic!