With all the darkness which football can sometimes bring, often a ray of light can shine through and show us all, why we really love football. In this instance the ray of light is the story of Panyee FC.
The story of how Panyee FC originate is an encapsulating tale and here’s how it starts. Panyee FC comes from Koh Panyee which is a small, floating, fishing village built on stilts out in the sea.
Its population is only 1685 and before football, it had no kind of recreational facilities. The only sort of activities the villagers had were to catch fish and have boat races. That is, until a young group of children, all friends, watched the 1986 World Cup and were inspired to create their own football team. However, with the floating village being cramped for space, there was nowhere for them to play. Taking matters into their own hands, the children collected spare bits of wood and worked tirelessly in their free time to build an incredible floating football pitch just off the village’s perimeter.
The ball went into the water often which made the playing surface slippery and there were lots of odd nails sticking out here and there. But this didn’t stop the dedicated youngsters, in fact it actually helped them build up good close control and excellent footwork. One day a poster came through from the mainland about a football tournament. Unsure about what to do the boys entered and decided to give it a shot. Preparing to leave, they were unaware that the entire village had been watching them play the whole time and had pitched in to buy them all a proper football kit.
All suited and booted they made their way via boat to the tournament, followed by a group of villagers for support. Arriving at the tournament, the boys were nervous about the quality of their opponents. However when they kicked off, they were actually better than they thought. Playing in boots gave them more balance, it wasn’t slippery and the goals were a lot bigger than what they were used to. The boys made it to the semi-final losing 3-2 after a battling effort. The villagers were overwhelmingly proud and the boys were very happy with what they achieved. Taking to the podium on third place, attention was drawn to Koh Panyee, a small fishing village which floats in the sea.
After the success at the tournament, football became Koh Panyee’s favourite past time, they built a new smooth floating pitch and had much larger participation. Panyee FC went on to win the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2010 Youth Championships of Southern Thailand. The club who started with nothing are now one of the best youth football clubs in the country.
This is a tale of inspiration with a touch of magic, something recent football seems to be missing. Not only did this group of young boys manage to create space from nothing so they could play, they created something so much more than that. By building a pitch and representing their village in a tournament it raised awareness of both the game and the village.
With the help of football, mass community participation was introduced and a sense of togetherness was formed. A new sport is now being played in Koh Panyee and the success of itself speaks volumes. To create your own football team in the UK is a complicated task, paying the FA a fee, then hiring out pitches and game fees – that doesn’t even include the cost of kit or nets and flags. In total it can cost as much as £2000.
It’s not a surprise with the amount the FA charge that new teams just do not form that easily. There are a lot of villages and in fact young players that want to form their own team with their friends because they believe they have what it takes. We have twice the facilities and accessibility that the young lads from Koh Panyee had, yet still this country’s youth system struggles.
I don’t doubt every young footballer was as eager to play as the young villagers of Koh Panyee, I think what lacks is the support in place. If this could be nailed we may have a very different International set up. Something that can happen in a first world country is that things too often get taken for granted. England in truth has more than enough money to put in place an excellent youth set up.
This is something which has only just been introduced with Mini-Soccer being played till aged ten. After this are 9v9 games with new goals until you are 13 where it will go on to the traditional 11v11 format. Hopefully with this new format we will have increased success. It’s no secret that the reason Spain and Brazil have had such emphatic success is due to their impressive youth setup. Brazil for example start their youth off by playing ‘Futsal’, which is a five-a-side game with a heavier ball which was developed in the 1930’s.
This is to build up close control, foot skills and technique. If you haven’t already seen the video of Ronaldinho as a youngster playing in a ‘Futsal’ tournament, it’s a worth a watch. It shows a clear correlation with then and now and how it has been infused in his game to make him twice the player. If this can be introduced into an England set-up with the money we have, a pretty powerful outcome can be produced.
The story of Panyee FC is something that world football and the FA can learn from, more magic, less tragic.