Pre-season tours are back next month, with Liverpool and Manchester United bringing a taste of north-west England to south-east Asia. “For this part of the world, these are the two single biggest football clubs – we couldn’t get anything bigger,” Marcus Luer, the CEO of Total Sports Asia, who brokered the deal to bring the teams to Thailand, says. “This is the biggest match ever in Asia – the revenue will be the highest in Asia.”
The rivals meet in ‘The Match: Bangkok Century Cup’ on 12 July at the Rajamangala Stadium, one of Asia’s iconic arenas, where the best way to arrive is to take a motorbike taxi from the closest station and weave in and out of the traffic in the Thai capital with thousands of fellow fans. If that offers a thrilling taste of Thai football culture, the price of entry would make even Premier League fans in England wince, notwithstanding the promotors Fresh Air Festival putting on a pre-match appearance from the K-Pop star Jackson Wang. The cheapest tickets at the 51,000-capacity venue are 5,000 baht (£115), about 60 times more than fans pay to get into Thai Premier League matches, and most cost considerably more.
“I don’t make enough money to spend 10,000 baht on a football match,” the local Liverpool fan Thesis Laohajarastsang says. “Prices are too high as the average salary here is around 30,000 baht per month. I understand the cost of hosting the event is up in the tens or hundreds of millions range, but most Thai football fans cannot afford to attend the match. I feel for the diehards who will be forced to watch the game on television.”
European teams have often been guilty of overstating their popularity across Asia but Thailand is a country where Liverpool and Manchester United do have considerable and long-established support desperate to take this rare opportunity to see their heroes play their rivals. “I am more than excited as it has been nine years since Man United came to do a pre-season in Thailand, and every time they came, they would be playing a Thailand team,” says Warunthorn Somkitrungroj. “But this time it’s Man United against their all-time rival, Liverpool. I don’t know when I will have a chance to watch the game with my own eyes like this.”
Whatever it takes, this United fan will be there. “I’ll take a day off from work, I’ll drag myself to the game even if I’m sick. I need to witness and be a part of this historic red war in Asia.” She admits the prices are steep but says it could be worse. “It’s way cheaper than flying to England to watch the game as the visa fee alone will almost be as much as a ticket, then there is the plane ticket, hotels and the game ticket that comes at a high price with a low chance to get.”
Luer makes the same points and defends the ticket prices. “The clubs initially said that the prices were aggressive and we had some back and forth,” he says. “We know it outprices some fans and that is unfortunate. We pay a lot to the clubs and you have to balance that out. It is not realistic to charge £50 … The prices are high as they have to be, otherwise it is not commercially viable.”
Luer adds that in Bangkok the clubs will be provided with state-of-the-art training facilities that will later be made available to children. “Local kids will get the chance to play on the same pitch as their heroes. This may seem like a small thing but can be the start of the dream. We have ripped out the turf in the stadium and the Liverpool groundsman has been here and given us the thumbs-up. It is as good a set-up as anywhere in the world.”
Liverpool will go on to Singapore to meet Crystal Palace, with the cheapest tickets $149 Singapore dollars (about £88) and tickets for training costing £23. It will cost at least £94 to watch Tottenham Hotspur take on Team K-League in Seoul but all 66,000 tickets were snapped up within 25 minutes.
There are still a few available for Manchester United v Liverpool in Bangkok, though a late surge of international visitors is expected. It remains to be seen whether they will fill the seats left empty by people such as the Manchester United supporter Jetsada Boonprasom. “It’s much too expensive for ordinary Thai people,” he says. “Last time United came to Thailand in 2013, the most expensive ticket was 4,000 and they sold out despite the fact they played the Thai All Stars. I understand that times change but there are things I want and need more than a ticket. I will not go as it is just too expensive.”