The footballing connection between Thailand and Japan has been strong in recent years. Thai players have made the trip to the Far East to ply their trade in the the country’s top division while a Japanese tactician is at the helm of the War Elephants.
But, none of that is why a Japanese youth has been making the 5,000-mile round trip between his country and Southeast Asia to support the Thailand national football team in their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers campaign.
“It is the passion and dedication of the Thai supporters which made me a fan of Thai football. Moreover, it is the kindness they displayed towards me during my trip to Thailand that made me support the Changsuek,” Yuichiro Hori told FOX Sports Asia.
Hori was in Myanmar planning to attend September 10’s Myanmar versus Japan tie in the 2022 World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint-Qualifiers second round when he came across Thailand’s opening fixture against Vietnam at the Thammasat Stadium to take place on September 5.
“It was Japanese coach Akira Nishino’s first game in charge of Thailand. So, I decided to attend. And I set out to Pathum Thani without a Thailand jersey or even a ticket for the game that was a sellout,” Hori reminisced.
“But thanks to the warmth of the Thai fans, my Facebook and Instagram was soon flooded with messages of those who came to know about me and wanted to offer their tickets. And soon, me and my friends had tickets for the Southeast Asian showdown,” Hori said.
That was when Hori decided that he should give something back to the fans for all their help. And he was soon to return with player masks and banners that he proudly displayed with Thai supporters during the World Cup Qualifiers game.
Hori took to football as a 13-year-old and started playing as a goalkeeper at high school idolising Jubilo Iwata and Japan custodian Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. The boy from Osaka soon realised he wasn’t good enough to make it as a footballer and decided to make a living out of the game in some other way.
He now works in the public relations industry and has been employed by various Japanese sides including his boyhood club Jubilo. “This job keeps me connected with football as I work with many J.League clubs. So, it keeps me happy,” said the globetrotting football supporter.
Hori is pleased with how Thai football has developed over the years and feels this is a golden period for the nation. “The Thai League is growing rapidly. The first time I visited in 2017, the league was a bit slow. But now, it has improved tactically and there is collective effort among the players,” he said.
Back at home, Hori is also fortunate to taste a bit of Thai flavour, thanks to the three Thailand internationals who play in the J1 League — Chanathip Songkrasin of Consadole Sapporo, Theerathon Bunmathan of Yokohama F. Marinos and Thitipan Puangchan of Oita Trinita.
“There was also Teerasil Dangda who played at Sanfrecce Hiroshima last season,” he reminds. “And seeing them play in Japan is one of the reasons I am supporting the Changsuek now,” Hori said.
“We have many Japanese stars going to Europe these days and it is great to see some exciting talents from ASEAN filling up their places in the J.League. Hopefully, more Southeast Asian and Thailand players make their way to Japan and the connection between the two regions grow stronger,” he said.
So, who will he support if Japan and Thailand go head to head in the next round of World Cup Qualifiers? “Ha ha, it’s so difficult! Probably, I might give the match a miss! But, I hope both make it to Qatar for FIFA World Cup 2022,” said Hori, who will be cheering for Thailand in Malaysia and Vietnam on November 14 and 19.
(Photos credit: Thotsporn Khunslip)