Occasionally in life you hear a story that just makes you really glad that you heard about it. I first came across this story about a year ago and I simply loved it. Like all really great stories, it is true. It started on a floating village in Thailand. The village is out by the islands in the south of the country, it’s called Koh Panyee. Local boys in the village were delighted that they could watch their favourite football players from the Premier League every week, but they felt, like all young boys, whilst watching football is great, playing is better.
Of course living in a floating village has its problems, specifically when you want to play football. They obviously didn’t have a pitch. So what do kids do when they need something? They make it. These are the children remember. They went about the village collecting wood from wherever they could find, or pinch it. The got a dozen or so old boats and tied them together, then with a mixture of youthful enthusiasm and childish naivety the started nailing planks on top of their mini flotilla. Eventually they had a sort of wobbly flat surface on top of a dozen boats. To stabilise it, they drove poles into the sea bed and tied the “pitch” to the poles. They were set.
They played every day, every five minutes of course the ball would fly of into the sea and somebody had to dive in to retrieve it, but that is just a small problem. They got splinters in their feet as the wooden planks were pretty rough cut, but again, small problem. Still they played, the adults in the village laughed, but they were fine … they had a pitch.
Then someone in the village brought news. A big football tournament was soon to be played in Thailand. The Pagha Cup brings young teams from all over the country to compete. The boys from Panyee wanted in. Collections were made in the village to raise the money to send them. The boys entered and the villagers collected enough cash to buy a full football strip for all the boys including boots. When the time of the event arrived the boys set sail for the mainland and dozens of villagers went with them.
Somehow they managed to reach the semi final, but no matter how large the support and their efforts they were losing 2 nil at half time. The problem was they complained to the coach, their new boots were filling up with water. Most of these kids had only ever played bare footed. A decision was made, they removed their boots and went out for the second half, bare footed. Within half an hour they had drawn level at two all. Now if this were a Hollywood movie they would have gone on to lift the cup. Sadly it wasn’t to be, they lost to a last minute goal. But, the crowd had fallen for this little team from a floating village. They would be invited back.
They have been back many times and having won this tournament every year from 2004 to 2010, they are now one of the most respected junior teams in Thailand. Since the early days of their amazing story, a proper pitch has been built for the boys. It is still a floating pitch but now has a covered surface and is surrounded by netting. No more swimming for the ball every 5 minutes.
Now here is the Hollywood bit. In 2004 when the Tsunami hit the Thai coastline, the sea rose and battered all of the area in the south. Somehow in the midst of all this terrible destruction, Koh Panyee was left unaffected. It appears that the surrounding mangrove area, probably took the impact and acted like a buffer zone.
The football goes on.