First all-Thai football team to play in Asian Gaelic Games
700 players arrive in Bangkok to compete in annual tournament this weekend
Thailand GAA was established by a group of Irish in Bangkok in 2007.
I was sipping on a pint in an Irish bar in Bangkok like a stereotypical Paddy, when I got chatting to a fellow Irishman who told me about Thailand GAA. I couldn’t believe there could be a GAA club here, but a Google search proved me wrong, and a few weeks later I found myself at a training session.
I was greeted by several lads and ladies from Ireland, the UK, America and Canada, and I am still friends with many of the people I met on that first day. Local Gaelic clubs in Ireland are the focal points of the local communities, and our club in Bangkok, a long distance from Ireland, offers a similar home away from home for our members. We play for the love of the sport and to keep fit, but we also provide a social community for expats and locals, which is as important as the sport itself.
We organise events throughout the year including quizzes, nights out, fun runs, and charity fundraisers. We also host what we believe is Thailand’s only 12 Pubs of Christmas, which helps us feel festive on the other side of the world from friends and family.
The first tournament I experienced with the club was the Asian Gaelic Games (AGG) in Kuala Lumpur in 2014. Arriving at the venue, I could not believe my eyes when I saw what seemed like thousands of people getting ready to compete. This weekend, the games will be held on home soil in schools around Bangkok, with 700 players arriving from all over the Asia and the Middle East.
Now in its 22nd year, the AGG involves teams including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. It is the biggest gathering of the Irish community in Asia with over 1,000 people coming together to celebrate Irish culture and craic by supporting and playing Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
This is the second time Thailand GAA have acted as hosts. The club was formed in 2007 by John Campbell, Derek Martin, Padraic Ellicott and Ultan Peters, and made its competitive debut at the 2007 Asian Gaelic Games in Singapore. This year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary with a record number of members and nationalities.
Currently we field five teams: two men’s and two ladies football teams, and a men’s hurling team. For the first time in our club’s history we will be fielding a team consisting of all Thai nationals this year, in an effort to further promote Gaelic Games here in Thailand and across Asia.
We regularly play challenge matches against visiting teams, hold exhibition matches and have an intra-club tournament twice a year. We have a good relationship with the Australian Rules club in Bangkok, the Tigers, and regularly play compromise rules games.
The club has experienced a real upsurge in interest over the past few years, and a lot of this has been on the back of the success of our ladies team. We regularly get up to 40 players at our weekly training sessions with an equal split of men and women. We have new people attending every week, and welcome all nationalities from complete beginners to seasoned players.
After developing our Thai Men’s football team, our next aim is to grow participation among the younger age groups. A number of international schools have been playing Gaelic football in recent years, and we are now looking to take the sport into some local schools.
Our ladies teams travelled to Vietnam for the Indochina cup in February. We also hosted the first round of the inaugural South Asian Ladies League in April, which was a roaring success, before our ladies team travelled for the second round to Kuala Lumpur in October. Our men’s teams have participated in the Indochina Cup, hosted by The Viet Celts in Hanoi in February, The South Asian Games hosted by Saigon Gaels in Vietnam in May, and the Peninsula Cup hosted by Johor Boru in Malaysia in October. Our hurlers and camogie players also travelled to Singapore for the Asian Hurling Championship in September.
As we continue to grow, we are fortunate to have the support of some local businesses including LawtonAsia Insurance Brokers, The Drunken Leprechaun, The Kiwi Bangkok, The Paddy Fields Irish Bar and Restaurant, the Irish Thai Chamber of Commerce and the St Patrick’s Society of Bangkok. The Irish Ambassador to Thailand, H.E. Brendan Rogers, has been a great supporter of the club since his arrival.
After the months of hard work organising the tournament, I can speak on behalf of the other lads and ladies involved with the organisation in saying we can’t wait for a great weekend of sport and craic this Saturday and Sunday.