Meet the football team floating to success in Thailand

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Football is one of the most popular sports in the world. According to FIFA, the international football governing body ‘The beautiful Game’ is played in over 200 countries and has an estimated five billion fans worldwide. In Thailand, football is the lifeblood of many aspiring players, and hundreds of amateur teams exist nationwide.

One such team is Panyee F.C., a football club that is literally floating on water. “Panyee F.C. plays on the island of Ko Panyee in southern Thailand,” says Hadi, a youth player of Panyee F.C. tells SCENES. “There is not enough space on the Island, so we had to build a football pitch in the middle of the sea,” he says.

‘In the middle of the sea’

A large vertical limestone cliff and hundreds of sprawling huts and shacks dominate Ko Panyee island. The landmass measures less than a kilometre in diameter, and most buildings are built on stilts on the water.

More than 1,600 people from 350 households live on the island. The inhabitants descend from a small number of Indonesian fishing families who settled there over 200 years ago.

“Our ancestors agreed to plant a flag on any suitable location,” explains Prasit, a former player and coach of Panyee F.C. “Panyee island was chosen to be settled on as it resembles a flag,” he says.

Over 200 years later, flags fly on the island for a very different reason. Panyee F.C. is the only football team in the area, and many young inhabitants play for or support the team.

‘Fish cages and wooden planks’

The floating football pitch was first built ten years ago by fishermen who wanted to give their children an opportunity to play football all year round. Prior to having a pitch, islanders could only play football for a few days per month during low tide.

“The first pitch was made from fish cages covered with wooden planks. They made a raft and took leftover pieces of iron and made goalposts,” says Hadi.

The floating pitch goes through general wear and tear. It has been repaired and rebuilt many times over the decade. Many players and former players who helped to construct it are also responsible for the maintenance.  

“When you are using a pitch, whether it is grass or any type, there is always damage after it is used. Especially if it is a floating pitch. The nails and knots move, and they become loose.” explains Prasit.

‘It’s like a spring’

The latest pitch is made out of floating pontoons, rubber and reinforced plastic. Prasit says that the football pitch is unique and unlike any other pitch in the world. He says what makes it different is its movements. “It’s like a spring; I think it makes us very flexible, and it’s something that we like more than playing on a normal pitch,” says Prasit.

Fishing boats often pass by and cause the pitch to wobble and shake. The players say that the moving pitch makes the game more fun and that they sometimes have to jump into the water to retrieve the ball. “This football field is in a water environment. Therefore we often have to jump into the water. This makes our bodies stronger,” says Prasit.

Throughout the year, the club hosts football tournaments for children between the ages of 7 and 18. Panyee F.C. has also competed in national competitions and is considered to have one of the most successful youth football teams in Southern Thailand.

‘Winning over the hearts’

Panyee F.C. says that it is their unity that makes them strong. No matter what happens on the field, they are not concerned about winning or losing. What matters to them is being able to play the sport they love each day. “Even though we sometimes lose, we are most proud of our victory beyond the football pitch. Winning over the hearts of everybody,” says Prasit.

“The beauty of our football pitch is second to none in the world,” says Prasit. “We are very proud of the attention our pitch has received. It makes us see ourselves, Panyee F.C., as representatives of Koh Panyee,” he says.

As a result of the team’s success and its unique playing field, Panyee F.C. has become a key attraction in the area. Up to 3000 tourists visit the island daily, and most head straight to the floating football pitch. The extra money they generate helps keep Panyee F.C. afloat, making it a win-win situation for the community.

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