Sunday, August 20, 2017

Home is where Hantharwady will be

On June 11, Hantharwady United will become the sixth current Ooredoo Myanmar National League 1 club to move out of the Myanmar Football Federation’s spare bedroom and find a home of their own.

Dust is kicked up by players at Taungoo Stadium. In February the goalmouth (above) looked more suitable for beach football then for OMNL competition. Photos: Matt Roebuck / The Myanmar TimesDust is kicked up by players at Taungoo Stadium. In February the goalmouth (above) looked more suitable for beach football then for OMNL competition. Photos: Matt Roebuck / The Myanmar Times

The side – which had planned to move to their theoretical home of Bago – are instead due to take up temporary residence in Taungoo, also in Bago region.

“We have permission of the local authorities and the stadium is ready. It just needs a little maintainence for the grass and stands,” club media officer Min Min Tun told The Myanmar Times in early March.

But a visit by The Myanmar Times in mid-February suggested that there was still lots to do in time for next month. A kick-around on the field left players in a haze of dust, while the goalmouths were several inches deep in sand. Plans to host Shan United on May 22 have already been shelved.

However, hope must be high that these obstacles have been overcome so Hantharwady can make the most of their unexpected second-place in the league at the mid-season break and win over a legion of local fans.

“Our planned stadium in Bago is delayed so we will move temporarily to Taungoo. We hope the people of Taungoo will see our form and support us well. If we receive strong support I think our team will deliver even more victories,” added Min Min Tun.

In 2013 Hantharwady became the first of the original eight Myanmar National League sides to be relegated.

They returned in 2015 and while certain sections of the internet may be getting carried away with themselves by describing the Hintha Birds as the “Leicester of Myanmar”, the first half of 2016 has been remarkable for the minnows that were again flirting with relegation this time last year.

There was a clear message to club owners at the Ooredoo Myanmar National League’s mid-season owners meet and that was to stop dragging their feet and move out of Yangon.

The meeting was held on May 1 before the league’s “All-Stars Game” that attracted over 5000 spectators – larger than most OMNL crowds. The league believes that taking football to the states and regions – to the heart of the communities the teams are supposed to represent – is the way to grow interest and crowds in the local league.

In a telegram from the US embassy released by WikiLeaks, it was revealed that the nation’s first professional league was created when eight businessmen were informed by then Senior General Than Shwe that they had been “chosen” to own the new professional football teams.

For the league’s first season in 2009 games were hosted in Yangon’s Thuwunna YTC and Aung San stadiums. The US embassy correspondence added that owners were expected to “build new stadiums in their respective regions by 2011, at an estimated cost of US$1 million per stadium”.

Five of the OMNL-1 teams currently host their own games. Yadanarbon, Zeyar Shwe Myay and KBZ (now Shan United) took up residence in their home cities Mandalay, Monwya and Taunggyi during the 2009-10 season. Ayeyawady were the most recent to do so, taking football to Pathein in 2015.

Even Yangon United have built their own artificial turf pitch surrounded by temporary stands that hold 3000 on Insein Road.

Crowds have fluctuated at these grounds but Yangon United’s visits to Yadanarbon regularly attracts in excess of the ground’s capacity – which Yadanarbon claim to be 17,500 – with fans standing in the aisles, on staircases and even in the VIP section.

With Hantharwady’s move, only two of the original eight have not delivered on a home ground: Southern Myanmar and Magwe.

Southern Myanmar looked all set to move to bring professional football to Yamanya Stadium in Mawlamyine later this month, but something – possibly the side’s dire position at the foot of the 2016 table – is keeping them away.

“The stadium is a 15,000-seat stadium, 80 percent finished, and we wanted to hold games there in the second half of the season. But team management has instructed that we will not be moving now. When we will host games there we cannot say now,” the club’s media officer Myat Soe Kyaw told The Myanmar Times before the mid-season break.

Nay Pyi Taw, formed for the 2010 season, were quick to move into their controversial Paung Laung Stadium in 2012. But the side’s relegation last year, the club has played – as all OMNL-2 teams do – in Yangon.

Steven Law’s Magwe side are the only team from the original eight to have made no apparent movement toward hosting games within their own community.

Rakhine United – formed in 2011 as Rakhapura United – are the next most advanced in their plans to set up for themselves. The Red Arakan Warriors are currently in the process of redesigning Sittwe’s Wai Thar Li Stadium.

Plans include shops, a supermarket and a hotel as part of the redevelopment.

“Wai Thar Li is already a good stadium so we don’t need to do everything,” Thet Htoo Naing Oo, Rakhine’s media officer, said.

“Our target is to host games in the 2017 season. We’re about 20pc through the redevelopment so we probably won’t make the first half of next year,” he added.

Though the movement of the clubs out to their provincial towns will bring national- level sport to local communities, there are obvious logistical difficulties in delivering football across the nation.

Chin United – formed for the 2012 season – probably face the largest of these: Although they would like to host games in Hakha, the plan is unfeasible at this time.

“When considering where to build our home stadium, we need to think about transportation so both our fans and opposition teams can reach us,” club media officer Min Khant Tar told The Myanmar Times.

“We have informed the MFF we would like to consider Kalay [a town in Sagaing Region but on the border of Chin State and with a large number of Chin ethnic residents],” added Min Khant Tar.

10 19 20
10 10 22
10 6 21
Ayeyawady United
10 5 15
Rakhine United
10 0 14
Magwe FC
10 -2 13
Zwekapin United
10 -4 13
Nay Pyi Taw FC
10 -8 9
10 -6 8
10 -6 7
Chin United
10 -7 7
10 -7 6
Last Updated - 1 April 2017
Manaw Myay
22 51 52
22 21 49
Nay Pyi Taw FC
22 33 48
Mahar United
22 31 48
Myawady FC
22 23 36
Mawyawadi FC
22 1 35
City Stars
22 1 28
University FC
22 -17 23
Dagon FC
22 -11 20
Pong Gan
22 -37 12
United of Thanlyin
22 -47 11
Silver Stars
22 -49 10
Last Updated - 28 August 2016