Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, chairman of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, joined forces with Somrit Puntharat, shareholder of Taweeheng Leasing, to make the dream of 20 Chiangrai hill tribe youngsters come true.
Chiangrai Hills, a new football club, was created in August 2009.
While all the players are disadvantaged youngsters coming from the hills around Maechan, the project has already generated lots of enthusiasm from the local community.
The project was first conceived at Insii Thai House, home the Chao Phya Abhai raja Siammanukulkij Foundation.
Banchong Mayare, a former Akha student of the Suksasongkroh Maechan school, and Suradaet Jitphanupong, a Yao student of Rajabhat University, came one day to speak about their dream with Count Gerald and Drs John Jeurissen, a long time resident of Chiangrai.
Enthusiasm emerged nearly immediately from the talks and Drs John has been instrumental in establishing contacts with key partners who helped the project become reality.
Several people offered Count Gerald and the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation their voluntary help in order to make the youngsters’ dream become reality.
Miti Tiyapairat , chairman of the already famous Chiangrai United F.C., spontaneously offered to share his experience in running a football team, and to share his experienced coaches and assistant coaches.
Brad Cutler, long time Australian resident of Chiangrai and former football coach with a FIFA certificate level 3, offered his time and knowledge to train the hill tribe footballers.
The project, as Count Gerald sees it, is very ambitious.
“It is not only about playing football. The hill tribe players have been selected for their football skills, but also for their personality. We want this project to be educational not only on the sport level, but also on the human level. These guys are very strong, but the project will teach them how to use this strength in the best way. It is also an excellent opportunity for them to learn a great deal of other things. Indeed, they will all be responsible for their own club and manage it by themselves. This is a lot of responsibility. They will be football players, managers, accountants or secretary. They will take care of the communication and the planning. They will organize their club as their own. We want them to be involved in everything and feel proud of their achievements".
Suradaet, who was at the start of the project is now the team captain and has a lot to do to bring his team to success, with the valuable help of Brad Cuttler, the Australian coach, who accumulated his experience in clubs such as Singapore AFC, Home United Hong Kong, Salangor Malaysia and Sydney City Australia.
The project, which will be overseen by the foundation is privately financed by Count Gerald and Somrit Puntharat, who both see it as a new way to help the society.
"A complete football complex will be built in Maechan, including the field itself, the stands, exercise and rest areas, fitness room, parking spaces, as well as a recreational area for the future fans. Besides the needs of Chiangrai Hills F.C., we might also have opportunities to further help the Maechan community with this sport field in the future”, said Somrit Puntharat.
Count Gerald added that “The investment is important and we will be fully committed to complete our part of the job, which is to provide the youngsters with the best possible tools to perform well. This dream could lead to concrete opportunities in the professional football world. We might not be able to reach the level of Chiangrai United, which is going to compete in Division 1 next year, but we could well have a professional provincial team up and running in two years. The good relationship between Chiangrai Hills and Chiangrai United is a key partnership which might help our players succeed in becoming football stars in the future, who knows..."
But, of course, most of it depends on the players themselves and their coaches...