2006 FIFA World Cup

Thamanoon Vejakul, 14, looks to football to escape bullying in Thailand

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image Thailand Thamanoon and team
© UNICEF Thailand/2006/McBride
Thamanoon Vejakur, 14 (far right, bottom), and his teammates pose for a team photo.

For the 2006 FIFA World Cup, UNICEF and FIFA are campaigning to ensure a more peaceful world for children. This is a profile of one of Team UNICEF's star players.

By Rob McBride

KHAO LAK, Thailand – In the driving rain, Thamanoon Vejakul and his teammates line up for the customary march out onto the pitch and formal handshake with their opponents before the match.

“They are not that good,” he says. This was not going to be much of a contest. Even so, the team talk from the coach had been stern enough and no one will be giving less than their best.

Like the rest of his team, Thamanoon, 14, takes his football very seriously. For this troubled teenager, it represents more than just a game – it’s a release from another way of life that was quickly leading him nowhere.

His troubles began at his previous school, a state-run boarding school where he was badly bullied by some other kids.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image Thailand Thamanoon and team
© UNICEF Thailand/2006/McBride
Thamanoon holds a football with his teammates close behind him.

List of worries

 “I had thought the school was going to be good for him,” explains Thamanoon’s mother, Jinda Vejakul. “But he was picked on and they stole everything from him, even his uniform right down to his underwear.”

She took him out of that institution, enrolling him instead at Baan Bang Muang school closer to their home in Khao Lak, Southern Thailand.

But soon after, his problems were compounded by the death of his father in an accident at work, meaning he now had to help out around the house with the chores while also doing odd jobs to supplement the family income. Just to add to his list of worries, a local bike gang began to single him out and tried to force him to join their ranks.

It was then that Thamanoon discovered the power of football.

“I have always loved football,” he says. “But I found I could use it as an excuse when this gang wanted me to join them. I would tell them I was playing football and they would leave me alone.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image Thailand Thamanoon and team
© UNICEF Thailand/2006/McBride
One of three goals Thamanoon’s team scored in their victory.

Football provides role models

Playing as a midfielder for his school team has transformed his life. “When I’m playing football, I feel happy. I can forget about things that make me uneasy or stressed,” says Thamanoon.

His teacher, Nathanee Limsakul agrees. “Football is a great activity because it provides an alternative to joining a gang,” she says, adding that she has seen a marked positive change in the teenager.

Playing football has also given Thamanoon the strength to stand up to gang members when they have targeted other teenagers. Recently he intervened to stop a younger boy from being bullied. “I know I wouldn’t like it, and I’d want someone to step in as I did,” he says.

Above all, the football team provides Thamanoon with better role models than a bike gang. “The team has other boys and male coaches,” Ms. Limsakul explains. “He can discuss things with them that he would find difficult to discuss with his mother.”

On this rainy afternoon there was little time for discussion as the boys from Baan Bang Muang school set about dismantling the opposition. In a game that saw all the action take place in the other team’s half, they eventually won, three goals to nil, with number 14, Thamanoon, in the thick of the action.

For this soccer-crazy teenager, whose favourite team is Arsenal, laying on the goals for his forwards was all that mattered. “It’s the best feeling when I set up a goal for the strikers. That’s what makes me the happiest.”


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on a 14 year old football player in Thailand.

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