It remains to be seen how much Burma has really opened up, and whether it will continue to do so. Elections have been held, Aung San Suu Kyi is free to travel and she’s now an elected member of parliament.
But as often happens, sport has been busy behind the scenes for some time. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If North Korea can engage with the international community in the football realm, then Myanmar, still called Burma by the U.K. among other countries, certainly can.
Suu Kyi studied at Oxford and married a British subject, and football in the country has been under some recent Brit influence.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Peter Butler, an Englishman who used to play for West Ham United in the English Premier League, spent part of the 2010 season coaching Yangon United.
The club was busy spending money under owner U Tay Za. Here was a man a man whose ties with the military rulers earned him the tag of “regime crony” by a Wiki-leaked American diplomatic cable. His airline and hotel businesses fell under the list of businesses sanctioned by the United States.
When I interviewed Butler a while back, he was fulsome in his praise.
“Their (owner and his son’s) vision of where they wanted to go and what they hope to achieve has kept me here.
“They are the first people I have worked for in Asia who have actually put their own money where their mouths are and invested millions of dollars in infrastructure. They have constructed new artificial pitches and when the new training facilities are finished in the next year, they will be as good as most in South East Asia and the best in this country.
“They get a bad press at times by ignorant and misinformed people who don’t look at what they are actually doing for the Myanmar people. Many of the United Nations and NGO people, many who are not actually here, just sit back and criticize Tay Za.”
Soon after, Butler and the club went their separate ways, and while many wouldn’t agree with his sentiments that the owners were great guys, few could deny his statement that: “This country has massive potential. Myanmar is football mad.”
David McCreery played for Manchester United in the ’70s, and is now technical director with league club Magway FC. He’s in charge of all aspects at the club, including and especially youth football.
Developing the youngsters is key for the Southeast Asian country – one that has struggled to make an impact in the beautiful game, being ranked 173 in the world by FIFA.
“Football is at an early stage of development in Myanmar, and it has been extremely rewarding developing the infrastructure of the club and also assisting the National U23’s team,” said McCreery, who hails from Northern Ireland. “I’ve embraced new footballing cultures and this is an excellent stepping stone to return back to the European game.”
“One issue that has been a problem is that we share the training ground with a king cobra. So obviously the cobra has the final decision on where we train each day. You wouldn’t want to argue with it.”