Phoe Thar (also known as Timothy Phyo), 26, is a photographer and videographer from Yangon, Myanmar. He told us about the growth of football in Myanmar and the impact of the sport on local society and culture.
Who is in the photos?
My photos from Yangon feature the University Football Club training for ASEAN SEA Games, with a maintenance man cutting grass with an out-dated machine on the football field. I also showed an abandoned football court with old goal posts, and Yangon United Football Club (YUFC) training ground and futsal courts. Lastly some members of Myanmar University Football Federation with traditional dress and Myanmar’s most famous actor on a commercial shoot with football kit.
Was there any wider meaning with the photos?
Myanmar football is improving yet it is still hard for Myanmar people to imagine a life as a footballer or professional football player because of the living situation and the insecure income with a footballers’ life. As a fan, I don’t feel like watching Myanmar National League football matches because of time and other factors. I feel like Myanmar is under construction and we cannot get into the fields easily – there is a lot of construction building and fences. The league is empty of fans.
Myanmar teams are working to become better. I remember the good old times of Myanmar football but they are forgotten for a while. Myanmar was very good in Asia and we called the period 1948-1970 the Golden Age. Now our football lives are under construction.
Are there any good stories connected with the people or teams you photographed?
The coach of the University Football Club is a foreigner and one Myanmar assistant is translating at the back. How the players are looking at the coach and their eyes tell me how much they want to win the game. With the actor, football more than any other sport has the best influence for commercial products of any kind. I haven’t seen other commercial product videos using other sports.
Why is football so important for Myanmar and its people?
It’s very exciting. It’s the game we play and we watch. We are a very much fans of EPL, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga. We read news about footballers. We argue about the teams. Myanmar people are known to be very kind but in the international football matches, our supporters sometimes seem very rough. And we are not even playing for the World Cup. That’s how much football has driven inside us. It is more than winning a game or achieving a trophy. It is the most important sport in Myanmar people’s lives.
Can you tell us about your football life?
As a young Phoe Thar, I would be playing football in the streets every evening with my neighbours and friends. In those times, the streets were not busy and the Internet was not introduced to us. The only way out for me as a kid was playing football with my friends. Football was cheap and the most exciting sport I could ever have. But when I grew up, the streets were busier, we were not allowed to play on the streets, and football courts were rare. That’s when I started to play video games instead of football. When I was in the University, I played football but not as much as I used to play.
But later around 2012, the nation opened up and a few futsal courts emerged around Yangon city. By 2017, it is a promising business, the futsal courts are booming and we can see the courts everywhere as well as the football lovers in the city. For a street football player, I felt like futsal courts were opening the way for me to play football again. Since then I have been playing futsal with my colleagues once or twice every week. I support Manchester United in the international leagues and Yangon United in the Myanmar National League.
What role does football play in Myanmar and its society?
Football is something that makes us proud of where we live and who we are. We have a friendly cup for wards in our township every year. We will scream our ward name and support our ward team. For example, “I support Gyogone (our ward name) and I am proud”. We play a cup on every Myanmar Independence Day with teams representing our street or the work we do like taxi driver club, trishaw driver club…and it is really fun.
If there is enough support from the government, we will be a great team in Asia, I think.