Thailand defender Surat Sukha may not have realised it when he first took the field last month for Australian A-League champions Melbourne Victory but he was creating a small piece of history. Sukha's 78th-minute entry against Brisbane Roar marked the first appearance of a player from a south-east Asian country in Australia's top flight.
A number of players from the likes of China, Korea Republic and Japan have made the transition to football down under but it was a first for a player from any country stretching in an arc from Indonesia across 11 south-east Asian nations to Myanmar. While Sukha's early starts have been solid rather than spectacular the 27-year-old has shown enough quality to suggest he could be in Australia for a while yet. It could be that Sukha's stint in Melbourne will be looked upon in the years to come as a watershed for the changing face of the Australian domestic game.
Interestingly the women's game beat the male equivalent to the punch with Singaporean Shiya Lim appearing for Perth Glory in the W-League last term. Only last week former international Ali Abbas became the first Iraqi to play in Australia as the domestic scene embraces an even great multicultural appearance.
Career defining match
After four seasons with his native Sakon Nakhon, Sukha took the first step to stardom by linking with Chonburi in 2006. Winning the national title with Chonburi after just one season led to an appearance in the AFC Champions League where they impressed many onlookers in a difficult group featuring eventual winners Gamba Osaka, Korea Republic's Chunnam Dragons and Melbourne Victory. It was in the matches against the Australian club where Sukha caught the eye of their coach Ernie Merrick, subsequently changing the direction of his career in just 90 minutes.
Twelve months on and Sukha found himself signing on the dotted line for Australia's biggest club for a two-year stint. "I am very proud, happy and excited to be the first player (from south-east Asia) to play in the A-League," Sukha told FIFA.com
"I was just a little bit homesick to start with but I really want to play in the A-League so I have to adapt and it is ok. It wasn't too much trouble adapting to Australia with quite a lot of Thai people here. Also the traffic is a lot better here," says Sukha with a smile perhaps in reference to Bangkok's notorious traffic.
"The A-League is a lot quicker than the Thai league, there is a lot of pressing in the A-League and also it is more physical. You have to think faster and when you get the ball you must already be thinking what to do next."
Asked if other Thai players should come to Australia to ply their trade Sukha's immediate reply is Suree Sukha. The surname is not a coincidence with Suree the twin brother of Surat, also a player of note in his own right having accrued some 50 caps for Thailand. Indeed Suree has also been a pioneer of sorts having been on the books of both Manchester City and Grasshoppers without breaking into the first team.
Thailand had the distinction of jointly hosting the AFC Asian Cup in 2007 with the national team playing in front of large crowds and domestic attendances have been on the rise ever since. The arrival of English coach Peter Reid helped the national team improve says Sukha culminating with an appearance in the final of the Suzuki Cup for south-east Asian nations last December.
With his domestic career falling into place Sukha has loftier ambitions on the international stage under new national team coach Bryan Robson. "My dream is to go to the World Cup and I really want to help Thailand achieve that dream."