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An Interview With Supat Rungratsamee: The Man Who Disappeared After Becoming A Championship Manager Icon

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An Interview With Supat Rungratsamee: The Man Who Disappeared After Becoming A Championship Manager Icon

"Really? Oh sh*t, that's a lot," says Supat Rungratsamee, taken aback by the number of goals he scored for my Carlisle United side on Championship Manager 03/04. "I've never known someone to have scored so many in a single season."

I soon let him know that he single-handedly carried my team to a treble-winning campaign after scoring 72 times in all competitions. "You have broken my record," he beams. "I scored 60 goals in 19 games for Denmead's youth team before I joined Portsmouth."

After months of trying to track him down for an interview, Rungratsamee is opening up about his story for the first time.

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The former Pompey prospect was tipped by scouts behind the Championship Manager series to become a world-beater, capable of breaking records but here we are, reminiscing about his glory days at youth level and the cruel circumstances that followed.

As a teenager, the name Rungratsamee was plastered across internet message boards, accompanied by tales of how he helped third division teams to European glory. In fact, such was his popularity at the time, someone decided to graffiti his name across a storage unit in a local playing field.

The popular striker was a household name in the community. A pacey striker with 20 finishing and Filippo Inzaghi-like intelligence, he soon ripped up the virtual world of football but in real life, he would disappear without a trace. What happened?

In years gone by, many have questioned his whereabouts. Some still believe he isn't a real person; a data error by those who created Championship Manager. That simply isn't true. Now aged 29, Rungratsamee still lives in the UK and he has a story to tell.

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Born in Suphan Buri, a town close to Thailand's capital city Bangkok, Rungratsamee became obsessed with football. Doy, a nickname he picked up as a youngster, played barefoot on gravel pitches near his home and was often seen running rings around older children.

At the age of 10, his family decided to move to the UK, which gave him the chance to showcase his ability to a wider audience. In the space of a few months, a driven Supat was given the nickname RoboCop by his teammates [and their parents] because of his incredible power, endurance and dedication.

From an early age, he would wake up early each morning before school so he could lift weights and do press-ups.

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"The parents used to watch me getting tackled but I just wouldn't go down and carry on," he tells SPORTbible. "I gave it 100% effort when I played football. I used to train for two or three hours a day. When I finished school, I would run home to improve my fitness."

Supat's primary school in Paulsgrove soon took note of his unique talents and would put him forward for the Portsmouth schoolboy trials. It was here where Neil Hider, a part-time coach at Portsmouth U11's, spotted Runratsamee in action.

"Doy was around 10 when he attended his first trial," Hider tells us. "Nobody had ever seen him before but he scored six or seven goals in the trials and ripped the centre-halves to pieces with his pure pace and power. You couldn't hurt him.

"He ragged one of the best Portsmouth players to pieces that day. He was a powerhouse and would run through the middle and knock people over. It was bizarre. It was like watching a little man play. People used to just bounce off him. He scored some ugly goals but kids were trailing off his back almost."

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Rungratsamee has kept this news clipping from his days at Portsmouth.
Rungratsamee has kept this news clipping from his days at Portsmouth.

Doy impressed on his initial schoolboy trial and Hider put in a good word to Portsmouth's head of youth development, Dave Hurst, who had already heard about the highly-rated kid scoring goals for fun. "He asked me about Doy and I told him they had to sign him before someone else does," Hider says.

He was now strutting his stuff for Portsmouth and it didn't take him long to make an impression. "When we first had Supat in, coaches at the time were raving about him," Hurst tells us. "They were saying what a great player he was and what a great player he was going to be."

Rungratsamee was scoring on a weekly basis against some of the most highly-rated youngsters in the country. In fact, he would bag around 30 goals in his first season for Portsmouth. Locals would read about his heroics with intrigue. "I was in the local newspaper nearly every week," he recalls.

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But in the opening stages of his career, some eyebrows were raised about his age. In a clash against Brentford, the opposition manager questioned whether the Thai wonderkid should be sharing a pitch with significantly smaller opponents.

"We were about 4-0 up and I think Doy got three or four or them," Hider remembers. "Their manager came around and had a right go for playing him. He was saying he's too old and all these different things. He was just too powerful for them.

"A lot of people questioned his age," added his former coach. "When we did those weights, he used to smash them at 11-years-old. The other kids were still lightweight and skinny but he was different. He arrived on the scene with an absolute bang. People didn't know what had hit them when this little lad was amongst them."

One of the defenders who experienced Rungratsamee's physical presence at youth level was Brighton & Hove Albion captain Lewis Dunk. "He played against Dunk and would give him major problems," Hider recalls. "He would give anybody a run for their money."

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk struggled to deal with Supat Rungratsamee at youth level. Image credit: PA
Brighton captain Lewis Dunk struggled to deal with Supat Rungratsamee at youth level. Image credit: PA

In the coming years, as those around him started to get bigger and stronger, Supat would struggle to adapt. "If you played him at any level, he'd have knocked people out the way but as they got older, he did become less effective," Hider says.

"The oppositions positional play improved as well, which would have cut him out."

At this time, questions were once again being raised about his age. Portsmouth's head of youth development David Hurst had a feeling that Rungratsamee was playing in the wrong age group during his spell at the club.

"As time elapsed, you got the feeling it was more strength than ability and I always thought he was older than what he was saying. But I never got proof of that," he says.

"When you first saw him, you thought he was going to be a world-beater. But then your knowledge of football comes into play and you think, hang on a second, this is more because of strength than ability. Because he was stronger than the other kids. I had a feeling that his age wasn't as it was. It's one of those situations you don't want to be in.

"He may have been 16 or 17 but the age group he was involved in was much younger than that. As I say, I never got any proof."

Despite questions being raised on the pitch, those behind the scenes at Championship Manager were clearly convinced by his raw talent. In the beloved 03/04 version of the game, a 15-year-old Rungratsamee would become one of the world's best players after several seasons.

"Yeah, I've heard of the game," Supat laughs. "My friend used to play it and they used to show me my stats. They used to say I was a good striker but I've never actually played the game. I never signed myself. But it's nice to hear that I was well received."

To this day, he still receives friend requests on social media from people around the world.

"I don't know how to reply properly though," he adds. "I don't play football anymore. I'm not into it. It's the past. I don't usually speak about it."

Rungratsamee was at Portsmouth for several years before circumstances beyond his control would play out, meaning he couldn't make it to training anymore. He left the club aged 16.

"The thing is, there were quite a few problems at that time," Supat explains. "My parents weren't able to take me to train anymore because they separated, so I couldn't turn up to training or matches, and I left.

"I also had injury problems. I picked up a serious knee injury when someone went in hard. I heard it click and there was cartilage damage. That was awful and my knee couldn't handle it afterwards. I tried to see the physio but it took a long time in the queue and I didn't end up getting an operation."

It was a cruel blow to his once-promising career in football but Rungratsamee still loved the game so, after his sudden departure from Portsmouth, he moved back to Thailand to play for BG Pathum United, who played in the first division of Thai football.

He trained for six months in their youth team and played two matches but ultimately, the teenager couldn't carry on because of recurring knee problems "It was shaking when I ran too much," Supat says before sighing. "I was never at 100% again."

Rungratsamee hopped on a flight back to the UK when he was 18. "I went straight into work at a Thai restaurant in Portsmouth," he says. "I was also playing for a local team while working for one season. I was still enjoying football but I was still frustrated because my knee was still hurting."

After trying to play through the pain barrier, Supat decided to avoid any further damage and retire from football when he was just 19.

Now, he is working in the catering business as a sous chef in Bishop's Stratford.

"Nobody knows where I've been or what I do because I haven't been in touch with anyone," he says.

"I have definitely missed football. I still want to play for fun but I don't know anyone in the area so I can't. I'd love to go and play football again but I'm also getting old now. I haven't got a lot of free time either. I work a lot in the kitchens. It can sometimes be six days a week."

Supat's former coaches have all but good things to say about the former striker. "He was such a nice person. He was so polite and decent. Everyone liked him," Hider remembers while Hurst agrees. "He was such a nice lad. He was very polite."

And one thing is for certain, the Thai born forward loved his time at Pompey. "I really enjoyed my time at the club," he says. "The club were still playing in Europe at the time. I met Peter Crouch, David James and Lomana Lua-Lua. It was great."

The question remains. What could have been without that knee problem? Does he think he could have lived up to expectations and scored goals at the very highest level? "I think I could have made it to division one or two without the injury."

Now that would have been a real fairytale story.

Featured Image Credit: Championship Manager

Topics: Football Manager, Portsmouth

Jack Kenmare
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