Last Sunday, a woman — and her entire nation — cried.
In the final minutes of a group stage World Cup game against Sweden, one of Thailand’s forwards broke through the Swedish defense and fired a shot near post into the back of the net. It was the team’s first goal following a 17-goal deficit in just their second appearance in a World Cup. The game was already lost, but the players didn’t care. To them, this was redemption. This was the dream.
Quickly, the television cameras panned from the players’ faces to the cheering hordes on the sidelines, and among them, the woman who financed their dreams. Nualphan Lamsam, Thailand’s national team manager since 2009, cried tears of joy in a viral video that shows that the World Cup isn’t just about the players. Lamsam has been manager since 2009, but she’s also the president and CEO of one of Thailand’s largest insurance companies, Muang Thai Insurance, for almost a decade now. Affectionately known as Madam Pang, Lamsam has previously hired players on the national team at her company to provide them a second, much-needed source of income. (If the ever-so successful U.S. Women’s National Team is complaining about wages, you can imagine Thailand is, too).
Since athletes usually get paid depending on the number of games played, if there is a long drought between matches, players can work as sales representatives for Lamsam’s company and receive a regular paycheck. With living costs covered for, players can then focus on training and improving their game. During World Cup qualifying, Lamsam reportedly also doubled player bonuses. As manager and employer, there’s no doubt that Lamsam’s financial assistance has gotten Thailand to the world stage.
Most will remember America’s controversial 13-0 thrashing of Thailand’s national team in the tournament opener (the biggest ever defeat in Women’s World Cup match), but Lamsam likely will remember the team’s exhilarating goal against Sweden. Though Thailand lost its first two matches, the team still has one more game to play against Chile this Thursday, which will determine the third-place group finisher who could possibly advance to the next round.
As long as Lamsam is there to relieve the money-making pressure, it’s a good bet that Thailand’s women’s soccer team will still be around to compete.