Football rules

Vietnam more than holds its own in the atmosphere at football stadiums and the general passion for the game.

By John Hung. Photo: Viet Tuan on July 16,2015 02:23 PM

Football rules

‘Vaaaaaaaaaaao!!!’

The deep baritone voice of commentator Quang Huy blares over the stadium speakers. We’ve just seen a spectacular goal (vao in Vietnamese, though the ‘a’ can often go on for some time), with a strike from the left foot of a player gliding over the outstretched hands of the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Men, women, and children of all ages rise to their feet. A few exchange high-fives while the rest cheer in unison. Tucked away in the mountains of Quang Ninh, the thunderous beat of drums echoes through the stadium followed by the ubiquitous football chant:

‘Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé!’

Although the 15,000-seat stadium isn’t at full capacity the energy and excitement is electric. I admit, this was my first football match and I’ve yet to fully understand the nuances of the game. Where I’m from this sport is an afterthought. But here in Vietnam, soccer, as we call it in America, or football, as it is known to the rest of the world, is the most popular sport. And that’s an understatement, considering the hysteria and furore incited by Vietnam’s favourite pastime, particularly when national pride is at stake.

Coming off a disappointing third-place finish at the 28th annual Southeast Asian Games, many Vietnamese fans were in need of a pick-me-up. The shortened one-hour exhibition match I was watching, featuring the local football team versus a celebrity-studded line-up led by football legend Andy Cole, provided that boost. Despite the lopsided 5-0 victory to the local team, people lingered long after the match with feelings of satisfaction and admiration.

Vietnamese fans have been following Andy Cole since Manchester United’s glory days but their love for the sport extends way back further. The French introduced football in the late 1800s and since then the popularity of the sport has grown as fanatically as the country’s coffee culture. Football fields are sprouting up like mushrooms in major cities while the game is played in empty fields in the countryside. Men regularly meet together after work to play before heading off for drinks. Children can be seen kicking a ball around on the street, daydreaming of one day donning the national jersey.

Just like the rest of the world, Vietnam features several divisions, with the highest being the V-League, which has been held since the 1980s. While you shouldn’t expect the same quality of football as in Europe or even in East Asia, the atmosphere and excitement is certainly on par.

Just like any other sport, what makes the experience special is the fans. They determine the atmosphere and level of excitement and, in that regard, Vietnam isn’t found wanting. You may have seen the video or heard of local fan Vu Xuan Tien, who ran alongside Arsenal’s bus for kilometres in the heat of summer when they visited Vietnam a few years back.

‘Vietnamese fans are absolutely wonderful,’ Andy Cole said during the press conference after the game. Many of his iconic counterparts, such as David Beckham and Del Piero, have also made appearances in Vietnam and every time it’s quite a spectacle. Andy has been in Vietnam twice now and when I interviewed him he let me know he’s definitely looking forward to returning.

So if you get a chance, go out and kick a ball around or check out one of the V-League games. You too will be wooed by its fans. Or if you find yourself in need of a conversation starter or a way to bond with local people, talking about football is definitely an option. In a country of 90 million people, football reigns supreme and while it may not be so popular where I’m from it’s definitely growing on me.

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