Before we even got on the plane, the prospect of seeing a Vietnamese football match was getting me excited. It was high up on my to do list. I checked the fixtures, and Hanoi’s local team had a few games on, but they usually fell on a Saturday afternoon when I work. Come November, I got lucky as the Vietnam played Afghanistan on a weekday evening. It was a big one. A win, or a draw meant they would qualify for the Asia Cup for the first time ever.
Back in England, me and my brother would have “train beers” on the way to the game. Beers on a train. I tried my best to replicate that with “motorbike taxi beers”. It went….ok.
I made it to the ground and there was a real buzz about the area. Everyone was singing and waving their flags. I noticed that almost everybody was repping the red and yellow. In England it’s too bloody cold to wear only your teams shirt, though we probably wouldn’t wear it anyway. I bought my ticket (£7 for the best seats in the house, £2 for the cheapest) and advanced into the ground.
The stadium was beautiful. Traditional, yet modern. It kind of reminded me of a small Twickenham – England’s home for Rugby. They polished the hell out of those marble floors inside the concourse.
They sold beer inside the ground, but you weren’t allowed to take it into the stand. So I drank it while hanging out with some people who wanted to practice their English on me. I also posed for some selfies like the token celebrity white guy you tend to become in South East Asia.
I spent a couple of minutes trying to find my seat before realising that it was just anarchy anyway and people just sit wherever they fancy. I should have foreseen that really. I chose a good seat and soaked everything in.
I didn’t see any Afghan fans, or a section for them. To be fair it’s bloody miles away and I don’t think their team are that good. There was one section full of mad Vietnamese fans who didn’t stop singing and chanting throughout the full match. They made for a great atmosphere.
After a rousing national anthem, it was time for kick off. I was enjoying the scenes so much that I kind of forgot that there was a football match to be played.
The ref blew his whistle, and what followed was by far the worst game of football I have ever seen in my life. It was terrible. I can’t remember there being a shot on target. I can’t remember there being a shot. There probably was.
Either way, it ended out 0-0. Perhaps Vietnam were playing for this, they qualified for the Asia Cup for the first time ever with this result, after all.
It never struck me just how patriotic these lot are until I landed here. If you see a street anywhere in Vietnam where there’s not 20 or more Vietnamese flags flying on it, then you’re probably not in Vietnam. Every throw in, every forward thinking pass and every full blooded tackle was met by absolute roars of appreciation for the cause.
All in all, I strongly recommend heading to a game if you find yourself in Hanoi. For the fans and not for the football. If we’re still around for the Asia Cup in 2019, then you will find me in my local bia hơi in a sea of red and yellow cheering the lads on.
If you’re into the football groundhopping business, then give my friend Jack a follow on Instagram, as he wanders round grounds in Europe: here