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Football in Viet Nam is tough

Update: October, 10/2013 - 10:45
Heaps of fun: Football fans in the V-League always go to stadiums with drums and trumpets, singing and dancing for the whole 90 minutes, whatever the score is. — Photo hanoittfc.com.vn

by Ole Dross

 (VNS)  I am a 1.9m tall German with blonde hair and white skin. Based on my appearance, I have absolutely nothing in common with a Vietnamese person. Still, I share a great passion with most of the people living in this country: football (For my American friends, I'm talking about "Soccer").

It is very easy for me to pursue this passion in Viet Nam. I can watch my favourite club's every match live on TV and I always find somebody to talk about the latest action.

But there is a certain point where the interest of most Vietnamese stops. They love football and can tell you the scores of every European football match, but if you ask them about their own national championship (the V-League) they normally can't tell you how many teams play in the league, which team is the current champion or even if their city has a side in the V-League.

This made me even more eager to get to grips with local football.

For the uninitiated, here is some background information on the V-League. The League has 12 teams, meaning there is a total of 22 match days. In contrast to Europe, they don't play from August until May, instead following the calendar year. The last match day of the 2013 season was on September 1, when Ha Noi T&T were crowned champions.

Twice I went to Hang Day Stadium to watch Ha Noi T&T and it was a great experience. Of course you can't compare the standard to the football played in the top European leagues, but visiting the stadium is still really worthwhile.

The first favourable comparison is the ticket price. While you have to pay an average price of about VND1 million for a match in Germany and even more in England, you get a category one seat on the halfway line for about VND50,000 in Viet Nam. Financially speaking, it therefore makes more sense to go to a stadium in Viet Nam. This price difference also applies to food and drinks in the stadium.

Although the Vietnamese stadiums aren't full, the atmosphere is always impressive. The fans go to the stadium with big drums and spend the whole 90 minutes singing and dancing, no matter what the score is. It is a very friendly atmosphere, far different from what I'm used to at European stadiums, where fans boo the opposing team, referee or their own team for large parts of the match.

The match itself is much slower than in Europe, but it is also much tougher. In Germany we often talk about "British Hardness" in tackles, but compared to Vietnamese football the British are positively tame. As a result, there are far more stoppages fouls and a lot more penalties.

For the first time in my life I witnessed a match featuring four penalties, which isn't a rare event in the V-League. Partly due to the penalties, but maybe also because of the smaller goalkeepers, you see a lot more goals in local stadiums. Both times I watch-ed five-goal thrillers, while 2-2 or 3-3 are more common results than 0-0 or 1-1.

The last surprising aspect is the players. I was shocked by how many foreigners are playing in the V-League. Most teams at least have one tall African striker and several players from South America, especially Brazil and Argentina. There are even some Europeans playing for Vietnamese teams.

I am really sad that my time in this country has passed so quickly and, with the season now finished, I won't be able to catch another game here before I leave. I recommend everybody to visit a V-League match at least once. Don't expect the best match you've ever seen, the quality of football certainly isn't the best in the world, but for the experience it's well worth it. The new season is likely to start in March - don't miss it! — VNS


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