|Ballin': Foreign and Vietnamese football players practise dribbling past opponents during a training session. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
It's 7.30pm and darkness settles over the Red River Pitch on Au Co Street in the capital city. The outside temperature is below 15oC, but despite the cold, foreign and Vietnamese women take off their winter clothes to sport their team's colours.
This is a normal scene for Thursday nights as members of Hot Chi – a Ha Noi women's football team – join together to practice their favourite sport.
The Hot Chi team was established in July by a group of expats desperate to find a way to play football in Ha Noi.
At first, a women's gaelic team, a derivation of traditional Irish ball games, was formed on Facebook. It turned out that the gaelic team's posts actually attracted a lot of users expressing a desire to play regular football, and so began the formation of a new team.
With a touch of humour and some Vietnamese flavour, the team was named Hot Chi. ‘Chi' means ‘woman' in Vietnamese and ‘hot' is a colloquial way of saying ‘attractive' in English.
Eight to ten players joined the team at first. After five months, it now has 60 members on its Facebook group, 12-15 of whom regularly participate in training.
Co-founder Carolina Garcia Huerta says that the idea of establishing the club came from a personal need to play football with other ladies. However, she said "it became more of a mission to start a movement".
"It was quite difficult to believe that the national women's team has been in amongst the top ten teams in Asian games for so long. They do better than the national men's team and yet there's nowhere in the city for ladies to play. We want to give Vietnamese ladies a safe and comfortable space with the equipment to enjoy football," Carolina says.
|Doing drills: Coach Hayden Wood teaches players how to control and dribble the ball.
After the first two weeks, the female team welcomed two coaches from Vietnam Passion Football Academy, Hayden Wood and Nguyen Huy Toan. Under their instruction, the skills of club members significantly improved.
Kindergarten teacher, Zoe Ford from England, was originally a member of the gaelic club but decided to join the Hot Chi team after meeting Carolina and being persuaded.
"I've been in gym a few times and I did a lot of swimming but I've never done a team sport. Now I am a part of something else," she said.
She found it hard in the beginning, but after several training sessions she got better and gained more confidence with the ball.
"The coaches are really good. They don't tell you this is wrong, they just suggest I should try it another way," Ford says.
She remembers at first injuring her toes whenever she kicked the ball. Coach Toan corrected her and told her to use the instep to kick.
"If he didn't tell me that, I would still be doing it wrong," she said, adding that the coaches also keep things interesting, "by changing the exercises every week".
After coaching them for several months, Toan says that the players have proven to be very hard working and fast learners. He says that only after a few training sessions they had already improved.
"I didn't think that they could improve so fast like this," Toan says.
"The most surprising thing to me is that the atmosphere at the club practice is a different from in Vietnamese ones. In Viet Nam, the atmosphere is normally stressful, but members of the Hot Chi club have fun at training while remaining focused."
Ines Vazquez from Spain, one of the founders of the team, played football in high school and university, and joined to meet people and get used to a new city.
"I feel much better than I did before. I think doing any sport, especially football, relaxes me. After training sessions, I sleep very well," she says.
Do Thi Hanh, from the northern province of Hai Duong, is excited to be able to play on a women's football team. She says that most of the team members are foreigners from all over the world and are very open and friendly.
Wood, who has plenty of coaching experience from England and Viet Nam, says the team is passionate about learning and making the environment fun.
"We really enjoy coaching them, so we've worked a lot to build a strong football community," he says.
"We are trying to reach as many expats and Vietnamese as possible. It is nice to get Vietnamese people who have never played football before, or have never had a chance to play football before." — VNS