The Local Game: Romance in football is alive and kicking

Update: April, 27/2021 - 08:15


The Phố Hiến players celebrate the winning goal on Friday. Photo

Peter Cowan

Romance in professional football isn’t quite dead yet, but it’s taken a good kicking recently.

Last week, Florentino Perez and Andrea Agnelli et al. did their best to try and kill off all the Davids of the footballing world so their Goliaths wouldn’t have to put up with the odd stone in their eye.

While the Super League seems dead on arrival and we won’t lose our cold Tuesdays away to Stoke quite yet, the spectres of gross inequality, greed and unencumbered capitalism remain inescapable in top-level football, as they were before the Super League was nary but a twinkle in John Henry’s eye.

The whole debacle had me feeling pretty low about the state of the beautiful game, until this weekend when I got a sorely needed reminder that David still slays Goliath from time to time.

Việt Nam’s National Cup kicked off over the weekend and no fewer than seven V.League 2 teams made it through to the second round, dumping out five V.League 1 sides on the way.

Now before I come over all misty-eyed and get carried away, it must be said that the National Cup is missing a few elements that make for truly great cup competitions.

The tournament only includes teams from the top two tiers, it’s only been going since 1992 and let’s be honest, a lot of teams treat the National Cup like something of an afterthought.

So the National Cup isn’t exactly as romantic as the FA Cup, but the likes of Phố Hiến FC fans won’t give a hoot about that.

The team based in Hưng Yên Province have had a poor start to a V.League 2 campaign they hoped would end with them moving on up to the V.League 1.

They have no wins in four league matches, sit third from bottom of the table and promotion looks like it may have to wait until 2022.

On Friday night though, they showed just how magical the cup can be by knocking out the V.League 1’s Sông Lam Nghệ An thanks to a goal scored by Lâm Thuận.

Being a Phố Hiến supporter will have felt like a bit of a slog this season until Friday night, until that goal made it all worthwhile, just to experience one of those precious moments of ecstasy that remind us why we allow ourselves to be hurt by something as daft as football.

Experiences like that are what football is all about and it’s comforting to remember that the faithful few who follow teams like Phố Hiến, Cần Thơ, Đắk Lắk, Quảng Nam and Long An got to live one of those special nights in a time when supporters are seen as an inconvenience rather than the lifeblood of the game.

Alright so maybe I did get a little carried away, but isn’t that also part of being a football fan? Losing touch with reality and allowing yourself to dream?

So while I should perhaps pretend to be 100 per cent objective, I will be cheering for every V.League 2 in the next round.

What a story it would be if Phố Hiến somehow went all the way, or if Quảng Nam brought a trophy back to their pandemic and storm-battered province, or if Cần Thơ goalkeeper Phạm Trần Thanh Vũ of knee sliding at a referee fame dragged his side to glory.

Even if nothing quite so miraculous occurs, I’m glad the romance in football isn’t dead just yet, despite the best efforts of Mr Perez. VNS