The Local Game: The case for festive football during Tết

February 09, 2021 - 07:51

Before you tell “no one can run after consuming their own body weight in boiled chicken” or mention any of the hundreds of logical reasons Tết should be football free, hear me out.


Hải Phòng fans are renowned for being a rowdy bunch and would surely turn out in full force for a Tết grudge match against Hà Nội FC. Photo

Peter Cowan

Tết (Lunar New Year festival) is upon us, in case you didn’t notice, bringing with it fireworks, more rượu (wine) than the human mind can comprehend and enough bánh chưng (traditional square glutinous rice cake) to sink a ship.

It’s a time for celebration and excess, except if you’re a V.League 1 footballer, in which case it means it’s time to watch what you eat and drink carefully.

Several top-tier teams have announced that players who return to work from the festivities heavier than they left will be subject to fines, though it’s unclear how many players are more afraid of a fine than the scorn of their mothers for refusing seconds.

This dilemma Vietnamese players are in got me thinking though, instead of worrying about how the players will return after Tết, why not give festive football a go in Việt Nam?

If this was a match week (COVID-19 notwithstanding of course) the likes of Hà Đức Chinh and Nguyễn Văn Quyết would be far more focused on linesmen than lì xì (lucky money) and could spend their time training, not helping their mothers make spring rolls.

Now, before you tell “no one can run after consuming their own body weight in boiled chicken” or mention any of the hundreds of logical reasons Tết should be football free, hear me out.

Back in the UK, there is nothing better when it comes to sport than festive footie. The terraces in my home in Northern Ireland have a special atmosphere on Boxing Day (December 26) when every team plays their local rival in front of a packed ground and all anyone wants for Christmas is three points.

Some fans look forward to the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day matches more than Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve themselves and for good reason, as what could be better than sending home a hated opponent with tail firmly between legs?

So how would getting some matches in over the Tết holiday work in Việt Nam?

Perhaps a few of the V.League’s spiciest match-ups on Lunar New Year’s Day would work. Can you imagine a few thousand Hải Phòng fans descending on Hàng Đẫy Stadium for a match against their hated rivals Hà Nội FC after several days of holiday boozing? On second thoughts, maybe don’t answer that.

Sadly the V.League 1 doesn’t have enough truly local derbies to pack stadiums up and down the country during a holiday period, but what I think there may be a way to create a fixture that will get blood boiling and bums in seats.

In Australia, the annual State of Origin rugby league matches draw massive crowds who come to watch players represent the state they first played rugby in rather than their clubs.

Who wouldn’t want to watch a north versus south match, like the famous reunification match of 1976 between Saigon Port and The General Department of Railways FC?

Such a fixture would make for some interesting switches in allegiance as players like Nguyễn Tuấn Anh of Hoàng Anh Gia Lai would be eligible for the northern team despite playing his club football in the Central Highlands.

I can also imagine the manager of each team scrambling to avoid being saddled with certain players by proving they should represent the other side, sort of the opposite of how the Republic of Ireland national team is constructed.

Instead of desperately hunting for an Irish grandmother or greyhound in a Cockney target man’s heritage, the northern team manager might set about trying to prove that gaffe-prone goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng's birth certificate has a typo.

However such a match were to be put together, fireworks would be guaranteed, and not just because it’s Tết! Chúc mừng năm mới! (Happy New Year!).  VNS