Passionate Bình Định FC supporters ahead of their match with Sài Gòn FC earlier this season. Photo laodong.vn
Legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein once said that football without fans is nothing, or something to that effect.
Even my Rangers supporting friends would have say he hit the nail on the head with that one and most people the world over would agree that the beautiful game is best served in front of a pair of baying mobs chanting bloody murder at each other.
While we’ve all gotten somewhat used to watching matches without a crowd due to the pandemic, even the money men in big-time football who normally couldn’t give a flying you-know-what about the punters are desperate to get the crowds (and their wallets) back in the grounds when it’s safe.
Everyone is itching for fans to return, except it seems, the VPF.
The organisers of domestic football recently announced that V.League 1 teams would return to action in two short weeks and also released fixture dates up until mid-April.
The announcement included the sad but probably sensible news that fans won’t be allowed to attend at least initially due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, but that’s not what’s got my panties in a bunch.
If things keep trending as they have been regarding control of the pandemic here, I reckon it won’t be too long before fans are allowed back onto the terraces.
Well, the supporters who can get off work will be able to go watch their team.
By my count, more than a whopping 35 per cent of the 54 matches scheduled for the month of action kick-off between 5pm and 6pm on a weekday.
To say this is treating the loyal fans of V.League 1 clubs with disregard would be putting it mildly.
Football is meant to be a working-class sport and clubs here are by and large supported by working people, so how exactly are they supposed to attend the third of matches that start before the working day even ends?
Such kick-off times are tough enough for home fans, to say nothing of away supporters.
While I understand the VPF is trying to pack fixtures into a short window to try and get the season finished, I can’t fathom the reasoning for playing so many matches that supporters will simply be unable to attend, whether there’s a pandemic on or not. Why can’t they kick off after 7pm to give home fans at least a puncher’s chance to make it to the ground?
Sadly, none of this will be a shock to anyone who has followed Vietnamese football for a while and ridiculous kick-off times have long been one of the biggest gripes of those who have been invested in the local game for far longer than me.
What may surprise some though is there is at least one club showing that Vietnamese football can be fan-friendly.
Phố Hiến FC in the V.League 2 saw a dip in their home attendance last season and have decided to do something about it.
Did they spend thousands of dollars on focus groups and more algorithms than a Bitcoin convention? Did they shrug their shoulders, blame it on the pandemic, cross their fingers and hope this year would be different?
No, they just asked supporters clubs and local people in Hưng Yên Province what stops them from showing up. The simple answer was too many weekday fixtures to be compatible with the working day finishing at about 5pm.
The solution? The club will play all their home fixtures at 6pm on either Saturday or Sunday, a decision that displays a staggering degree of common sense that seems to be all too uncommon in football boardrooms in Việt Nam.
Here’s hoping (and not just because I have a soft spot for them) that Phố Hiến turn their PVF centre home ground into a loud, intimidating fortress this season and more clubs (and administrators) see what can be gained by putting fans first. VNS