From Hamburg to Hà Nội, everyone speaks football

June 01, 2018 - 17:01

There are certain words, phrases, gestures and occasions that can be understood the world over—like a universal language that translates in all corners of the globe.

Forward, together: The players stand for the National Anthem. — VNS Photo Paul Kennedy
Viet Nam News

By Paul Kennedy

HÀ NỘI — There are certain words, phrases, gestures and occasions that can be understood the world over—like a universal language that translates in all corners of the globe.

If you say to a waiter at a countryside pub in the United Kingdon, ‘tính tiền’, chances are they won’t have a clue what you are talking about. Or try and ask for the bill to be split four ways with half paying by credit card at a bia hơi on the road to Sa Pa and you’ll probably be greeted with blank looks.

But raise your left hand, and motion a scribbling action with your right and every server from Moscow to Manchester will know exactly what you mean. The word ‘OK’ is the most commonly used on the planet, a thumbs up sign will help you get by in Brazil and you don’t have to be in Paris to understand what ‘love’ means.

There’s something else that’s understood the world over, and that’s football.

I’ve been to Champions League finals in Istanbul and Athens. I’ve watched crucial World Cup qualifiers in Dublin and London and I’ve followed Liverpool Football Club to Rome, Porto, Dortmund and Barcelona and I’ve seen teams play in Africa, Australia, America and the Caribbean

So now the time has come for my first foray into Vietnamese football.

As my Grab ride pulled up a short walk from the Hàng Đẫy Stadium, the atmosphere was already building up. The club’s distinctive purple colours were all around me, interrupted by the occasional dot of yellow worn by fans of the visiting Thanh Hóa team. 

Outside the stadium I could have easily been at Anfield, Old Trafford or the San Siro. The weather may have been a little stickier but the atmosphere was just as red hot. 

Unaware whether I needed a ticket or could simply pay at the door, my lost expression was like a beacon to those trying make a fast buck selling tickets and I was approached countless times during my short walk around the ground.

The visitors: Fans of Thanh Hóa. — VNS Photo Paul Kennedy
Universal language: Expat fans enjoying the Hanoi FC game. — VNS Photo Paul Kennedy
Next generation: A young fan stands for the National Anthem. — VNS Photo Paul Kennedy

Eventually I spotted a familiar sight, albeit one I wasn’t expecting. It was an Everton FC shirt. Now for those of you who don’t know, Everton is a small club in Liverpool. One that struggles to find light, forever in the shadow of its far more successful near neighbour.

But credit were credit’s due, this particularly blue football strip was being sported by a lover of all things football. A Scot by the name of Bruno Giegerich who very kindly invited me to join his friends for my first taste of Ha Noi FC.

Bruno is one of a group of football fans from Europe, predominately the UK, who simply love the game and are regulars at the Hàng Đẫy stadium. They know the players, know the formations and know their football.

Once inside, at the insanely cheap price of VNĐ50,000, we managed to find enough seats for all of us to sit together and I eagerly awaited kick-off. 

Now as with just about all of the grounds I’ve visited during my football-mad existence, it was the away fans making most of the noise. The corner of the stadium awash with a sea of yellow and they bounced and sang constantly before and beyond kick-off.

But the home fans too were in good voice, particularly in the section adjacent to the away support. 

Once the game kicked off I began to speak, understand and communicate in the language of the beautiful game. The fan sat next to me couldn’t speak a word of English and as my Vietnamese is limited to asking for two beers in a bar, you’d think our conversation would be short-lived. Not so. 

In fact through a variety of hand gestures, smiles and nods, we managed to hold a conversation about how poor the visitor’s defence was yet the home team’s struggle to break it down. We also talked offside, or the lack of decisions given, and who were the best players on the pitch.

Similar conversations were probably being held by football fans on the terraces in Buenos Aires and Turin, respectively.

As the goals went in one after another, the cheers and jeers needed no translation. Smiles were broad and enjoyment abundant. 

At half time I tried to no avail to buy a steak and kidney pie, instead making do with a bánh mì but I did manage a conversation with the vendor, comparing the price of a beer here to that of Wembley Stadium in London. No prizes for guessing which is cheapest.

The second half continued to be a goal fest much to the delight of the crowd. Football has evolved over the years to become a family affair with children taking up as many seats as adults. Hà Nội is the same and that’s the way it should be. 

But despite many common denominators shared by fans the world over, there was something strangely unique about Ha Noi FC. The players on the park are not millionaires. They do not haggle over contracts and image rights, and chances are they don’t drive Ferraris or Bentleys. And that seemed to make its way into the stadium. Fans were not watching superstars, but rather a bunch of guys having a kick about. 

When the final whistle blew one set of supporters left happy, the other disappointed. This time it was the home fans with smiles on their faces after a 4-3 win stretched their lead at the top of the table. 

Sure, the quality wasn’t of the standard that has spoilt me in the past but the passion was top notch.

Football is a game played the world over and a language just about every fan knows fluently.  VNS