Saturday afternoon, in a very cold northern Vietnam, saw a return to league action at the Hang Day stadium, as T&T hosted local(ish) rivals Hải Phòng.
Hải Phòng, guided by rookie English coach Dylan Kerr, had made an impressive start to the season; undefeated after four games. T&T were, themselves, in confident mood after some positive press for their exploits in last week’s Champions League tie in Thailand.
I’m always excited when rivals face off, be it Arsenals North London derby with Spurs or Stevenage taking on Woking (back in the days of Conference football). I’d heard that some 500 Hải Phòng fans would make the 100 km journey from the port city east of the capital. Eagerly leaving my apartment, I was daydreaming that today would be the day that Hanoians come out in numbers and filled the Hang Day stadium, creating a passionate derby atmosphere.
Leaving the alleyways of my inner city village, I was soon disturbed from my dream and transferred back to the wonderful world of Ha Noi street life. I stumbled over a street vendor selling Thịt chó (dog meat) as I gazed in awe at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. A few feet away, an old lady enthusiastically pointed me out to her grandson, trying to make him wave at the floppy haired foreigner. I waved back. The small child began to cry. I stopped by a group of xe-om drivers huddled next to a small fire, all intensely focused on the two men playing chess. This football pilgrimage in the heart of Ha Noi is certainly unique.
I’d arrive far too early. Ticket purchased, I sat myself down in the family-owned café of T&T attacker, Bao Khanh (who personally assured me it’s the best coffee on the street!), to watch the arrival of the away fans. The away team bus crawled by and then true to their word the Hải Phòng fans began to turn up; clad in club shirts, scarves and waving their distinctive red/white flags. A brilliant sight.
Inside there were more fans too. I, along with the regular younger group of fans, all had to move down one block as the seats were already full. Had Hà Nội T&T found more fans?? As the game got underway, the away fans released hundreds of balloons, while the home fans rather lethargically clapped in encouragement.
The travelling fans were soon silenced though, as Samson slotted home a penalty for T&T’s opener after just 13 minutes. By silencing the away fans, the ground was suddenly very subdued. It turns out most of those who filled our regular seats were in fact favoring Hải Phòng. This was further evident after 22 minutes, as Duc Thang’s long range shot took a wicked deflection and looped over Hon Son in the Ha Noi goal. 1-1.
Full match photos here
It fell then to T&T’s Striker Gonzalo to silence the travelling fans again. The striker, returning from injury, bravely met a corner and scrambled the ball home on 32 minutes. 2-1. And just before half time, a Hà Nội T&T corner was only half cleared and Gallagher drilled home from just inside the box. 3-1. The game had become increasing feisty and straight after Gallagher scored, he received a yellow card for a reckless challenge. A melee then broke out at half time after Le Van Phu had fouled Gonzalo. The away manger and T&T’s Argentine striker shared a few heated words, as coaches from both sides needed to be separated by the players as they headed to the tunnel. It started to feel like a derby match.
The game was effectively killed off just two minutes into the second half, as Samson scored again. The ball somehow ricocheted off of the striker and into the net. 4-1. The feistiness of the first half had gone and T&T slipped into cruise control.
Even after Andre Diego Fagan had pulled a goal back, with the best finish of the game, T&T barely looked troubled. Văn Quyết capped a fine display with his third league goal of the season. 5-2. Official figures suggested 6,000 were in attendance; however, the reaction of just a few people clapping at the final whistle suggests most were in fact following Hải Phòng.
Hà Nội T&T’s four games this season have involved 22 goals and easily some of the best football played in the league. It’s a shame more people aren’t there to see & appreciate it.
Next up is an exciting trip to table topping Thanh Hoa on Friday (21st Feb).
Hà Nội T&T 5 v 2 Hải Phòng
Samson 13’ & 47’ Đức Thắng 22’
Gonzalo 30’ A. Fagan 52’
Văn Quyết 77’ Att. 6,000