Two months had passed since my last away trip. T&T’s involvement in the AFC Cup had really hit my plans hard, with fixtures being rescheduled (Long An moved to a Friday & An Giang on a Monday). The team also played in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Maldives…..somewhat out of my budget. Traveling to newly promoted Quảng Nam was not an option. It had to happen.
The central province of Quảng Nam is firmly on the tourist trail thanks to the stunning ancient town of Hoi An. With My Son temple complex nearby, the outlying Cham islands, the Thu Bồn River system and stunning coastline; I was rather excited to be out of rainy Hà Nội.
Some 55km south of Hoi An, along the notorious highway 1, lies the provincial capital Tam Ky; home of QNK Quảng Nam FC. For an hour or so buses played chicken with oncoming vehicles, as impatient lorry drivers raced each other along the very narrow one lane highway. Just to add a little more adrenaline, large areas were under construction, filling the air with plumes of dust and reducing what was a hard shoulder to a ditch!
Tam kỳ, isn’t the most happening town. In all fairness, I arrived mid afternoon, between eating times and possibly at the end of extended nap time. The town was pretty quiet, except for the obligatory motorbike repair stores, hardware stores and mobile phone shops.
I joined the subs; Bao Khanh, Tien Dung, et al, for a quick coffee and to pick up a ticket. Like many small towns around the globe, football brings people together and soon the deserted streets were buzzing with an air of expectation. The stadium itself seemed pretty old, one main covered stand and a terraced bowl surround the pitch. The noisy home fans were located opposite the main stand.
I chose a seat, sat down, and was stared at. I’m used to being the only foreigner in stadiums, people shouting ‘hello’, ‘where are you from’ and often jokingly ‘f@ck you’ (delivered with huge smiles, this even happens in school. I blame unedited movies on TV). This was different though; old men stared intensely through their cigarette smoke. I was uncomfortable.
As a ten year old bounced up the stand to his seat, he spotted the foreigner and excitedly shouted ‘hellooooo’!! So now everyone stared. But this was my moment to break the ice with the Quang Nam faithful….returning a hello and my biggest smile, I then proceeded to greet the smoking men (which seemed to be everyone) in my finest respectful Vietnamese. The inquisitive stares turned to smiles! I was saved!
The two teams played out an entertaining 2-2 draw last week in Hà Nội. Quảng Nam, being a newly promoted side lying fourth from bottom, had impressed. Today, T&T were missing both Hector and Gonzalo, while Gallagher was dropped to the bench; Coach Hung again preferring rookie defender, Duy Khanh. Half time arrived 0-0. The first half was awful, with neither team able to keep the ball on the bobbly pitch.
My theory that T&T are always a better second half side was blown away as Quảng Nam raced in to a 3-0, with just 12 minutes gone of the half. Hà Nội’s heads were down, the defence was all over the place and the tireless Samson was lacking support upfront. It was soon figured out I was an away fan. I was in the middle of nowhere, outnumbered 7,499 to 1. What was I doing?
The crowd were fantastic though, rising to their feet after each goal and cheering every attack from their team. Hà Nội T&T were on the ropes. 20 minutes passed, T&T had settled, but looked beaten. Nguyễn Ngọc Duy pulled a goal back, his 3rd in two games, with a neat turn and finish. Hung then sent on Gallagher for Hong Tien. A centre back on to play left back, when chasing down a 3-1 deficit??
It would be the moment that changed the game. Also the reason why I sit in the stands and not on the bench. Gallagher gradually became a winger and eventually partnered Samson in attack.
When Bao Khanh saw his wonderful curling effort come back off the post, it triggered panic amongst the home players, realizing their inferior quality and fitness, it was time to employ time wasting tactics. Even the lads with the stretcher got in on the act; strolling on to the pitch as if they were on a date, eating ice cream around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
The fourth official held up 5minutes of injury time, T&T, pressed and pressed. Eventually Samson scrambled the ball home with just 2 minutes left. Again triggering embarrassing scenes of time wasting from the home keeper’ Phạm Ngọc Tú, who, after berating his teammate for at least 20 seconds then decided he was injured. He dropped. Writhed around for a while. The whole team had to go to his rescue. The physio & coaches were on the pitch. Minute after minute passed. The referee had long ago gesticulated to the players he was adding all this time on.
Finally, the game restarted. T&T instantly went on the attack. A long looping cross deceived everyone and fell to Gallagher at the far post, who struck a blistering first time shot beyond Ngọc Tú. The bench jumped up in celebration and I couldn’t help myself, I was out of my seat cheering. I looked around and realized I was the only one. The stares began again but this time I didn’t care. It was the 99th minute.
Somehow Hà Nội had rescued a point. Thanks must go to the time wasting of the home players, who added to their own demise. I was again delighted to be on the road following T&T.
QNK Quảng Nam 3 – 3 Hà Nội T&T
Kisekka Henry 47 Nguyễn Ngọc Duy 76
Đinh Thanh Trung 51, 57 Samson (39) 90’+3
Att. 7,500 Gallahger (2) 90’+9