Fortunately Ha Noi was blanketed with huge rain clouds for the visit of Quang Ninh, drastically reducing the temperature from yesterday’s sweltering match (HaNoi FC v Hue) at the Hang Day. It was refreshing enough to shun a taxi and umbrella, so I trudged alone to the stadium. My dreams of persuading thousands to attend with me have yet to bear fruit. At Least the Quang Ninh fans turned up in numbers. Located 4 hours east of the capital, it’s one of the shorter trips for the fans clad in blue.
I was expecting an easy win for T&T. Even though still without leading scorer Samson, they should have enough to react to last week’s defeat at title rivals Binh Duong. What I was about to witness was a mix of sheer entertainment and the outright bizarre. As I took my usual spot undercover in the main stand, things didn’t seem right. The usual group of younger fans was absent. All of them. I only recognized one fan.
The blue shirts of Quang Ninh were present in the ‘home stand’. Some fans came in wearing the yellow supporters club T&T shirts (a requirement for free entry), only to gleefully remove them once inside. The full scale of away support was exposed when Vũ Minh Tuấn opened the scoring. Hundreds of travelling fans opposite me went wild and at least 50% of those around me were out of their seats celebrating. This annoyed me somewhat. I had to refrain. The party in the away section looked great and if I were supporting Quang Ninh, I’d have preferred to have been in there.
The goal woke T&T up. A deadly 14 minute spell saw the home side race to a 3-1 lead thanks to Hector and a brace from Nguyen Ngoc Duy. As each effort hit the back of the net, I was out of my seat, as was the young lad next to me. We were certainly in the minority, as rows of subdued fans in front shot confused looks in our direction.
Seeing their team fall behind, the travelling support roared to life again, deciding it was time to have a dance party in the rain. And it worked. Nguyễn Xuân Hùng grabbed a goal back, and the fifth of the first half. Half time; 3-2.
I thought it doesn’t get better than a first half with 5 goals. I was wrong.
QN hit back instantly. The visitors reclaimed the lead through goals from Uche Iharoune and Minh Tuấn, his second of the day. The home sides defensive disarray was summed up when both Cyrus and rookie defender, Van Dung, left the field when they saw substitute Duy Khanh being introduced.
Now the bizarre.
Step up Mr Vo Minh Tri, the days match official. When Quang Ninh’s Minh Tuan failed to retreat the full ten yards for a T&T free-kick, the referee raced over and whipped out a red card. Surely a mistake? He quickly found his yellow and rectified the problem. But this mistake would soon be used as evidence by the visitors in their belief the ref was incompetent.
‘It’s not fair, I’m not playing’.
Moments later a QN defender was adjudged to have handled just inside the box. Van Viet protested furiously, receiving his second yellow. Cue the conspiracies and playground-like reaction from the visitors. Van Viet was refusing to leave the field, until all of the Quang Ninh players decided enough was enough and they all walked off in protest.
Fans around me began laughing. The away fans encouraged and applauded the childlike behavior of the visiting team. In a moment of sheer instinct, I rose from my seat and threw out a few expletives at the protesting players. Those around me looked stunned, especially the couple of tourists witnessing the crazy world of the Vleague for the first time. It was clear they were thinking, “Why is that foreigner getting wound up?” Two years ago, I sat perplexed watching this foreign league. Having attended some 40 VLeague games since, I’d now graduated to the next level of fandom: the perhaps too passionate fan level. The one where swearing and waving my arms in anger at those on the pitch becomes the norm. It felt good.
Meanwhile, the players looked embarrassed. The referee refused to give in and Gonzalo was waiting to take the penalty. The QN players eventually entered the field and the kick was taken without a single blue shirt near the box. I’ve never seen a penalty hit so hard in anger; the keeper was lucky he dived out of the way.
The visiting team caved in and dropped their heads, like school kids after being told off. Had they rallied by converting their frustrations into motivation, realizing they were holding the league champions 4-4 away from home, they could have salvaged something. Body language suggested they were hard done by, losing to the bigger kids on the playground. I’m sure, if I understood more Vietnamese language, I heard it’s not fair from those around me.
Then the shoes of anger.
The QN fans in front of me were rather upset with all this. One gentleman removed both his shoes and threw them at the home dugout, to large cheers. Four policemen quickly surrounded our block, but did nothing. They seemed a bit confused, unsure of who threw the shoes. My guess would be the chap who had nothing on his feet.
Returning to the football, it seemed the small team from the coast had annoyed their more illustrious opponents from the capital. HaNoi were ruthless in disposing of their newly embarrassed opponents, sealing the win with two fine goals from Thanh Luong and Van Thanh.
It’s not fair, I’m going home.
It remains to be seen what action, if any, will be taken by the VFF. Unfortunately such immature incidents seem to have grown in the league this season. Following on from XT Sai Gon’s withdrawal last season for being accused of not trying, the Hai Phong owner had murmured he’d considered withdrawing the team from the league after two of his players received lengthy bans. And after referees from Japan were introduced, to reduce the possibility of match fixing (after Ninh Binh brought more shame to the league back in March), one team manager was not happy after seeing his side lose, stating the foreign referees didn’t understand Vietnamese football.
On a positive note, the six VLeague games this weekend saw 41 goals scored, reaffirming my popular drunken rants to potential new fans, that the VLeague is great entertainment. For now though it’s time to enjoy an England-free World Cup as the league takes a two week break before HaNoi welcome relegation threatened Long An.
After this weekend’s action, I can’t wait.
Hà Nội T&T 6-4 Than Quảng Ninh
Hector H K Vaghaur 21′ Vũ Minh Tuấn (6) 18′ – 60′
Nguyễn Ngọc Duy 25′ – 35′, Nguyễn Xuân Hùng (20) 44′
Gonzalo 73′ Uche Iharoune (32) 50′
Phạm Thành Lương 79′,
Phạm Văn Thành 90’+4