Viettel and Cà Mau, two sides promoted from the third tier of Vietnamese football, faced off on the opening day of the V League 2 season. For many this would be just another tie lost in the obscurity of lower league Vietnamese professional football. But for me, I’d been waiting years to see this tie….not Ca Mau, as I’ll admit, before this year I’d never even heard of them, or the city they represent, but Viettel.
Viettel are a bit of a Wimbledon FC. Thể Công, the team of the Vietnam People’s Army formed in 1954, were once a prominent force (not that Wimbledon were exactly a force but stay with me on this), won 5 VLeague titles in the 80-90s; were sold, relocated to Thanh Hoa some 100 miles away (think Milton Keynes without the roundabouts), and rename Viettel after being sold to the Army’s Telecommunications company.
Prior to their sale the club played at sân vận động Cột Cờ, a small French built stadium inside of Hanoi Citadel, right under the gaze of the famous Military flag tower. In the 2000’s the club move to the Hàng Đẫy stadium.
In 2011 a campaign began to rename the side Thể Công and bring the team back to the Capital. Last season Viettel won promotion to the VLeague 2 having finished top of their regional league and then seeing of Ca Mau 3-0 in a play-off. Ca Mau then beat Binh Dinh on penalties, after a 1-1 draw, to seal their own spot in this season’s second tier.
Over the last few years I’ve heard stories from fans and ex-players, how Thể Công fans were some of the most dedicated in the country and were waiting for the return of their team. The T&T club fan group (the older guys not the Contras) were also Thể Công fans. I was hoping, as I always do, that thousands would turn out for the return of their team. I even predicted 10,000 on our Hanoi Football Show podcast.
Free entry was also offered, and as I passed the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum en route I was excited by what would be just a few blocks away. But, once again, I had got clearly swept away in my own emotions and dream world that domestic football fandom would once again boom in Vietnam.
I entered the stadium and was disappointed that only around 2,000 had turned up. But then I noticed something, many were not the typical paid fans often seen at T&T and Danang matches. Then the chants began, real football chants started by a noisy group of about 20 guys, clad in the deep red of Thể Công, complete with numerous homemade Ultras banners. They didn’t need the often seen load speakers or have megaphones attached to their hips.
Of course there was also the fan club, accompanied by a small band. They also didn’t require megaphones as they continually got behind their team.
The game was not eventful. Ca Mau were organised, kept their structure and frustrated the home side. Viettel, especially in the second half, dominated possession but couldn’t find a way through. This was very much a nervy opening match of the season, with both side defending deep and offering very little in the final third. Viettel’s central defended, Bùi Tiến Dũng, was particular impressive as he captained and marshalled his defence to a solid opening day performance.
The team may be back, but the name is yet to be changed, with club officials stating first they must develop a team worthy of the Thể Công name.
Full time: Viettel 0-0 Cà Mau
Hàng Đẫy stadium: 2,000