When Pham Hoang Duc Linh left his home for a café to watch the friendly between Manchester City and the Vietnamese national squad with his friends, it was 8:00 pm and the players had already entered the pitch at a Hanoi stadium.
Linh had expected to miss the first 15 minutes of the game when he arrived at the coffee shop.
But when he was there, the referee had yet to blow his whistle to start the game, and the players were still waiting for someone delivering a speech in Vietnamese.
Nearly 40,000 fans who filled up My Dinh National Stadium on Monday night, players of the English Premier League side and the Vietnamese team, and millions of TV viewers had to wait almost 20 minutes for numerous officials to make a speech before the exhibition game could kick off.
While such a time-consuming formality is not a surprise to most Vietnamese, they found it unnecessary for such a non-serious event as the friendly game, where the hosts were trounced 1-8 by the Premier League runners-up.
The foreign players, who had to listen to a language they barely understand for nearly half an hour, were undoubtedly not happy.
The Manchester City men were “still lined up on the pitch like lemons” when Le Hung Dung, chairman of the Vietnam Football Federation, was speaking, the BBC said in its live update of the match.
Dung took the podium after what the BBC described as “a long speech,” also in Vietnamese, by the chief executive officer of the Saigon Hanoi Joint Stock Bank, which organized and financed the exhibition game.
“Joe Hart looks a little perplexed,” the British media agency said.
The Manchester City captain was then seen saying something to the referee standing next to him, and they both laughed.
The English goalkeeper turned to Le Cong Vinh and ended up laughing even more heartily after the Vietnamese captain said something.
Vietnamese and British media were curious about the short but amusing talk between the two captains.
Do Tuan, a journalist from the Vietnamese-language Bong Da (Football) newspaper, brought light to the mystery on Tuesday, as he recounted the story to local media.
Tuan was standing near the players when the whole stadium had to listen to the long speeches, and claimed to have heard what Hart and Vinh said to each other.
“Joe Hart asked Le Cong Vinh why those on the podiums were speaking for so long, and whether the speakers knew of the tired legs of the players,” Tuan said.
The Vietnamese striker replied by advising the goalie to “keep calm and do the warm-up again as the speech is long and more will come."
“Hart then exclaimed ‘Oh my God!’ and said if only he had prepared a mattress to rest on the pitch, making other Manchester City and Vietnamese players burst into laughter,” Tuan revealed.
It is not common for speeches and flower giving formalities to take place before a football match in the world.
So the BBC implied it was a waste to give flowers to the players, as they obviously could not keep them.
The game finally kicked off at around 8:20 pm.
Raheem Sterling, who left Anfield in a 49 million-pound ($76 million) deal, scored a brace in 12 minutes, whereas Aleksandar Kolarov and David Silva both hit doubles for the guests.
Marcos Lopes and Jose Angel Pozo were the other scorers for Manuel Pellegrini’s team, while Van Quyet salvaged a consolation goal for the hosts a few seconds before full time.