A group of friends from the U.S. and Chile made their attendance at a Ho Chi Minh City stadium on Wednesday night singular with their energetic and contagious support for the local football club Saigon FC in a match against rivals Hong Linh Ha Tinh FC.
The game, played at Thong Nhat Stadium in District 10, was in the sixth round of the ongoing 2020 season of Vietnam’s top-flight professional football tournament V-League 1.
Hosts Saigon FC were held by underdogs Hong Linh Ha Tinh, based in the north-central province of Ha Tinh, to a 1-1 draw with both goals scored in the second half.
Heavy rain that soaked players on the pitch could not drown out the loud cheers from a group of foreigners in the home stands.
“Sài Gòn cố lên [Go Saigon, go]! Sài Gòn cố lên!” the fans chanted gleefully in Vietnamese.
“They had more energy. It seems like the other crowd was more energetic," Peter Stroud from the U.S. told Tuoi Tre News after the match, referring to fans of the away team.
“Like, come on! This is the home stadium. We’re in Saigon. We’re Saigon fans!” he exclaimed.
The group of five friends, who have been in Vietnam for two to six years, said they came together by chance while staying in the country.
Although working different jobs for a living — each of them either teaches English, does film photography, or writes — the young friends share a common love for the Beautiful Game.
“Back in my home country my favorite sport is American football. In America, not many people watch ‘bong da’ [association football]. But once I came out here, everybody’s like, football!” Stroud said.
“Everybody gets really crazy. And then if Vietnam win, they all like ‘di bao’ around the city. It’s the most fun ever. There’s nothing in America that’s like that.”
‘Di bao,’ a Vietnamese slang term literally translated as 'going like a storm,' is a celebration that involves people taking to the streets, usually on their motorbikes, with national flags and anything that can ‘make some noise,’ literally, to glorify the triumphs of the country's national football teams.
|Peter Stroud (left) and a friend celebrate after Saigon FC scored an equalizer during a V-League 1 football game against Hong Linh Ha Tinh FC at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, June 24, 2020. Photo: Tuan Son / Tuoi Tre News|
Christ Brown, another Saigon FC supporter from the U.S., said he had learned about the club from the media and some friends.
Wednesday night’s was the first live game of their favorite club they had ever attended.
“It was good. Hard fought,” Brown said of the Saigon FC players’ performance.
When the other team netted the opener from a penalty kick, the foreign surpporters said they felt “really sad about it,” but it was a relief when their team were able to equalize.
“We plan to go back” to the stadium for more games in the future, he said.
“I speak a little Vietnamese. My girlfriend runs a center that teaches Vietnamese to foreigners,” Stroud explained, in Vietnamese, how he learned about the iconic Vietnamese sports chant that helped them liven up the stadium.
He came to Vietnam five years ago specifically for work, but said it was the joy of life in the Southeast Asian country that kept him hooked.
“I knew a little of [Vietnam’s] history already from university. And other teachers I talked to said, ‘Don’t go to South Korea, don’t go to Japan, go to Vietnam.’ So that’s what I did,” he recalled.
“I thought I would only stay one year but I still enjoy staying here after five years.”
Having watched the Vietnamese national football team play in several international matches, Stroud said he has seen noticeable improvement.
“It seems like the Vietnamese team is getting better every year. We watched some of the World Cup qualifiers and they won several of those games so if they can keep that going then maybe they will get to the World Cup in 2022,” Stroud told Tuoi Tre News.
|Christ Brown (left), Peter Stroud (center), and friends attend the V-League 1 football game between Saigon FC and Hong Linh Ha Tinh FC at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Cho Minh City, Vietnam, June 24, 2020. Photo: Tuan Son / Tuoi Tre News|
Saigon FC were founded in 2011 as a team based in Hanoi before relocating to Ho Chi Minh City in 2016.
The team currently place fifth out of 14 teams in the V-League 1, after six rounds.
The club have never won the V-League 1 title.
A media representative of Saigon FC told Tuoi Tre News it is the only professional football club in Vietnam with an active foreign supporters’ club of about 50 members.