Can the V.League kick on from Vietnam's success?

Incredible levels of noise in Vietnamese cities are nothing new, but the sounds of January 23, 2018, were something else.

Can the V.League kick on from Vietnam's success?
There's no shortage of passion among fans who do show up to V.League matches. Photo courtesy of Bill George


When Vu Van Than slotted home the winning penalty in the semi-final shootout against Qatar in the AFC U23 Championship and wheeled away for a now-iconic celebration, millions of Vietnamese people up and down the nation cheered and leapt onto to their motorbikes for a đi bão celebration.

They drove around their cities in ecstasy, blowing horns and exchanging hugs, laughter and pure, unbridled joy.

It feels like they haven’t stopped celebrating since.

No matter that the final against Uzbekistan was a 2-1 defeat, the party went long into that night too.

In the two years since the underage and senior teams have enjoyed the greatest run in the history of Vietnamese football, with a fourth-place finish at the 2018 Asian Games, a historic quarter-final berth at the Asian Cup in 2019 and winning both the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and 2019 Southeast Asian Games, each triumph has been accompanied with an outpouring of passion.

It seems like everyone in the nation of almost 100 million people is glued to a screen every time the team plays. Tickets for matches held in Vietnam sell out rapidly and are snapped up for up to 10 times their face value on the resale market.

The passion for football in Vietnam is unquestionable. But what is up for debate is whether that passion extends to Vietnamese teams playing without a star on their tops.

While the national team’s matches are the hottest tickets in town, average attendances for the top-flight V.League 1 have actually fallen since a five-year peak in 2015, according to official statistics.

So with the national team in rude health and millions of football-lovers up and down the country, why haven’t local clubs grabbed a piece of the pie?

Target market

Nguyen Dang Cuong is exactly the type of fan the V.League needs to win over.

The Hanoi-based advertising salesman is a huge fan of the national team and when he can’t attend matches, he watches intently with a red bandanna affixed to his forehead, but like many his interest in the beautiful game was only recently rekindled.

Cuong said he was a huge fan back in the late 1990s when Vietnam had what he called a “golden generation” with the likes of Nguyen Hong Son, and achieved some limited regional success, but his interest waned afterwards as he felt the team underperformed.

That all changed in 2018 though, and since then Cuong has been a rabid fan of the likes of Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Quang Hai, two key members of the current golden generation.

While Cuong certainly makes an effort to follow the national team, he said he doesn’t attend V.League matches or follow the domestic league intently as he doesn’t feel he has the time anymore due to work and family commitments.

Tellingly, Cuong said he was more likely to watch matches involving players from the national team, for example, Hanoi FC against Hoang Anh Gia Lai.

He said he thought the organisers of the league, the Vietnam Professional Football Joint Stock Company (VPF), had managed to improve media coverage of the league, but clearly not enough to get him back attending V.League matches as he did in the ‘90s.

Can the V.League kick on from Vietnam's success?
The national team enjoy huge popular support up and down the country. VNA photo

 
A fan’s view

Long-time V.League fans recognise the opportunity the league and clubs have been given to grow the local game, but some say they haven’t done enough to take advantage.

Bill George is an Englishman who has lived in Hanoi for nine years and has been to 200-250 V.League games in that time, mostly Hanoi FC, his adopted team.

While George said he thought the success of the U23 national team in 2018 had sparked some initial interest, especially for teams like Hanoi FC with several members of that team, the exposure wasn’t fully capitalised on.

“In general I don’t think they (the V.League) utilised the U23s exposure to push on to the league because attendances haven’t really grown that much in the last few years,” he said.

George also noted that by his calculations, average attendances for Hanoi FC away matches were larger than the average for the whole league.

“So teams in other cities are coming out to watch those players, they’re very excited to see those players, but when it comes to their general matches fans aren’t going to those games,” he explained.

He added that simple things like rethinking scheduling could make a massive improvement.

“Kickoff times could be improved across the board.

“Hanoi are quite good now but there are still games kicking off at 5pm midweek when people are at work and kids are just out of school so that doesn’t really help.”
George also noted that many V.League stadiums were in dire need of upgrades.

“A few people have told me they’re not happy taking their families to games because the stadiums are dirty and the seats haven’t been cleaned.”

Can the V.League kick on from Vietnam's success?
Hanoi FC are one of the better supported domestic football clubs. Photo foxsportsasia.com


Grow the game

Scotsman Richard Harcus is a full-blown football nut and sees tremendous potential in Vietnamese football, potential he fears could be squandered.

 

Harcus moved to HCM City six years ago initially to coach football but gradually got more into youth league restructuring, putting his master’s degree in sport management from the Johan Cruyff Institute to good use.

He soon realised there was a huge gap in the market in Vietnam for a football consultancy company, so he founded Harcus Consultancy Group, offering football schools and clubs across Southeast Asia services in football and commercial operations, and education/careers.

The firm now counts among its partners the likes of Rangers FC of Scotland, AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands and five-time Singapore top-flight champions Tampines Rovers FC.

While Harcus admitted he couldn’t say what was going on behind the scenes at every club, he said there was a need to make better use of the national team’s success.

“I wouldn’t say that they’ve taken full advantage of it, but I don’t think that’s necessarily anyone’s fault.

“My question goes back to, whether it’s the VPF or the VFF or any of these organisations. Is there anyone who’s specifically put in place to ensure that full benefit is taken from how well the national team has done? Whose remit does that fall under?” he said.

Harcus noted that the togetherness the national team engendered didn't filter down to club level, even within football circles.

“It’s interesting when you watch the national team and the solidarity that the fans have and the solidarity you have across the government and between the clubs. It’s a really grey area when it moves down from national football to club football when you see how they continue to work together.”

Harcus also warned of the dangers of resting on their laurels with regards to the national team.

“Everyone was Vietnamese when they won the Suzuki Cup, but for me I always look at it and think well that was the beginning of something brilliant.

“A lot of people I’ve spoken to, they’re talking about that being the pinnacle. I think that’s quite upsetting because I believe that should have been the stepping stone to go on to something greater,” he said, adding that: “If they want the national team to go on and continue to be successful then there needs to be a stronger domestic league.”

The Scotsman also noted issues in the business side of the domestic game and said he had spoken to potential commercial sponsors of local football who were turned off by how slow some clubs can be to answer emails or their lack of a functioning website.

He said a simple way to improve things would be ensuring national and club team jerseys were easily available in tourist areas and airports.

“The fact that it’s next to, if not completely impossible, to buy a Vietnamese top in an airport is mind-blowing to me.”

Though he sees the problems, Harcus also sees the potential for football here and thinks his firm can help.

“I would implore them (Vietnamese football clubs) to contact me so that we can work with more clubs and help move them forward.”

Can the V.League kick on from Vietnam's success?
The setting before Quang Ninh take on Hanoi FC in the V.League. Photo courtesy of Bill George

 
An ‘odious’ comparison

For his part, VPF general director Tran Anh Tu told Việt Nam News there had been an increase in interest in domestic football thanks to the national team, and that the VPF always tried to promote the local game, regardless of national success.

When asked if he felt the VPF had done enough to grow the local game using the national team, he said: “The potential of Vietnamese football is huge and hopefully the VPF can exploit this potential with many breakthroughs.

“However, this depends on a lot of factors and not just our wishes.

“The first thing is we need to have exciting matches, professional organisation and better quality stadiums so that every spectator who comes to watch feels comfortable and has fun.”
Tu added that the VPF could not grow the game alone and clubs needed to pitch in.

“Attracting fans is not just the job of the organisers but also the clubs. Each club needs to identify its target audience and cater to them so the seats are full.”

The VPF general director did, however, baulk at comparing the local game to national-level play.

“Such comparisons are odious. The fans of the national team might not be fans of clubs," Tu said.

“It’s up to the clubs to attract fans. As I said, there are many reasons from the pitch quality, from the organising to the accompanying services, the professionalism (whether the team has a star player or not) and also whether the fans come to the game because they are loyal to the club or if it’s just a fad.”

Time will tell

Tu perhaps encapsulated the fears of many inside the local game when he mentioned the possibility of some fans attending games as a fad.

If the national team returns to Earth and stops winning trophies, will the legions of fans like Cuong stick around? If they are to, it seems like it’s up to local clubs to pick up the slack.
Only time will tell if they’re capable. VNS

Peter Cowan

V.League to kick off season behind closed doors

V.League to kick off season behind closed doors

The organisers of the V.League 1 have announced the first round of fixtures next weekend will take place behind closed doors.  

Vietnam's top 10 sport events of 2019

Vietnam's top 10 sport events of 2019

Vietnamese athletes have had an outstanding 2019 at home and abroad. Việt Nam News looks at the top 10 events of the year.

 
 

Other News

.
Masks in religious rites of the Dao
Masks in religious rites of the Dao
YOUR VIETNAMicon  26/07/2020 

The Dao comprise two groups, who speak the Mien and Mun dialects. In religious rites of the Mun group, there are always Ka Dong men wearing masks with two horns. 

'Maskne' and bold makeup: How masks are changing how we look
'Maskne' and bold makeup: How masks are changing how we look
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  26/07/2020 

Face masks are everywhere - and with them, the rise of "maskne" and new mask-friendly makeup trends.

ASEAN Film Week 2020 underway in Da Nang
ASEAN Film Week 2020 underway in Da Nang
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  25/07/2020 

Eight feature films and a cartoon produced by ASEAN member countries are being screened in Hanoi, HCM City, and the central city of Da Nang until July 27 as part of ASEAN Film Week 2020.

Photo exhibition opens door to Colombia
Photo exhibition opens door to Colombia
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  25/07/2020 

A photo exhibition themed ‘A window to Colombia: The Black Line’ was held by the Colombian Embassy in Vietnam on July 23 in Hanoi.

Ho Ngoc Ha set to judge Asian singing competition
Ho Ngoc Ha set to judge Asian singing competition
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  25/07/2020 

Singer-model Ho Ngoc Ha will link up with singer-songwriter Thanh Bui as they represent Vietnam as judges in the first version of Asian Dream, a reality singing competition which aims to provide a platform for talent from across Asia.

Elderly woman registers to compete at Miss Vietnam 2020
Elderly woman registers to compete at Miss Vietnam 2020
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  25/07/2020 

A 59-year-old woman in Hanoi has registered to compete at Miss Vietnam 2020.

Singer releases album to pay tribute to fallen soldiers
Singer releases album to pay tribute to fallen soldiers
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  25/07/2020 

Apart from the sweet and touching voice, singer Huyen Trang has made an impression for her acting in the latest music video dedicated to fallen soldiers ahead the War Invalids’ and Martyrs’ Day (July 27).

War items on display at Nghe An Museum
War items on display at Nghe An Museum
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  24/07/2020 

Nghe An Museum has opened an exhibition displaying items related to Vietnam’s revolutionary wars from July 21 to December on the occasion of the 73rd anniversary of Vietnam's War Invalids and Martyrs Day.

ASEAN football stars encourage healthy lifestyle amidst COVID-19
ASEAN football stars encourage healthy lifestyle amidst COVID-19
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  24/07/2020 

Football stars across the 10 ASEAN member states have taken part in #BeActive videos to encourage people in the region to stay healthy and active amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

Colombia landscapes featured in photo exhibition
Colombia landscapes featured in photo exhibition
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  24/07/2020 

An exhibition featuring nearly 40 photos on a famed mountain area of Colombia by photographer Jorge Coque Gamboa will open in downtown Hanoi on July 24.

Thanh Hoa draw with HAGL
Thanh Hoa draw with HAGL
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  24/07/2020 

Thanh Hoa played out a goalless draw with Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in the V.League 1 on Thursday.

Book on Vietnam’s sea, island sovereignty released in Japan
Book on Vietnam’s sea, island sovereignty released in Japan
MARITIME SOVEREIGNTYicon  24/07/2020 

A book on Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelagoes has been translated into Japanese by Professor Kazutaka Hashimoto from the Kanto Gakuin University and released in the country.

AFC meeting suggests solutions to help Asian football recover
AFC meeting suggests solutions to help Asian football recover
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  24/07/2020 

The Executive Committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) convened an online meeting on July 23, seeking ways to help the regional football recover from COVID-19 impact.

Australian gymnastics: Former athletes speak out on 'abuse' culture
Australian gymnastics: Former athletes speak out on 'abuse' culture
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  23/07/2020 

Gymnastics Australia vows "change" after dozens of ex-athletes share stories of mental and physical abuse.

Hanoi’s world-record mural road to be expanded
Hanoi’s world-record mural road to be expanded
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  23/07/2020 

Hanoi authorities have approved the expansion of the ceramic mosaic mural road in principle which will reach Nhat Ban Bridge.

Fascinating murals on show in Hanoi
Fascinating murals on show in Hanoi
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  23/07/2020 

A group of young volunteers and teachers are transforming plain walls on a dyke on the outskirts of Hanoi capital into beautiful murals which showcase the nature, history, and daily life of the local area.

Colourful headdresses of ethnic girls in mountainous region
Colourful headdresses of ethnic girls in mountainous region
YOUR VIETNAMicon  23/07/2020 

Headdresses are considered an indispensable part of the outfits worn by ethnic girls in the country’s northwestern mountainous region, highlighting the traditions of the various different ethnic groups that live in the area.

From Russia with love for Vietnamese folk songs
From Russia with love for Vietnamese folk songs
FEATUREicon  23/07/2020 

Hearing them sing the Vietnamese folk song Bèo Dạt Mây Trôi (Floating Water Ferns and Wandering Clouds) would leave any listener holding their breath as it is so sweet.

Vietnam to host 40 sports at SEA Games 31
Vietnam to host 40 sports at SEA Games 31
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  23/07/2020 

Athletes will compete in up to 40 different sports when Vietnam hosts the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games in Hanoi next year.

U19 team to play fixtures in Namangan at AFC U19 Championship
U19 team to play fixtures in Namangan at AFC U19 Championship
ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTSicon  23/07/2020 

The Vietnam U19 men’s national football team are set to compete at the upcoming AFC U19 Championship 2020 finals with games taking place in Namangan city, Uzbekistan, between October 14 and October 31.

 
 
 
Leave your comment on an article

OR QUICK LOGIN