Lost in… Hà Nội (Hà Đông)

Công An Nhân Dân FC vs Phù Đổng FC 

Vietnamese Second Division, Hà Đông Stadium, May 9, 2017

Sân vận động Hà Đông

Once again my time in a foreign land is coming to an end with my groundhopping objectives defeated by the usual triumvirate of a busy work schedule, difficult geography, and expensive travel costs. The day before this game, I accepted a new job in Malaysia, meaning I have around two months to try to squeeze in a few more Vietnamese grounds. The first, and easiest, to tick off was the only remaining Hanoi ground where meaningful football takes place; Hà Đông Stadium.

Southwest of the city’s Old Quarter, Hà Đông District is one of Hanoi’s largest (and still growing) suburbs. Its old, municipal stadium currently plays host to three teams playing in the Vietnamese Second Division, the country’s third tier; Hà Nội FC’s reserve team, Công An Nhân Dân FC, and Phù Đổng FC.

My visit featured two of those teams, with Phù Đổng being of particular interest. The club was founded in late 2015 as Vietnam’s first community-owned club. They took their name from a folklore hero, also depicted on their crest, who grows suddenly and helps defeat invading forces while riding an iron horse. Just a year on from their foundation, the club itself had grown. They won the 4-team Vietnamese Third Division and earned promotion to the Second Division. They began the new season with a 2-0 loss to Hà Nội FC II.

Công An Nhân Dân are also a team of the people; the people’s police force. Apart from a single season in V.League 2- in 2015, when they finished bottom- the club’s recent years have been spent almost entirely in the Second Division. They were runners-up in the 2016 Northern Group and began 2017 with a 2-0 win away at Viettel FC.

My plan was to make my way slowly southwards across the city by bus. However, a fairly productive morning of Crossfit, coursework, and podcast production (although that possibly overstates my work on the Hanoi Football Show) put paid to an already ambitious plan. Hà Đông Dong is only 12 miles from my apartment, but a combination of three bus-rides would take well over an hour. Instead, I skipped two of those bus rides with a short taxi ride to Kim Mã bus station.

Hanoi’s only bus lane being carefully respected here

High-rise in Hà Đông

In the old part of the city, just west of the famous Old Quarter, Kim Mã is one terminus on the new Hà Nội Bus Rapid Transit. The BRT is the first stage in the city’s ambitious public transport plans aimed at preventing its citizens choking on the ever-worsening air pollution. Speeding along what is currently Hanoi’s only bus lane, the journey to Hà Đông took only 20 minutes.

The long, thin buildings and narrow lanes and alleys that characterise old Hanoi are still present in the increasingly high-rise suburbs, and a 20-minute walk along these brought me to the stadium. There was a gym under the stand I had chosen and the staff, such as they were, pointed me in the direction of the entry to the stand. The game was already a couple of minutes old as I entered, but my eyes were drawn not to the pitch, but the rows of narrow concrete terracing. I picked a quiet spot and turned my attention to the game.

Hà Đông Stadium

Concrete terracing

The first thing to note was Phù Đổng’s kit, an odd combination of purple shirts and shorts, bright pink trim, and bright green socks. CAND, by contrast, had opted for a more mundane all yellow affair.

The pitch was terrible, but, in keeping with the modern Vietnamese football style, both teams were trying to pass the ball around. CAND were the more successful, but Phù Đổng were replying with force and the game quickly became a series of referee’s whistles for fouls on players in yellow.

CAND opened the scoring on 20 minutes, Phạm Đức Thông finishing well after a quickly taken free-kick, and by half-time, Phù Đổng were probably lucky to have been only a goal down and still have 11 men on the field; the two bookings they did pick up were a lenient reflection on the frequency and severity of some of their fouls.

The CAND keeper takes a goal-kick while a keen observer watches from his home.

The funky scoreboard

CAND’s captain is the latest to get the Phù Đổng treatment.

We were less than ten minutes into the half-time break before the players began to return. Soon everyone was again leaving the field and both teams were being spoken to separately by the fourth official.

Whatever he said obviously worked, as the second half was generally played in a much fairer manner. At around the 70-minute mark, the game sprang into life with CAND twice going close and Phù Đổng being inches away from an equaliser when CAND’s keeper flapped at a cross. CAND finally wrapped up the win in the 88th minute. A few stepovers created space for a shot from the left which was saved, but Nguyễn Văn Long was there to tap in the rebound.

The main stand and some old-school fencing

Phù Đổng get close to an equaliser

The stand, which was never busy, emptied fast.

The crowd of around 200 emptied quickly after a reasonably entertaining 90 minutes. Phù Đổng’s lone drummer had more opportunities for the loud, speedy thumps that Vietnamese fans use to accompany their team’s attacks. He, and the few other Phù Đổng fans, however, were comfortably outsung by the group of around 30 young men sporadically chanting ‘Công An.’

Hanoi was entering rush hour as I walked back to the BRT stop, and, given how busy the alleys on the walk back were, I was a bit worried about how long the journey into the centre would take. The bus lane, however, worked a treat. Being Hanoi, of course there was more than just the odd motorcyclist taking advantage of the mostly empty lane, but our driver’s regular honking cleared our path and the journey took more or less the same time as it had done earlier in the day.

The following morning I was starting a series of training workshops with colleagues from around East and Southeast Asia, some of whom were old friends from South Korea. We had arranged to meet in Standing Bar for drinks before some of the city’s finest Indian cuisine at Foodshop 45 With a lakeside location and probably the city’s best range of craft beers, Standing Bar was a great way to end the day.

Traffic building up. Don’t know where the red bike in the foreground is heading?

Sundowners at Standing Bar (LAC Brewing Summer IPA, if you’re interested)

The game had been fun. I had hoped that Phù Đổng’s community-ownership might be more visible and would have liked them to have been less vicious in their early approach. I had, however, unknowingly seen a true Vietnamese footballing legend. The following day, Twitter told me that Phù Đổng’s tall, elegant centre-half was Vũ Như Thành, a twice V.League champion and a 50-cap international player who was part of Vietnam’s most successful side in the late ’00s. I’ll keep a better eye on him when I no doubt return to Hà Đông, a small ground with plenty of charm.

GOOD: the Hà Nội BRT, nice little ground, old school concrete terracing, fan-owned Phù Đông and their garish colours, great beers at Standing Bar.

BAD: the Hà Đông pitch, Phù Đông’s roughhouse tactics.

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