Sanna Khánh Hòa BVN 3 Hải Phòng 4 (5th March 2019)
Booking a trip to Southeast Asia in November, way before the fixtures for the new season were out, meant any football opportunities would be very much a happy coincidence. In fact the Vietnam league fixtures were still up in the air just a week of so before I departed. In any case, my three days in Nha Trang didn’t even seem to be an option. Not only were they midweek, but as far as I could tell, the town of Nha Trang didn’t even have a football team.
It was only when I was perusing Google maps while planning my time that I noticed a stadium, which Google then informed me was the home of Sanna Khanh Hoa, who by fluke appeared to be at home on the evening of last of three days that I’d be there.
It would be good to have something to do in the evening too, as Nha Trang doesn’t seem to be Vietnam’s party capital. I’d spent one evening in the “Crazy Kim” bar, where the noticeable lack of craziness of any description made wonder if it was Kim’s night off.
I’d had a better evening the following night in a strange vaguely pirate-themed bar. It was the sort of place where the toilet was decorated by having a plethora of human body x-rays hanging from the ceiling, and where they played Prodigy songs all night, in honour of Keith Flint, who died that day. The clientele were all Russian, as is the case in much of Nha Trang, due to cheap flights from Russia. As one guy put it “In Siberia, all we have is cold, snow, and bears, so I come here”. Another guy spent part of the evening chopping a copious amount of weed on a pizza board. “Do you smoke?” he asked me. On hearing I didn’t, “Why not?” was his puzzled reply. It was a decent night, but on the way out I rather badly scratched somebody’s motorbike with the heavy metal door. The guy said not to mind, but he hadn’t seen the scratch as clearly as I had, and I thought better of going back.
Happily I had my first of the Vietnamese games from the “Wake Up 247” V. League Division 1 to go to. Like many things in Vietnam, football is not an expensive option. Even the 90,000 dong tickets (about £3) seemed to be pretty popular, with the cheap seats, at 30,000 dong, perhaps not be favoured for being in the sun. Either way, ticket buying was a low-key business, with tickets being sold by a couple of women sat on small plastic chairs around a small plastic table. Whoever owns the franchise for plastic furniture in east Asia must have a mansion that uses diamonds for a gravel driveway, so ubiquitous are those chairs.
Khanh Hoa, as it turns out, is the name of the district of which Nha Trang is the capital, while Sanna is a local bottled water company. The distinctly low-key merchandise outside the main stand had a distinctly Sanna-related feel. Anyone in the 90,000 dong posh seats would have felt a little ripped off if they’d bought any water though, as female helpers in national costume handed everyone a free bottle of water. It might seem a small gesture, but with it being over 30 C, and with the humidity rising, it was a very welcome one.
A rather laid back feel to the fixture was enhanced when, after collecting my free water, I realised the entrance I was using also clearly doubled as the players’ tunnel, and sure enough, both changing rooms could clearly be seen, and seen into through glass windows.
Among what I’d assumed to be a home area were a number of supporters from Hai Phong, who I assume were people who lived locally. Hai Phong, up north near Ha Long Bay, is 850 miles away, like London to Genoa, and would take a full 24 hours by Vietnamese roads. I also assumed a couple of them had really strange haircuts, until I realised they were wearing comedy wigs.
I think if anyone was asked to imagine a communist municipal stadium for a moderately sized club/city, it wouldn’t be much different to Sanna Khanh Hoa’s Sân vận động 19 tháng 8 ground (or 19th of August Stadium), with one covered stand, and three open sides curving round a barely used running track. Two unfinished skyscrapers bookend the ground at each corner, but otherwise you feel this could have been straight off the blueprint of Uncle Ho’s stadium for the proletariat masses, with no bourgeoisie frippery.
The game itself started in slightly troubling fashion, as it dawned on me that I didn’t know which team was which. Sanna Khanh Hoa, I believed, played in light blue. All their fans were in light blue, yet the two teams were in yellow and red.
After a quarter of an hour of football that I’d describe as “enthusiastic”, I found out, as the team in red scored, and the Hai Phong fans to my right screamed in delight. A few minutes later they had even more reason to be happy. For no obvious reason, a Khanh Hoa midfielder decided to hit a backpass to his keeper from the halfway line. The keeper, out of his box, was in no way ready for it, and his chest away was picked up by Hai Phong’s Jamaican striker Jeremie Lynch, who’d have quite an eventful evening. The home keeper did fairly well to push him wide, and almost get back in position, but Lynch was still able to curl it round him and double Hai Phong’s lead.
Khanh Hoa pulled one back shortly before halftime, but a second from Lynch on 69 minutes looked to have put the game beyond the home side, who looked to be heading for their third defeat in three games so far.
The home side had other ideas though, and two quick goals from their bald-headed foreign defender, the sort of player who looked like he’d opted for a stint here as a better alternative than a season or two at Bishop’s Stortford, turned the game on its head. Fireworks on the pitch, and fireworks, literally, off it too, greeting each home goal in the stands.
Could Khanh Hoa go on to complete the miracle? Could they go on to win now?
With five minutes left, that man Lynch was there again to complete his hat-trick, poking home a loose ball from close range, breaking the home fans hearts, and also making a few away fans in silly wigs rather happy.
Khank Hoa pushed in the closing stages, helped by Lynch tarnishing his evening with a second yellow, but it was not to be, and they were left to reflect on what might have been. The home fans spilled out into the humid sweaty darkness of the night, into the bustle of Nha Trang city, probably not knowing whether it was a blessing of a curse that it’d be a full month until their next league game. I, at least, would have a rather shorter wait.