Việt Nam has restored my national pride

2018-12-20 10:28:03

(By Paul Kennedy) Being from the north of England I don’t see myself as particularly patriotic. You won’t find a picture of Her Majesty the Queen on the wall of my apartment and I wasn’t born within the sound of the Bow Bells.

I do genuinely think it is geographical. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married there were hardly any streets in Liverpool, and I’m sure ‘up north’ in general, closed off to hold a party.

I don’t own a Union Jack hat and I think Brexit is the most ridiculous thing to ever happen in politics.

It’s for those exact reasons I don’t find myself that bothered if the England national team wins, loses or draws. In fact my only concern when the Three Lions play is the health and wellbeing of any Liverpool players involved.

Selfish? Maybe. Unpatriotic? For sure.

During the summer when England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia I wanted them to win, but at the same time I wasn’t too upset when they lost. And I certainly wasn’t surprised.

Maybe it is because I’m a little long in the tooth because my overriding memories of the England football team on the international stage are shrouded in negativity due to the hooligan element that infected the 80s and 90s.

And let’s face facts, that hasn’t completely gone away.

Watching Việt Nam’s AFF Suzuki Cup heroics has restored my national pride. But the pride glowing within me is for Việt Nam, not England.

I said this after the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia when Vietnam reached the semi-finals, and I hope and pray I’m saying it again after future tournaments, but the Vietnamese really are the greatest national supporters I’ve ever come across.

Their passion holds no bounds. Their love of their country truly is a thing of beauty which was evident before, during and for a long time after Saturday’s great win against Malaysia.

It was fans of all ages; men, women and children singing from the very same song sheet. Việt Nam Vô Địch. The streets of Hà Nội came alive and in years to come I will be lucky enough to be able to say: “I was there”.

I was genuinely moved but after previous experiences living here in Hà Nội, not totally surprised.

Which is why I found myself getting into a let’s say ‘heated debate’ while out of town last week with an expat guy I met in a bar who dismissed their earlier semi-final victory as ‘nothing special’.

He claimed the other teams in this tournament were poor and when faced with anyone decent Việt Nam would simply fold.

I kind of get what he was saying but in my mind, he totally missed the point. Sure, if Việt Nam were to face an England, France, Brazil or Germany right about now it would take a slice of luck the size of  Hồ Tây (West Lake) for them to come away with another other than a beating.

But when you look at what they’ve achieved this year, the country has a right to feel proud.

Beaten in the final of the AFC U23 Tournament (that featured teams from more established footballing countries like South Korea and Japan), reaching the semi-final of the Asian Games and now winners of the AFF Cup. It’s been an amazing 2018.

My bar-room sparring partner also suggested the chances of a Vietnamese national playing in the Premier League, or other top divisions in Europe, were close to zero. I don’t agree.

Sure, they may not have the build or physical strength of some of their European counterparts, but then again, neither does Lionel Messi or Phillipe Coutinho, two of the greatest footballers in the world who are both 1.7 metres tall.

Neymar’s not much bigger and Diego Maradona, arguably the best player the world has ever seen, is shorter than all three of them.

Now I accept those four players are all blessed with amazing talent on the football pitch, a talent that hasn’t reached any of the Vietnamese national team just yet, but who’s to say it won’t in the future?

What this current team has done is more than just lifting a trophy, they have lifted a nation.

If their success can inspire youngsters countrywide to start kicking a ball about, maybe one day, and I predict within the next 10 years, we will see the words ‘Nguyen’ or something very similar will be seen on the back of a Premier League jersey.

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