Women amateur players in Hanoi demonstrate that football is a sport for everyone and is all about having fun on the field.
After Nguyen Nhung arrived at the training pitch, it took her 10 minutes to realize that members of the women’s amateur football team she had just joined were the ones running passionately in their sweatsuits on the field.
“Most of them have short hair and so I thought they were men players at first,” Nhung jokingly says.
The 25-year-old online salesperson, who loves watching and playing football, was invited by a friend to join her amateur team, Hanoi CFC, which is led by Nguyen Phuong Anh.
Nhung only realized they were women when two players, one wearing pink shoes with a buzz hair cut and the other with an updo hairstyle, came up to her.
On Anh’s instructions, Nhung did warm-up drills and entered the field.
Anh, 31, is the team’s captain and frequently plays goalie because she cannot match most of her juniors in physical strength and speed. The position also allows her to both observe and better guide the team’s tactics.
“I’ve been playing amateur football for nine years,” Anh, a Thanh Hoa Province native who works in a university, says.
Hanoi CFC players on a training pitch on April 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga
The team currently consists of about 20 core players. Members do not need to have the skills of professional football players and newcomers can walk in and join as long as they have a passion for the game.
Every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. the girls congregate at a pitch on Hoang Minh Giam Street (Cau Giay district) or Trieu Khuc Street (Ha Dong District) to practice. They occasionally invite other teams to play matches.
Some of the players already married and have children, and most are office workers, waitresses or students.
Since most are often busy and not too well-off, they choose a late time slot to get the pitch at a lower price.
“Hiring a field for an hour and a half before 8:30 p.m. costs VND1 million (US$43.57), but after 8:30 p.m, we only have to pay VND500,000 and can get it for a longer period,” Anh explains. Each player contributes around VND35,000.
Some living far away in districts like Long Bien and Trieu Khuc are willing to ride a motorbike 10-20 km to the training pitch to practice with the team.
Many frequently leave work late, and grab a baguette for dinner because they do not want to miss a practice session.
Phan Ngoc Quy, 29, the administrator of the public online group Hanoi Women’s Football Group, says it has 3,300 members and more than 20 teams.
When she was a student at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology eight years ago, she led the women’s football team in an amateur competition but her team did not make it to the quarterfinals.
After she saw her teammates weeping after crashing out, she asked them if they wanted to keep playing football. When all the girls nodded in excitement, she decided to form a club.
Initially they only chose students from their school but gradually began to take in outsiders too.
Quy later formed the online group to bring together football-loving girls in the capital.
The teams in the group frequently play against each other, keep everyone up to date on tournaments and help recruit new members.
“Some members even join three teams at the same time to play football every day,” Quy says.
Thuy Hien, 27, is voted the most fanatical player in the Hanoi CFC team by her teammates.
Her father, who still plays at 51, instilled in her love for the game since she was young. The girl from Ba Vi village played for the school team while still in eighth grade.
She was also a member of the University of Science and Technology team later on.
After learning about Quy’s online group, Hien picked up a football four years ago when her son turned six months.
“Before going to bed I would express milk and put my baby to sleep before going out to play football,” she recalls.
Hien’s family supports her passion since they know she is “addicted” to football. Once her son was old enough to walk, she started taking him with her.
Last month her team won a league featuring eight other teams. Despite breaking her nose in the first match, she was voted one of the tournament’s best players.
Knowing that her teammates were concerned about losing their best player, she assured them she would return to the field soon.
Quy says since at the amateur level girls are not taught technique they play incorrectly and are easily injured.
The Hanoi CFC girls played in the Non La (conical hat) tournament in 2020. Following a penalty save goalkeeper Yen Can sustained a serious injury, a torn cruciate ligament, and the team had to find a replacement.
Hanoi CFC players at the Non La Tournament in June 2020. Photo courtesy of the Hanoi CFC
But they made it to the final after seven penalty shootouts. There were tears of joy and some of sadness and fear that their injured football-loving goalie might never make it back to the field.
Can cannot stay at home while her teammates are practicing. She comes to the pitch just to touch the ball and observe her teammates, and enters the field every now and then to shoot a few times, and runs around the field to work up a sweat.
“I have more close friends because of football,” she says. “The sport is also a good way for me to relieve stress.”
Since all the members of Hanoi CFC are fans of Chelsea FC, they occasionally interact with men teams who share a love for the English club.
For the team’s birthday, they gather to congratulate and cheer each other up.
Vu Long, 27, of the men’s team CFC Family was taken aback when he saw the girls play for the first time.
He says admiringly: “They are more energetic than men. Women frequently arrive fully garbed and in time. We men occasionally come late and skip warm-up exercises.”
Footballers rest and swap personal stories after a practice session on April 28, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga
When their session ends at 10 p.m., the girls sit on the grass and speak about their children, jobs, income, and others.
Nhung was sweating but laughing as she listened to some of them tell stories about juggling breastfeeding and football.
“I really enjoy my time here and wish to become a member of the team. I’ll definitely come for practice next week.”
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