Friday , July 12 2024

The long wait is finally over

For me there are two things that create that feel-good vibe in Nam Định: the taste of the traditional Bổ Phế cough syrup, and the sound of fans roaring in Nam Định’s home stadium, Thiên Trường.

A Nam Định fan holding a paper model trophy in Thiên Trường. This loyal fanbase have been waiting for the championship for 39 years. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Quyết

Anh Đức

As a person with roots in Nam Định, it is for me a pleasure to see Thép Xanh Nam Định FC finally lifting the national championship trophy.

And I believe it is a more emotional scene for the people in Nam Định, who have waited for 39 long years.

Regular readers of this column might have known that I’m a Hà Nội FC fan, but in a multicultural city such as the capital, it is possible for one to have a second team to root for.

Had it not been for the dreaded pneumonia that kept me away from this column for two weeks, I would have also paid a trip to one of Việt Nam’s craziest football town, to see the day when the club finally earned their glory.

Nam Định is perhaps one of Việt Nam’s oldest football club, with their predecessors, Cotonkin FC winning the Indochina Football Cup twice in 1943 and 1945. The club was established in 1965 and won their first championship twenty years later in 1985 as Công Nghiệp Hà Nam Ninh. The club was disbanded four years later, than established again in 1991.

As Việt Nam’s top football league turns professional in 2000 and rebranded as the V.League, Nam Định had a great run in the inaugural season and only missed out on the championship by two points. The next nine years saw the club starting to struggle in the mid-table and the eventual fate of relegation was faced in 2010.

Nam Định dropped further to the Second Division in 2011 and stayed there for three straight years, but fans did not give up and cheered them on. The club returned to the V-League in 2018, eight years after their departure and brought a thundering atmosphere to the top division of Vietnamese football.

For me, there are two things that create that feel-good vibe in Nam Định: the taste of the traditional Bổ Phế cough syrup and the sound of fans roaring in Nam Định’s home stadium, Thiên Trường.

But there were times when that roar was silenced and the cheering stopped. It was not when Nam Định struggled in the Second Division, nor when they were floundering at the relegation zone, but most recently, just last season.

A somewhat controversial loss to Hà Nội Police at home in the 2022/23 season made a long-time fan club disband, with fans throwing away drums and burning jerseys.

The reaction snapped the club back to reality and made the owners invest heavily in the squad, pushing for a championship they have been craving for 39 years. No big-name foreign signing was made, just a plethora of local stars such as Nguyễn Văn Toàn, Nguyễn Phong Hồng Duy and Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, whose potential was recognised. Combined with the deadly duo of Hendrio and Rafaelson, Nam Định stayed atop the V.League for 24/26 rounds, having scored a staggering 57 goals in the process.

From a struggling yo-yo club with financial problems, the success story of Nam Định is one of Vietnamese football’s miraculous comebacks. However, challenges still remain and what to do after the championship is crucial for the owners of this club.

Will Nam Định became a dynasty in the next few years to appease their loyal fanbase? Or will they just become a one-season wonder? We will have to see. VNS

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