Euphoria in the Streets

by Graham Mulligan

This is a story of an improbable victory and the celebration that it ignited.

January 26, 2018

I heard the shouting out on the street from inside the apartment. “Jen, we have to go and find out what’s going on.” In moments we had slipped on our sandals and left the air-conditioned comfort of our Saigon apartment and made our way to the street corner. It was nightfall and the humid heat surrounded everything. The scooters and cars lined up at the intersecting streets waiting for the light as usual, but it was different. It seemed like every second bike had someone on the back holding a flag and shouting. My ears gradually picked out the chant from the roar Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam. What was it? The light changed and off they went and up the street another wave was coming, more flags, more roaring engines and shouting. Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam.

We walked along the boulevard toward the big arterial street that runs down into the city centre. The crowds of bikes and roar of noise increasing as we approached the intersecting streets. Bikes everywhere with flags flying and riders and passengers and onlookers franticly waving arms and shouting Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam. “What’s going on?”, I asked a bystander. “We won! We won the championship!”

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. The football tournament was the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship and Vietnam had just made it through to the final.

The next day, in the snow. These kids had never played in snow. They had never even seen snow, and they were up against the bigger, stronger, Uzbeks. They lost.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship China 2018 recorded a historic high in television viewership ratings and social media engagement in Vietnam as the nation took on Uzbekistan in the momentous final on January 27.

U23 Vietnam finished second at the tournament in China, losing 2-1 to Uzbekistan after extra time in the final. (source: VietnamNet)

What happened here was incredible. Jen and I were on our 2-week ‘foodie tour’ of Vietnam. We had a cooking class lined up and a street food walking tour lined up. I had researched all the best-bites recommendations from food bloggers and dutifully pinned them into Google Maps. We did the food stuff (and enjoyed it) but the trip memory is dominated by that night in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) when the streets went wild. We moved on to Hoi An and it was the same there. Motorbikes and scooters and flags and shouting Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam! in the streets. The same in Hanoi. Flags everywhere. The same in Surrey! When I went to HenLong, the Vietnamese grocery store in North Surrey I learned from another customer that no team, ever, from Vietnam, had won such a victory. It was euphoria.

The cover photo is taken on the streets of Saigon that night in Vietnam.