In Vietnam: The Rainbow in the Snow

Vietnam has been gripped with football (round ball version) fever for the last month. Not the World Cup, not the Asia Cup, not the full national team; no, the Under 23 Asia Football Cup, being played in China. As Vietnam progressed through the group stages, the quarter and semi-finals, beating Australia on the way, the country erupted in unison every time a goal was scored. After each victory, thousands of flag waving motorcyclists would process around the city, sounding their horns and cheering. It was like this all over the country.

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday 27/1/18), Vietnam, against all expectations, found itself in the AFC U-23 final, playing Uzbekistan in Changzhou. The whole country went on hold for the match. Đà Nẵng cafes and bars filled up with excited supporters. It seemed like everybody was dressed in red and yellow, and waving the national flag.

As I was walking past the Red Window bar near my place, they invited me into watch on their large screen. The bar was suitably decked out for the occasion:

The match was nearly postponed because of a blizzard. From what I saw on the T.V. the match should have been postponed. The conditions were horrendous. I’m pretty sure most, if not all of the Vietnam team would never have seen snow before, let alone played in several inches of it, in the middle of a blizzard. They were at a distinct disadvantage to the Uzbekistan team, who would be familiar with the freezing weather. Half-time was extended to about 30 minutes whilst a bevy of workmen cleared the snow that accumulated in the first half. Here they are:


Uzbekistan took the lead in the first half. They looked bigger, stronger and better able to cope with the treacherous pitch. But Vietnam kept coming at them, and scored from a beautifully curled free-kick. My Vietnamese friend told me that the commentator described the trajectory of the free-kick as like a rainbow in the snow. The bar erupted:


It stayed 1-1 until full-time and then almost to the end of extra time. It looked destined to go to a penalty shoot-out, at which Vietnam had proven themselves to be experts. But tragically, with almost the last kick of extra-time, Uzbekistan scored again. It was way too late for Vietnam to pull another goal back, and the match ended 2-1 to Uzbekistan.

What was then noticeable was the good-natured way in which defeat was accepted, and the achievement of just reaching the final was appreciated. The country was united behind their national team, regardless of victory or defeat. There wasn’t the outburst of nastiness and anger and recriminations that you might see from say losing British or Australian supporters. There were still significant motorbike flag waving processions around town, but I’m sure the place would have been much wilder had Vietnam won.

Here’s the “Rainbow in the Snow”:


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Parking the Bus


To park the bus –  metaphor – to play very defensively, to get a lot of players behind the ball, to have no attacking play, to make it almost impossible for the opposition to score, as if a bus  is parked in front of the goal. Tactic attributed to José Mourinho when manager of Chelsea.


For José. After Henry Reed

To-day we have parking the bus. Yesterday,

We had conning the ref. And tomorrow morning,

We shall have how to waste time. But to-day,

To-day we have parking the bus: the scent of liniment

Sweat and fresh-mown grass drifts across the pitch,

And to-day we have parking the bus.

This is the ankle breaking tackle. And this

Is the studs up tackle, whose use you will see,

When you are given your boots. And this is the offside trap,

Which in your case you have not got. The coaches

pace on the touchline with their frowns and foul language,

Which in our case we have not got.

This is the goal line clearance, which is always performed

With an easy flick of the foot. And please do not let me

See anyone using his hand. You can do it quite easy

If you have any strength in your foot. The injured

Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see

Any of them using their hands.

And this you can see is the dive. The purpose of this

Is to fool the ref, as you see. We can dive

Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this

drawing the foul. And rapidly backwards and forwards

The forwards plummet and the midfielders plunge:

They call it drawing the foul.

They call it drawing the foul: it is perfectly easy

If you have any strength in your foot: like the shirt pull,

And the high tackle, and the shoulder charge, and the trip,

Which in our case we have not got; and the physios

with their magic spray, and the balls going backwards and forwards,

For to-day we have parking the bus.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

Poem a Day 2015 #18 – No Smoke

Poem number 18 for April 2015.  “The blaze that killed 56 football fans at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground in 1985 was just one of at least nine fires at businesses owned by or associated with the club’s then chairman, according to extraordinary evidence published for the first time”.

No Smoke

the old ground

the turnstiles

the fathers

the sons

the tickets

the rows of seats


The final match of the season

Bradford versus Lincoln

A celebration of promotion

The trophy presented pre-match


the railings

the spikes

the terraces


Wooden stands painted in claret

A festive atmosphere

A relaxed first half


the smell

the smoke

the chants


At first just a feint smell of smoke

People still singing

Men eating pies

The crowd retreats

to the back of the stand

People chatting

Then thicker smoke


the disbelief

the panic

the running

the rush

the crush

the stairwells

the corridors

the flames above

the amber

the blackness


The game goes on until the flames are visible

The crowd in the stand heads for the stairwells

The corridors under the stand are packed

The wooden structure above is engulfed

The turnstiles are locked

Nowhere to go


the rescuers

the scars

the charred

the screams

the 56 dead


eight or more fires

at businesses of

Bradford’s then-chairman

Stafford Heginbotham

insurance claims

worth twenty seven million


the warnings

the previous

the insurance

the truth

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015