Two guys, a signed Bob Skilton photograph and a pizza place was all it took for the first ever AFL club to be born in Vietnam.
Known as the Vietnam Swans, the team was formed one memorable Friday night while a group of Australian ex-pats were watching, of all things, AFL on television at a local pizzeria in the nation’s capital, Hanoi.
Eleven years later and the team is preparing to take on the China Reds in the third annual ANZAC Friendship Match at their local playing field.
“During the [Vietnam] War, there was a Vietnam Football League where the diggers used to play for two premierships each year on the then Lord Mayor’s Oval in Vung Tau,” president of Vietnam Swans, Phil Johns said.
“That Lord Mayor’s Oval is now the Vung Tau Dog Track which is where we play the ANZAC Friendship Match.”
Over 1000 spectators - a quarter of which will be locals - are expected to converge at the dog track to watch the match.
They will be just a handful of new and old footy supporters gathering at their local ‘sporting ground’ as Australia’s game grows internationally.
Often forced to play on dirt, bitumen or soccer ovals there are Australian football teams popping up all over Asia.
One such team is the Thailand Tigers who will be playing an ANZAC match in Kanchanaburi, just near the notorious Thai Burma death railway from WWII.
While the teams, including the Swans, are predominantly made up of ex-pat Aussies, some locals are trying their hand at AFL and are enjoying every minute of it.
The Vietnam Swans are even running Auskick clinics at local schools to get more kids involved in the game.
“The Vietnamese giggle their heads off as they try to bounce the egg shaped pill and handball the footy and wring their hand in pain [when they handball] … but, they are very quick learners,” Johns said.
When it’s not ANZAC Day, the Swans are able to schedule in a match every month or so as they take on neighbouring country sides like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Lao, Cambodia and Bali.
The Swans are also using AFL as a vehicle to raise money for those in need in Vietnam, in particular charities teaching kids how to swim.
“In Vietnam, more children die from drowning than road accidents,” Johns said.
“The Vietnam Swans are very keen to give something back to the community that we live and work in.
“By [raising money and] supporting swimming programs like Swim Vietnam and the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia’s Swim Safe Program, we can indirectly help save - and enrich - lives. Swimming is a survival and recreational skill.”
Over time, as Australian Football grows in Vietnam, the local Swans are hoping the Sydney Swans will tour the country for an exhibition match.
“The Vietnam Swans marketing machine is all over the idea and tickets actually went on sale last week,” Johns joked.
The Vietnam Swans and China Reds ANZAC Friendship Match will be played in Vung Tau on Saturday, April 21.
To watch a video on the Vietnam Swans’ road to the 2012 ANZAC Friendship Match please click here
, or click here
to download the match day program.