The Vietnam Swans ahead of last year's ANZAC Friendship Match with Jakarta Bintangs
While the historical clash between Essendon and Collingwood will take place at the MCG on ANZAC Day, a much younger but equally meaningful tradition will also play out on Friday on football fields across Asia.
In Thailand, Borneo, the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam, AFL Asia will host five matches to commemorate the ANZAC tradition and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
One team involved in this week’s significant program is the Vietnam Swans, who will host the Malaysian Warriors in the annual ANZAC Friendship Match in Vung Tao.
Vietnam Swans president and Australian expatriate Josh Lee spoke to sydneyswans.com.au
ahead of the ANZAC Day clash and highlighted the importance of the match to the many Australians living in the region.
“We really want to use this match as a platform to build friendships, so we celebrate not only the friends that (the soldiers) may have met when they were over here, but the friends we have at an individual level in our Vietnamese friends here, and as two countries coming together,” he said.
“We use this event as a big platform for us to thank Vietnam for hosting us and letting us live in their country and for building stronger ties in the future.
“This is not just about Australians and our traditional approach to ANZAC Day.
“Here we try to look at both sides of the story and we know in the future that things like becoming good friends with our neighbours can help us grow closer.”
The crowd at last year's ANZAC Friendship Match
The match will be played at Lord Mayor’s Oval in Vung Tao, which is located 90 minutes outside of Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam.
Lee said the ground holds particular significance to former Australian soliders, who were based there throughout the conflict in Vietnam.
“Vung Tao is close to where Long Tan is, which is where the Battle of Long Tan was,” Lee said.
“It is also what served as the Australian Army’s logistical base during the Vietnam War and that’s why it’s so important for us and why it’s so important for a lot of guys who come back because that’s where they were stationed.
“(The former soldiers) actually played football on the ground that we play football on, so that gives it extra meaning in that regard.”
A crowd of more than 700 are expected to turn out for the ANZAC Friendship Match, including AFL legend Alex Jesaulenko who will travel to Vietnam as an honorary guest.
In addition to celebrating the ANZAC tradition, the Vietnam Swans will also use the match to raise funds for their two charity partners the Vung Tao Orphanage and Swim Vietnam.
Lee said there was no doubt this week’s match was the biggest game of the year for the Vietnam Swans.
“This is our Grand Final. We do have the AFL Asia championships, but for us here in Vietnam, this is what we build up for and we’ve been training hard,” he said.
“One of the reasons it’s so big this year is that we’ve got Mr Alex Jesaulenko coming over to visit, which is just huge and our after-match function has already sold out.
“The anticipation for the weekend is huge.”
The Swans will be looking for redemption in this year’s match, after suffering a heart breaking loss to the Jakarta Bintangs in last year’s ANZAC Day fixture.
“I can say that it was without a doubt the most heartbreaking loss I’ve ever played in,” Lee said.
“I think it was just because of the significance of the match.
“You’re there and you’ve heard the anthems and you’ve got all the former soldiers around you, the stands are full and the atmosphere is fantastic and we just gave it our all.
“We actually travelled to Indonesia a few weeks ago and their captain actually said that our last match was the hardest match he’s ever played in as well, so that shows how much it means.”