Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Farmers and football: the Vietnamese women scoring big on the field



Farmers and football: the Vietnamese women scoring big on the field

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ethnic San Chi women dressed in traditional costumes play a friendly football match in northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province on April 24. AFP

Farmers and football: the Vietnamese women scoring big on the field

Legs stiff from long days in the rice terraces of northern Vietnam, scores of female farmers dressed in colourful cloth headbands and skirts gather on a gravel pitch for a game of football.

The all-female squads of Huc Dong commune, a mountainous village only 40 kilometres from the Chinese border, have little time to practise and may spend months away from the sport when it's time to tend their crops.

But the commitment of the women, who hail from the San Chi ethnic minority group, has earned them respect – plus a little money and fame – in football-mad Vietnam.

Since they began playing in 2016, the women have featured regularly in national press and across social media.

But they are far from the only success story in women's football in Vietnam, with the national side multiple South East Asian championship winners.

Trying to catch a pass from her teammate, striker May Thi Kim bumps against her competition as she aims for the goal on the community's gravel hilltop stadium overlooking the paddy and bamboo-covered valley.

Her team from Mo Tuc village is facing off against friends from neighbouring Luc Ngu in a sports event that is part of the traditional Soong Co festival on Saturday.

As the team dribbles the ball closer to the goalposts, spectators – many of whom are their husbands, children and tourists -- cheer the women on.

"I used to watch football on TV," Kim, 29, told AFP, recalling the beginnings of the team five years ago. "I told the youth union they must let us women play."

Skirts shortened, shirts loosened

Kim and her fellow players in Huc Dong commune – 14 in all across two teams – play in black skirts, long-sleeved blue shirts and headbands that have been part of their traditional dress for generations.

"There is no difference playing football in either the traditional clothes or sportswear," Kim told AFP before the match.

That said, their skirts have been shortened, shirts loosened -- and some of the women play with colourful long football socks.

Midfielder La Thi Thao, 15, says she might be more comfortable in regular shorts and T-shirt, but is happy to show off the clothing of her tiny community, which numbers just over 2,000.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ethnic Dao women wearing traditional clothing watch a friendly football match as part of the Soong Co festival celebrations. AFP

It helps "people, including tourists, understand us better", she said.

'It hurt every muscle'

All the players in Huc Dong, including Kim, make a living from hard grind on the terraced paddy fields and in the forests, where they grow cinnamon, star anise and pine trees.

Their step count climbs into the tens of thousands each day as they traverse hills and navigate rocky streams.

But although strong, the women did not have the physical agility at the outset that football demands.

"When we first started, it hurt every muscle," Kim said, admitting they had very little time to train due to the combined pressures of farming and housework.

Coach May A Cang has trained them hard to improve their flexibility, asking the women to run regularly to limber up their muscles.

It was tough work at first, with the women soaking their legs in warm salted water and medicinal leaves for pain relief – but gradually their bodies adapted to the training.

While Cang has taken on a coaching role, he admits that even he was initially hesitant when his wife, a squad member, wanted to join the team.

"I thought her playing could hurt her legs and then she could not go to the field to work," he said.

"But she told me she would train and would know how to play properly."

The women believe they have proved their doubters wrong – some have even transferred their passion on to their daughters.

"Even if it hurts, we are ok to take it for our love of football," Kim said.

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has given the green light for anyone who contracts the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron mutation or any other variant to convalesce or receive treatment at home or in any other reasonable non-healthcare setting. The new decision supersedes a restriction on home care for

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42