The history of Ho Chi Minh City Football Club is usually associated to one of Vietnam’s oldest and proudest football teams, namely Saigon Port Workers Football Club.  Saigon Port Workers FC is a famous old football club, headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City and is synonymous with the city. And although the current club is not a direct descended that rose from the ashes of the original side which played in Vietnam from 1975 until its deletion in 2009.  It is one, however, that carries on the proud tradition of football within this great city.   Along with Thể Công (Vietnamese Army team based in Hà Nội now called Viettel F.C), the team can loosely lay claim to being one of the two most traditional clubs in the history of Vietnamese football, winning the National Football League Championship four times (once as Ho Chi Minh City) and the Vietnam Cup twice. In 2009, the team transferred ownership and changed to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Football Club although the current club was re-established in 2016 with new ownership.

 

History

 

After 1975 and reunification, The General Department of Commerce (Saigon Commercial Group) was renamed Saigon Port.  However, the group’s board remained dedicated to the welfare of both its officials and employees. Nguyen Thanh Su, a former footballer working at the Port, was tasked with the re-establishment of the football team from the previous Saigon Commercial Group. Subsequently, on 1st November 1975, Saigon Port Workers Football Club was officially established. Since the team was made up of players from before 1975, the team quickly confirmed its position on the footballing map in the South and for a long time, along with Saigon Customs FC (Hải Quan F.C) whom there was already a long standing pre-unification rivalry, became one of the two strongest teams in the South.

 

1975 - 1990

 

The first tournament that the team officially participated in was the 1976 Cửu Long tournament. Under the leadership of coach Nguyen Thanh Su, the team immediately won the Asian Cup, the first football tournament involving the teams of the southern provinces and Hồ Chí Minh City after unification.  In the early years, the team often employed a 4-2-4 formation.  This proved effective, as the team won the A1 championship in Hồ Chí Minh City for three consecutive years in 1977, 1978 and 1979.  A title the club has won four times.  The last being in 1982.

 

In 1980, the team was one of 10 representatives of the South Football Association to be selected for the National A1 Football Championship (now called V League).  The first football championship of Vietnam.  However, by this time, the main squad of players had either reached or passed their peak.  Along with the physical superiority and complicity among the northern teams (through financial subsidy or other means!!), the team could only finish 6th in the league.  The team also modified its playing style during this period adopting a 4-3-3 formation. At the end of that season the club was to lose a major part of the team when star player Phạm Huỳnh Tam Lang was sent to study in the Democratic Republic of Germany.

 

The preceding years saw the team go through a rebuilding phase.  This process was accelerated in 1983 when former center-back Phạm Huỳnh Tam Lang returned from East Germany and became the side’s Chief Coach (1983 - 2003).  In 1984, the team was improved with an influx of promising young players acquired from either talented professional schools or other teams.  One such player to join the club was the striker Đặng Trần Chỉnh (1984 - 1995), Đặng is considered to have been largely responsible for the development of football within Hồ Chí Minh City.  Đặng was associated wth Saigon Port during the 1980’s and 90’s.  Other young players who helped develop the side were striker Hà Vương Ngầu Nại; midfielders Nguyễn Hoàng Châu, Phạm Văn Tám and Nguyễn Thanh Tùng, defenders Võ Hoàng Tân, Hồ Văn Tam and Vương Diệu Thành.  1984 saw strikers - Đặng Trần Chỉnh and Phan Hữu Phát represent the Vietnamese National Team in the 1984 SKDA Cup held in Eastern Germany.

 

The next season of 1985 saw further injections of new players.  It also saw established players being utilised differently.  Star winger Dương Văn Thà was one such player to adapt to a new role, being used used more sparingly.  Coming on from the bench to influence the later stages of the game rather than starting.  This year also saw the team’s tactics start to change from 4-3-3 to 1-3-4-2, 1-2-4-3 then 1-2-5-2.  With these changes in both personnel and tactics, coach Phạm Huỳnh Tam Lang was able to lead the team to its first national championship title in 1986.  

 

Along side their first National Title, the side were to also win the Southern Championship twice during this period in 1985 and 1988.

 

1990 - 2001

 

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw the abolition of the league’s subsidy program.  This move saw a lot of northern sides either disappear or lose the advantages of the league’s early years.  However, the teams of Ho Chi Minh City, with their slogan "Đi trước, về trước" (meaning "Go ahead, go ahead"), quickly adapted to the new environment and took certain steps to safe guard their futures compared to those teams from the north.  

 

Consequently, The city's three teams, Saigon Customs FC, Ho Chi Minh City Police and Saigon Port FC, respectively, won five of the first seven national championships in the 1990s. Saigon Port winning the title twice in 1993-94 and 1997.

 

Many of the playing squad were called up to the national side to represent Việt Nam. Namely : Goalkeeper Nguyễn Hồng Phẩm, Strikers Hà Vương Ngầu Nại, Lư Đình Tuấn and later Nguyễn Minh Phụng, Trần Quan Huy, Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên Chương, Hồ Văn Lợi, Huỳnh Hồng Sơn.

 

This period also saw the team participate in continental competitions including the Asian Champions Cup (now the AFC Asian Champions League) in 1995-96 and 1999 and the Asian Cup (now the AFC Asian Cup Winners Cup) in 1994 and 2001.

 

2001 - 2009

 

Upon the establishment of the professional Vietnamese V-League in (2000 - 2001), the club were also to become a professional side on 1st November 2001.  Subsequently winning it’s last title again in 2001-02.

 

A lack of investment, an aging football team and intense competition saw Saigon Port relegated at the end of the following season as defending champions.

 

Developments off the pitch were to greatly effect the whole make up and structure of the club.  On 28th August 2003, The Southern Steel Ball Joint Stock Company was established with three main shareholders:

• Công ty Thép Miền Nam: 72%

• Cảng Sài Gòn: 25%

• Công ty TNHH Thế Anh: 3%

 

The company officially became the club's owner. For the 2004 season, the club registered as the Southern Steel Soccer Club - Saigon Port and promptly won the Second Division Championship thus gaining promotion back to V-League 1.

 

Although the club had a long tradition, had won many national and city trophies, was the pride of the city and benefiting from a deep affection from its fans, at the end of the 2008 season, the owners of Saigon Port announced that there were no more funds available for the team.  Therefore Saigon Port FC ceased to exist,

 

This was not to be the end of the road for a great club however as the club leaders decided to change the name of the club rather than let it die.  The name Ho Chi Minh City Football Club was selected and following the consent of the transfer of name and an initial investment of 15 billion dong, Ho Chi Minh City Football Club was born officially born.

 

The decision to change the name was not without protest from the fans who had a long affiliation to the original name of Saigon Port.  According to the majority of fans, the name Saigon Port was both a spiritual asset to the city and a great brand with historical stature.  Saigon Port FC was a team characterised by and rich in achievements.  As a consequence of the name change, the entire Executive Committee of the Association resigned and dissolved the Football Association of Saigon Port. This move was seen as confirmation of the fans’ stance regarding the club’s decision. However, the new name was deemed by the new owners as one that matched their aspirations for the club to become a force within Vietnamese football.  It was also a name more likely to be warmly received by the government, therefore receiving government support as well as being more attractive to local businesses.  Therefore, on 22nd January 2009 the club officially changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City Football Club with Vietnam Steel Company (VN Steel) being the main sponsor.  

 

2009 - 2016

 

With all the turmoil surrounding the club off the pitch, it came as no surprise that the club suffered on it.  Consequently the club was relegated to V League 2 at the end of the 2009 season.  

 

What was to follow was a period spent in the lower leagues of Vietnamese football.  Finishing 10th then 11th at the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons respectively, Ho Chi Minh City were to suffered further indignity when at the end of the 2012 season they found themselves relegated to the second tier of football, essentially non-league for the 2013 campaign.

 

2016 and the Birth of a New Era – Binh Minh Group

 

Fortunately the stay was a brief one and an immediate return to V-League 2 was gained.  Three years in V League 2 -finishing 7th in 2014 and 3rd in 2015, was brought to an end when the club, under the new name, won the V League 2 Championship in 2016.  

 

 

Return to the high table of Vietnamese domestic football in 2017 did not go according to plan as the club struggled for consistency.  Finally finishing 12th.  The important result however was that Ho Chi Minh City Football Club remained in the top division.

 

2018 has seen even more changes at the club.  A new manager was appointed with former Vietnamese National Team Coach Toshiya Miura replacing Alain Fiard.  A seeming revolving door policy of players coming and going prevented early season consistency on the pitch.  A change in ownership/leadership off the pitch, with the sudden departure of ex-Vietnamese legend Lê Công Vinh, who had been acting as Deputy Chairman threatened to further undermine the club's position.  However, the club's current owners - The Binh Minh Group (BM Group) are determined that the club will not only survive, but will once again become a major force within both Vietnamese and Asian football.  To facilitate this, steps are being taken to safeguard the future of the team.  The establishment of soccer schools to identify the future talent of Vietnamese football, professional shirt sponsorship and the prospect of a new stadium owned by the club, are but a few of the steps being undertaken by the BM Group.  The group has also invested heavily in the purchasing of new players both foreign and domestic.

©2018 by Darren Smale