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 2017 with new ownership - Bình Minh Group.

 

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.

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 clubbwon the V League 2 Championship in 2016.  

With promotion secured, the club was to enter a new chapter - The Modern Chapter - with new owners : The Bình Minh Group.

2017 'City Are Back' - Bình Minh Group and the V-League 1 Years

The 2017 Season was to herald in a hat-trick of new beginnings for City.  New owners.  New League and a New Manager.

During the close season, the club acquired new owners - Ho Chi Minh based The Bình Minh Group (BMG).  A Media Company founded in 2017 dedicated to 'Leading the field of Advertising - Media - Entertainment in Vietnam', took over ownership of the Club from the City Government.  At what must have been, not only a great cost to the company, but also a great risk, BMG had a vision "To honour the tradition and history of football from this great city whilst creating history of their own".  It was, in their own words .. "The start of a journey".

The 'journey' was to begin in Vietnam's High Table - V-League 1 (or for sponsorship purposes - The Toyota V-League 1) and it was to be under a new Head Coach - the Cambodian born French Alain Fiard who had previously coached at Auxerre.  Fiard was to take over from local (and Vietnamese legend) Lư Đình Tuấn who had guided City to promotion the following year.  Lư Đình Tuấn had previously made his name playing for Cảng Sài Gòn (Saigon Port) winning two National Championships and playing for Vietnam in three Sea-Games Tournaments.

City's introduction to the 'Big League' came on 6th January 2017 when the 'new-look City' welcomed Quảng Nam to the SVĐ Thống Nhất.  An estimated crowd (all attendance figures in Vietnam are estimated by the VFF) of 7,000 saw City draw the match 1-1 with Đỗ Thành Sang, wearing the No.14 jersey, scoring City's first goal back in the big league.  City's Team that historic day was : 77 Nguyễn Quốc Thiện Esele (GK), 6 Châu Lê Phước Vĩnh, 7 Võ Duy Nam, 8 Victor Ormazabal, 10 Dyachenko Sergey, 11 Nguyễn Văn Việt, 12 Nguyễn Anh Tài, 14 Đỗ Thành Sang, 18  Trần Thanh Bình, 20  Trương Đình Luật (Capt), 37 Nguyễn Hồng Việt, 89 Âu Văn Hoàn.  

The first season back offered little in the way of consistency.  Victory over 'city rivals' Sài Gòn FC in Week 3 (1-0 away) and possible the strangest game in modern Vietnamese Footballing History - a 5-2 home victory over Long An in Week 6 being the highlights of the first half of the season.  The game against Long An warrants mention for it was during this game that several players, including the visiting keeper refused to 'compete' allowing City to score at will.  This victory did start a mini run that would include victories over XSKT Cần Thơ 1-0 at home, Hoàng Anh Gia Lai 1-0 away and a 3-3 away draw with SHB Đà Nẵng.  However City were to win only once more in the next 12 games - 3-2 away to Long An on a very wet evening.  In fact, following the victory over Hoàng Anh Gia Lai in Week 8, City were to record just the two further victories in the remaining 18 league games - 3-2 away to Long An in Week 14 and 1-0 at home to Hoàng Anh Gia Lai in Week 19.  With two games left of the season, Coach Alain Fiard was to be replaced by the man that he himself had replaced at the start of the season - Lư Đình Tuấn.  Although City had only managed to win 6 of their 26 league games, they had done just enough and finished the season in 12th place.  Securing another season in the top division of Vietnamese domestic football.

 

2018 saw more changes at the club as it strove to establish itself in V-League 1.  A new manager was appointed with former Vietnamese National Team Coach Toshiya Miura replacing Lư Đình Tuấn.  Several new signings including the signing of a young midfield maestro Trần Phi Sơn who had joined City from Sông Lam Nghệ An.  A new Deputy Chairman in the form ex-Vietnamese legend Lê Công Vinh.  However, after picking up three victories in the opening five games of the season, 2-1 away to Sài Gòn FC, 1-0 at home to Sanna Khánh Hòa BVN and an impressive 3-1 away victory over Nam Định,  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, threatened to further undermine the club's position.  Following the victory over Nam Định in Week 5, City had to wait until Week 19 and a run of 14 games before their next victory - defeating SHB Đà Nẵng 4-2 at home.  A hat-trick from recently signed Matias Jadue turning the game in City's favour.  Wearing the Number 68 shirt, Matias Jadue was to go on to score 9 goals in only 6 appearances for City in 2018 - ironically ending up as City's Top Goal Scorer.  Three further victories in City's final seven games : 2-1 home to Than Quảng Ninh, 5-3 against Hoàng Anh Gia Lai and a thumping 5-0 demolition against 'rivals' Sài Gòn FC (both also at home) helped secure City's place in the top division where once again the club was to finish in 12th place.

 

However, as stated above, the club's current owners - The Bình Minh Group (BMG) 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 remote but exciting 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.

New Head Coach Chung Hae-seong

2019 - The Korean Influence

The close season saw another change in leadership for the team.  Coach Toshiya Miura was replaced by Korean Chung Hae-soung.  Coach Chung was no stranger to Vietnamese domestic football having spent 2017 and 2018 at Hoàng Anh Gia Lai as Technical Director.  There was also changes on the playing front with the arrival of Ewonde Epassi from SHB Đà Nẵng, Joel Vinicius (Than Quảng Ninh) , Phạm Văn Thành (Hà Nội FC), Ngô Tùng Quốc (XSKT Cần Thơ) and goalkeeper Nguyễn Thanh Thắng (Thanh Hóa) to name but a few.  City said farewell to Captain Trương Đình Luật who had joined Fico Tây Ninh and keeper Đinh Xuân Việt who had joined Nam Định to be closer to his ill father.  Several others were to either join or leave City prior to the start of the 2019 campaign.

The 2019 season opened with a home game against Hải Phòng.  A side City had yet to take even a point off let alone a victory.  City were also to be without the services of both Trần Phi Sơn and Kesley who were both out with injury.  Phi Sơn's injury would keep him out until Week 24 of the season.  A tight game was heading for stalemate until another of City's recent arrivals Lê Hoàng Thiên (who had joined from Sài Gòn FC) struck in the 94th minute to give City the perfect start under their new coach.  City were to go the first six games of the league season unbeaten with a record of 5 wins and 1 draw (0-0 away to Sài Gòn).  Coach Chung's side not tasting defeat until Week 7 when they were to go down 0-1 away to reigning Champions Hà Nội FC.  City were defeated that night but not demoralised as the performance showed the watching audience that this City side was to be taken seriously.  Indeed, if Joel's late header had gone under the bar instead of narrowly over it, City would have come away from the Capital with a well deserved point.

The season was becoming something of a two horse race with both City and Hà Nội vying for top spot.  A race that had captured the imagination of the footballing public.  Under Coach Chung, City had developed a never say die attitude with each player refusing to accept defeat.  This attitude was shown time and time again - away to Becamex Bình Dương when after leading 2-0 the side was pegged back to 2-2 before Joel struck deep into injury time to give City the points or the away trip to Than Quảng Ninh where a 94th minute strike from Ngô Hoàng Thịnh gave City the three points in a game they would normally been expected to lose. 

 

The only blemish to what was otherwise a fantastic start from a group of players more representative of a family than a football team was in Week 12 and the trip to SHB Đà Nẵng.  A 0-2 reverse was matched by a performance which fell well below the standards set in Weeks 1 to 11.  It was only to be expected if truth be known.  The question was "Could City respond?".  The answer was a resounding yes.  One defeat in their next eight games (away to Viettel) including consecutive away cup games up north against Viettel and Hải Phòng, both games won via a penalty shoot out showed that City would not give up their title challenge without a real good fight.  

Consequative home victories over Becamex Bình Dương (3-2) and SHB Đà Nẵng (2-1) was followed up by an enthralling 3-3 away draw with Thanh Hóa had left City in 1st place.  Next in town was the big one.  City v Hà Nội FC.  First versus Second.  South versus North.  The Pretenders versus the Reigning Champions.  The game the whole country wanted to see and the first time "Sold Out' signs went up around the SVĐ Thống Nhất.  A full house was treated to four goals, two sending offs, some scintillating football a fantastic atmosphere, disgraceful refereeing and an atmosphere that had the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.  City were to strike first via the penalty spot.  Kesley picking himself up after being fouled to send City one-nil up at the break.  City appeared to be in control of the game until the 50th minute.  As Văn Thuận (14) challenged for the ball with Văn Quyết (10) the City man caught the sliding Hà Nội midfielder.  The referee deciding that the contact was worthy of a straight red.  The decision prompting continued abuse from the home stands for the remaining 40 plus minutes as his decisions became more erratic and biased toward the side from the capital.  Abuse which would later cause the club to be fined.  The champions made their man advantage count as they raced into a 1-2 lead.  City however do not give up.  City had also acquired the habit of scoring late .... really late.  Seven minutes into additional time and City's never say die attitude paid off, with the goal arriving from bizarre circumstances.  A Hà Nội throw in was played to a player who was taking a drink.  This resulted in a City corner.  Thanh Bình (8) swung the ball in, Công Thành (71) rose like a salmon and headed the ball home.  Goal!!!!!!! The game was to end 2-2.  City remained top, Hà Nội remained second ....... the V-League remained on a knife edge.  Consecutive defeats to Sanna Khánh Hòa BVN (1-2 at home) and Quảng Nam (0-2 away where City were to fall foul of yet another disgusting referee decision) seemed to put paid to City's chances of winning the league as Hà Nội opened up a big gap at the top.  However, City were not to give up and with Second Place a real possibility City were to win four of their final five games including a 4-1 home thrashing of rivals Sài Gòn FC.  City wrapping up the 2019 Season as it had begun with victory over Hải Phòng winning 2-1 away.  All that was left was the little case of the National Cup.  City, after playing all the previous rounds away from home, were away again.  This time it was Hà Nội who once again stood between City and silverware.  Once again the referee was to have a major influence on the result effectively ensuring that Hà Nội FC won the game by allowing a blatant push on City's keeper to stand when the game was nicely balanced at 0-0.  Hà Nội FC finally won the game 0-3. 

City had just come up short on both fronts but over the course of the season had won many friends and had shown that there was at last a real alternative to Hà Nội FC.

©2018 by Darren Smale