World Cup brings back the old world for elderly Vietnamese-Americans

World Cup fans at Nguoi Viet Daily News. (Photo: Dan Huynh)

Titi Mary Tran/ Nguoi-Viet English

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (NV) ― For the older Vietnamese-Americans who gather daily at Nguoi Viet Daily News to watch World Cup matches, the games bring back memories of the glory days of South Vietnam and the feeling of community and home.

Hundreds of soccer fans fill the newspaper’s community room and yell out any missed opportunities on near-goals. In mid-June, on the opening day of the monthlong, 32-nation tournament in Russia, folks spilled out onto Moran Street after watching the games and enjoying food and music.

Across the street, at the Asian Garden Mall, they gathered at the stage to look at two television screens.

It was a party scene in Little Saigon.

“More people than Tet,” said Chuc Nguyen, a 73-year-old Anaheim resident.


World cup fans inside the community room at Nguoi-Viet Daily News. (Photo: Titi Mary Tran)
World cup fans in front of Nguoi Viet Daily News. (Photo: Titi Mary Tran)
World cup fans at Asian Garden Mall. (Photo: Titi Mary Tran)

Regardless of how long Vietnamese-Americans live in the United States, the “could-have-been” sentiments about their home country never escape their minds. South Vietnam had its own national soccer team from 1949 to 1975 and entered for qualification for the World Cup in 1974.

But Thung Tran, a 73-year-old Vietnamese veteran who fought alongside American soldiers in South Vietnam about a half-century ago, said that when it comes to soccer, there is “nothing about Vietnam now to be proud of. Other countries have a team, something, but we have nothing.”

In South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, literature was encouraged, entertainment was flourishing and the nation’s economy was in much better shape than South Korea’s.

South Korea qualified for the World Cup this year, and sent Germany home. Germany won World cup title in Brazil, 2014.

“They [Koreans] would come over and bought household items from us,” said Nguyen, who grew up in Saigon. “Look at them now. It’s depressing just to think about what we could have been.”

When South Vietnam had a soccer team, famous goalie Pham Van Rang and legendary radio sports reporter Huỳnh Vũ excited fans.

Food and drinks provided by sponsors and served by Nguoi-Viet employees. (Photo: Dan Huynh)
Food and drinks provided by sponsors and served by Nguoi-Viet employees. (Photo: Dan Huynh)

Now those fans pick a favorite team in order to feel attached to the sport. And they come together daily at Nguoi Viet to watch the tournament, which continues with quarterfinal matches Friday and ends on July 15. Nguoi Viet’s community room originally was set up to gather news for and from Vietnamese refugees. Now it features World Cup matches every day during the tournament while making food and drinks available for free. The newspaper also has prizes for fans who can make the most accurate predictions about the World Cup.

But for older Vietnamese-Americans, there is no country like South Vietnam.

Long Lu, 80, who for years has driven from Long Beach to Nguoi Viet to attend community viewing sessions, has earned five prizes this year for having the most accurate predictions about the World Cup.

“Usually, I watch professional soccer like England clubs,” he said. “So I know all the players in here.”

“I loved soccer when I was little,” Lu added. “I used to play during high school at Chu Van An [in Vietnam].”

World Cup fever isn’t something that Vietnamese latch onto just for spirit and a sense of community. Their love of soccer started at a young age.

Lu compared the sport from the 1970s to now.

“They play so much faster compared to the old days,” he said.

Hien Nguyen, 63, who lives in Stanton, said this is his third visit to Nguoi Viet.

“My first time was eight years ago,” he said. “I think every Vietnamese likes soccer.”