Aerial striker

June 8, 2009

Through the 1970s and early 80s, there was no hotter football player than Ho Chi Minh City’s Vo Thanh Son. Legend still has it that Son shot harder, faster and farther than any Vietnamese to ever grace the pitch. Fans flocked from far and wide to Thong Nhat Stadium just to catch a glimpse of the star’s leaping-kicks, with which he was able to stun goalies from mid-air.

Practice and perfection

Speaking to Thanh Nien last Saturday, Son, who led his team to third place at the South East Asian Peninsular Games (SEAP) in 1971 and second place two years later, said it was his father, former footballer Vo Tu Trung, who trained him.

But perfection wasn’t without its hardships. Son used to run 10 kilometers a day.

His speed and agility peaked in the mid-to-late 70s. In the early 1980s, he held his own alongside the younger talent at the HCMC’s So Cong Nghiep (Industry Department) Club.

Though Son’s squad lost to The Cong in the 1981-82 championships, Son was honored as the series’ “Best Scorer,” with 15 goals.

“I was 34 years old then, but I was still full of energy.”

He said his best experience was that tournament’s 2-0 win over the Army at Tay Ninh Stadium.

“The arena was full and the atmosphere was exciting and encouraging. That helped me play beautifully and score the two goals.”

With honors

Not many Vietnamese players have been worshipped like Son.

Upon his retirement, the HCMC Youth Union organized a farewell match for the local legend at Tao Dan Stadium.

The stadium was packed to the brim. Many fans that couldn’t get into the stadium stayed late into the evening asking for autographs or to take photos with him.

“I was very happy at the time. It was a meaningful gift that few players receive,” Son said. “I was pleased that my contributions were recognized.

“I was in tears when I gave the captain band to Bui Thai Chau and the #9 shirt to Le Khanh Hiep.”

A couple of years later, he emigrated to the US with his family. But he always followed So Cong Nghiep from overseas.

‘Heart and soul’

After So Cong Nghiep dissolved in the late 80s, Son returned to Vietnam to gather his friends into a veteran team.

“The veteran team helps people remember,” he said. “I was so happy to play a veteran match in Hai Phong last year and many people still remembered me with admiration and respect,” Son said.

Son says modern players in Vietnam now have many more opportunities, “but I think their passion for the sport is not strong enough.”

He said the younger generation needed help with their “heart and soul.”

He was particularly concerned about football in HCMC.

“If the best veterans are given a chance to contribute to training young talents in the city, they could breathe life into the sport here again.”

Reported by Quang Tuyen

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