Football pitch a privilege in Vietnam’s Truong Sa archipelago

While a grass-coated football (soccer) pitch is within reach in other parts of Vietnam, it is a luxury for soldiers and residents in the country’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago due to its rugged terrain.

Truong Sa is an island district of Khanh Hoa Province, located in the south-central coastal region of Vietnam.

Among the archipelago’s 21 islands, only the islands of Truong Sa Lon and Song Tu Tay have sufficient natural soil for building a pitch where 11-player football matches can be held.

The islands’ small area and rugged surface make it difficult to find even, large sites to build football pitches on.

Truong Sa Lon Island does have a football field, but it has a rocky coral surface and little grass, and is thus used for military parades rather than football matches.

By contrast, the pitch on Song Tu Tay Island is a great source of pride for locals and soldiers thanks to its lush grass.

However, the pitch did not materialize without hard work.

It took soldiers a few months of raking the hard soil, ridding the surface of coral and coating it with a layer of soft soil before sowing grass seeds.

The pitch is also unique in that it is the only spot on all the islands that cows can be raised on.

With the shortage of vegetation in the dry season due to salt water, the desperately hungry cows consume all that they get their eyes on, including tree bark, cardboard boxes, clothes, footwear, utensils and even bricks.

Despite the cows’ harsh diets, their feces have helped improve the football pitch’s soil effectively.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters recently paid a visit to Truong Sa and were invited to join the football matches on Song Tu Tay’s pitch.

Just like elsewhere, football is the islanders’ and soldiers’ top sport. During matches, often held in the afternoon, players rarely wear uniforms.

One team typically wears casual clothes while the other is half-naked.

Players can wear shoes or run around barefoot, while there is no net hung over the goalposts.

Despite the games’ simplicity, players always give their best shot.

The competition sometimes causes players to fall or stagger, before all the players stop and remind one another not to play roughly.

The losing team is usually penalized by doing push-ups, or household or gardening chores for the entire unit for a certain amount of time.

“Regularly playing football eases my homesickness and cements my bonds with my comrades and islanders,” Nguyen Van Chung, a radar operator, said.

Colonel Ngo Duy Do, vice leader of Brigade 146, who has worked and lived in Song Tu Tay for many years, said their life would be extremely tedious without football.

“The sport helps improve soldiers’ health, fosters solidarity between them and the islanders, and bolsters their resolve on safeguarding the country’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa archipelago,” he stressed.


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