This podcast was brought to you by By Association as part of The Away End. By Association is a narrative football podcast about football and the human connection we all share with the beautiful game. Featuring interesting and insightful short stories about the world game, from personal narratives to club histories and everything in between. Episodes are released on a monthly basis and are hosted and produced by James Parkinson.
When we think of football tours, the world’s top clubs travelling the globe for exhibition matches might spring to mind. But it’s not just the professional teams. In 1995, an amateur pub team embarked on a tour of their own in the Far East. This is the story of Wild Westerners FC.
What started as a conversation between mates over a few beers developed into an organised, three country tour of India, Vietnam and the Philippines. Stewart Cruttenden, a travel writer and journalist made regular trips to the Far East for work, during which time he joined up with some local expat teams, just for fun. He enjoyed playing so much that he decided to form his own team.
Wild Westerners came together as a group of friends, playing in tours around Asia for several years. However, on their third tour in ‘95 things started to get a little more serious. By then, Cruttenden had made a few friends in the region and had right the contacts when it came to arranging matches. Although, being the early nineties, most of it was done via fax machine.
WWFC would usually play two games at each destination against some expat teams who would then help them set up a match with a local team in the same or similar location. Enter Cantho City FC, full time professionals and one of the top clubs in Vietnam at the time. In fact, they’d won the national cup competition the year before, finishing second in the league. They also had ten Vietnamese Internationals on their books.
Upon arrival at their hotel in Cantho, it was clear to Cruttenden that there had been a serious misunderstanding. They were greeted by an excited crowd, held back by police and a welcoming party of military and local sports directors. Between the faxes back and forth, something had certainly been lost in translation.
Cruttenden met with the head of the local sports committee who wanted a list of their players and squad numbers for the radio commentators. He then began explaining the etiquette of marching out and presenting bouquets to people in the crowd. Yes, the crowd. The 25,000 capacity Cantho Stadium had been sold out for weeks. Bewildered, but not really in a position to back out, Cruttenden decided to play along.
Come match day, Wild Westerners piled onto the bus which drove into the stadium like it was an FA Cup Final at Wembley. Torrential rain delayed kick-off by 90 minutes but the locals deemed the match too important to postpone, so it went ahead. The wet weather would be in Wild Westerners advantage though, keeping the scoreline somewhat respectable, given the contrast between the two sides. 12-2 the final score in favour of the locals.
Only 5,000 spectators remained in the stadium but it didn’t matter. The local fans weren’t disappointed the this team from England turned out to be complete amateurs. Actually, it wasn’t clear whether they even realised. But they were just as excited as they’d been at the hotel days before, cheering both teams and the efforts on display. In response, the Wild Westerners signed autographs and gave away their playing shirts and gear to all the kids in the crowd before departing.
It’s important to note that during the early nineties the Vietnam War was still firmly in people’s memories and Westerners had only just started going back to the country. But this was a perfect example of the power of football to transcend and unite.