We’re looking forward to bringing you the next installment of the Anzac Day Game in 2021.
With the difficulties of travel and public gatherings in 2020, we’re taking this time to look back at the rich history of the ANZAC Friendship Match in Vietnam. It’s always hot, dry and spirited… a fitting tribute to those who’ve gone before us.
* This article is a re-working of Billy Crang’s original reflections of a decade of ANZAC Days in Asia, with a few updates and tweaks.
2019 – VIETNAM SWANS (74) VS INDONESIAN VOLCANOES (74)
The Indonesian Volcanoes arrived in Vung Tau with some impressive form as the reigning Asian Champions in Division 1. Combining two clubs in Indonesia (the Bali Geckos and the Jakarta Bintangs) and lead by Essendon great Rick Olarenshaw, the Volcanoes unleashed a faster, harder brand of football than the Swans have typically played.
It was an eye opener, even for experienced veterans of the Swans. We were certainly competitive though, leading the first quarter before the Volcanoes edged ahead in the second. The Swans fought back in the third. Nitty was giving a target, Vaughan was leading the defense with physicality and aggression, while Watto and Irish Tom had paired up as mobile ruckmen for the day. Tal’s ‘bang and crash’ style of play upset the fluency of the Volcanoes, and a Captain’s goal from Jake Norris played a big part in drawing the scores level at the final break.
The final quarter could have gone either way. The Swans hit the front with minutes to go and had a chance to win it. After an interruption due to injury, the Volcanoes flooded the defense, took possession in the dying moments and worked it down to big ‘Urchin’ about 25m out on a 45 angle. No mistakes: the big fella iced it, drawing the game level as the siren sounded. The very first tie of our ANZAC Friendship Match history, 74 points apiece!
This game really set the tone for our 2019 season, culminating in a Division 2 Asian Champs Title about six months later.
2018 – VIETNAM SWANS (66 & 48) DEF. THAILAND TIGERS (47 & 21)
In 2018 we returned to our ANZAC roots, taking on the Thailand Tigers, who’d given us the original concept 10 years earlier. With ANZAC Day falling midweek it was decided to play a 2 leg series, first in Kanchanaburi and the second in Vung Tau. Anyone who knows Asian footy knows how hard it is to go and win on the road: add the insane temperatures of Kanchanaburi to this equation and the touring Swans for game 1 were up against it.
No-one told all that to our midfield though, with the Swans generating ample drive through the middle and Darcy Wilkoz able to control the air up forward. After half time our defense shut down the Tigers ability to score and Thai-born but Viet-based Reed Cathcart was everywhere. Dinh Anh took control of his wing and the Swans were able to pull away to an invaluable win.
The first match took its toll, and the Tigers returned to Vung Tau decimated by injury and lacking numbers. Several high profile Swans and reinforcements rung in from the Khmer Cobras were added to the Tigers squad, causing a hard fought battle that was only clinched late in the 4th quarter. Eventually the Swans were able to gain ascendency across the field started by our Hanoian on field leader Jake Norris who was in everything while Oscar Silk provided a marking target all day eventually scoring 3 goals which could have been far higher.
To win home and away around the ANZAC weekend was a new and amazing experience on top of what has become a great tradition of our club. We were able to take the momentum from these great games into the rest of our season and achieve one of our best ever seasons.
2017 – VIETNAM SWANS (84) DEF. CAMBODIAN EAGLES (66)
The Eagles had an amazing end to 2016, taking out an Indochina Cup we believe we should have won (after upsetting us in the pool game and knocking us out of the finals). They were headed to Vung Tau early in 2017 with a plan to inflict another embarrassing upset. They even had our 4x best and fairest player Dukesy on the tour!
The game was hot and hard as always but slowly and surely we gained the ascendancy and maintained our composure in the last quarter when the Eagles snagged a few goals to close the margin. Jimmy Bairstow claimed another ANZAC Best On Ground for his tireless work through the middle and around the ground.
2016 – JAKARTA BINTANGS (?) DEF. VIETNAM SWANS (?)
The Bintangs were a touring force throughout the 2010’s and it was with some hesitation we extended the Club their second invitation to Vung Tau.
Arriving with a limited touring squad, the Bintangs immediately went to work drafting the best players out of the Legends vs All Stars game that was played as a curtain raiser. The ensuing game between the Bintangs and the Swans see-sawed, with both defences dominating their end of the ground.
The Swans were too slow to adjust our strategy, with the Bintang’s CHB picking off big Keysey, and few other options presenting themselves. Eventually the Bintang’s prevailed by a slim margin, lead by the likes of Dave Oshea, MJ and the Bintang’s CHB (best on ground). While it wasn’t the result we wanted, the day was another great addition to the archives.
2015 – VIETNAM SWANS (90) DEF. SINGAPORE WOMBATS (49)
2015 saw the 25th of April coincide with a Saturday! What an honour to place a wreath at the Long Tan Cross, discuss the Battle of Long Tan and the entire war with survivors and then play some footy with your best mates!
Once again the Swans were on a roll, the playing group getting out of their favorite bars and into the gym in the run into the 2015 Friendship Match against another team that everyone loves to beat, the then Asian Champions, the Singapore Wombats.
We came out firing, Hanoi bringing their kicking boots down with Tommy Doer, Joe Vile, Grant Keys and Northern co-captain David Skowronski all kicking multiple majors. Never in doubt!
2014 – VIETNAM SWANS (100) DEF. MALAYSIAN WARRIORS (11)
From the outset this was a belting, led by Tra-vy ‘the Butcher’ Fallon. The first 2 clearances came forward with Trav taking the ball from contested scuffles and snapping amazing goals. It was going to be one of those days!
Trav didn’t let up, going on to kick about 6. Neither did any Swannie, pounding the Warriors into the Lord Mayors Oval dust.
The Middleton Address that night was given by none other than AFL legend Alex Jesaulenko. Jezza praising how much Asian footy was like he remembered from his days unlike the modern, polished, heartless game played on the biggest stage in Australia each winter.
2013 – JAKARTA BINTANGS (69) DEF. VIETNAM SWANS (59)
The Bintangs bought a tight, experienced touring squad in 2013. We had plenty of great players in Vietnam at that time, but the Bintangs were simply more focused and cohesive. The result was a shock for us: our first loss at the Dog Track.
There was a silver lining of course. The game showed us that, the way players come in and out of Asian Footy clubs, the most important is to have an ongoing simple structure that blokes of all level can walk into, comprehend and function within.
2012 – VIETNAM SWANS (79) DEF. CHINA REDS (56)
The Reds were a mystery coming into this game: the Swans hadn’t seen much of them but knew that some serious talent would be headed our way in the combination of teams from Shanghai and Beijing.
The China Reds didn’t disappoint, counting 155-game North Melbourne veteran Shannon Watt in the squad. Despite entering the second half shaking like a leaf, the Swans boys were too good all over the field in the second half, lead by a freshly arrived Dave Oshea and skipper Dukesy from the midfield.
2011 – VIETNAM SWANS (89) DEF. HONG KONG DRAGONS (47) IN VUNG TAU
The Dragons always tour with a strong team, but as our very first international game on ANZAC Day and a big home crowd, and a crowd, we played out of our skins.
Despite a comfortable win on the scoreboard the game stayed in the balance all day! BOG was Angry Dave Hadley and the greatly missed Nick Shiells was up in the best. Richard Osbourne (still in very handy nick) played for both teams (but definitely gave a bit more for the Swans). Coach Josh ‘Pudding’ Little’s now famous words to “go out and (awkward pause) pull off the greatest win this Vietnam Swans has ever done(sic)” definitely rang true! Check out “9 News 2011 Vung Tau Friendship Match“!
2010 – HANOI HAWKS (63) DEF. SAIGON SAINTS (62)
2010 was the very first ANZAC Friendship Match. Phil Johns, the visionary behind almost every piece of the Swans platform as a club, was inspired by the power of ANZAC Day in Kanchanaburi in 2009.
We’d proposed to play a friendship game in Vung Tau. Unbeknown to us, this was the hallowed turf the diggers played on during their down time some 40+ years earlier. As expats loving life in Vietnam, what was amazing was how little we knew beyond Forrest Gump of the war that shook the world here for over a decade.
Not only were we playing on the same ground, but some of the Veterans were in the crowd – which shocked us in its size! We were very quickly able to learn some of the history of the Australian involvement, but also some of the Vietnamese side of a war that really had no winner. The two black arm-bands respect concept was born out of respect for soldier enduring the horror of war on either side of the battle.
As always the North cheated thoroughly and claimed the game by a point. One great hit by Greg Stanton on the wing was a highlight. A friendship match in name but it was obvious playing here on this epic ground games were never going to be soft! As we took stock of all we learnt the gravity of what the ANZAC Friendship Match at the Lord Mayor’s Oval in Vung Tau was going to become mega.
2009 – THAILAND TIGERS DEF. VIETNAM SWANS IN KANCHANABURI
Wow! Mid-forty degrees and a red hot Tigers team didn’t let up… by the end being well over 100 points down and I think having not scored a major all day, most of us were cowering with our eyes closed in the fetal position.
The tour remains one of the very best, with the amazing stories of some of the heroic diggers who endured so much on the Burma Death Railway, the morning ceremony (ANZAC was a Saturday that year) and a post game cruise down the River Kwai. Great touring squad that absolutely tore Kanchanaburi a new one capped off a great weekend.
This experience was the genesis of all subsequent Friendship Matches.