Women’s footy on the rise in Viet­nam

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Ev­ery now and then, when I am sad or trou­bled by the warm­ing of the Earth or the rise of the seas or the ruin await­ing us all, I jump on a plane and go to Viet­nam.

Read­ers will be well aware of my love of the Ori­ent in gen­eral, and Saigon in par­tic­u­lar.

Ah yes, I’m sit­ting out­side my favourite bar, slap-bang in the heart of District One.

A hot sun is beat­ing down, so a black straw fe­dora pro­tects my brow as I en­joy a late af­ter­noon glass of sau­vi­gnon blanc.

Saigon is a city with a pulse to be savoured, day or night. It’s not Su­bi­aco.

I was in Rokeby Road at 8.30pm last Satur­day week and if I had dis­charged a shot­gun down the foot­path in front of me, I wouldn’t have hit a soul.

One can linger on that thought and con­clude some rem­edy is re­quired to rein­vig­o­rate Subi at night!

Saigon is where, back in 1966, had the mar­ble with my birth date on it come out of the hat, I’d have had a .303 ri­fle slung over my shoul­der fight­ing the North Viet­namese and Viet Cong.

A mate of mine, and fel­low Aus­tralian Foot­ball Hall of Famer, South Aus­tralian Gra­ham Cornes, ac­tu­ally did see ac­tion in the Viet­nam War.

He was sta­tioned at Vung Tau, far too close to where the Bat­tle of Long Tan took place, which saw 18 Aus­tralian sol­diers lose their lives.

No such anx­i­ety to­day.

I love the Viet­namese peo­ple and have come here so of­ten that I have made a few friends.

Phil Johns is one of them, an ex-pat Aussie I met years ago, when he was the pres­i­dent of the Viet­namese Swans.

Many things have amazed me about footy in Viet­nam.

First is the stan­dard, which is not at all bad con­sid­er­ing ev­ery­thing – in­deed, the last time I asked there were about five or six Viet­namese play­ers in the Saigon-based team.

What I didn’t know un­til re­cently was that there was a women’s team too, and Phil sug­gested I meet Ce­cilia Sab­batucci, the Aus­tralian coach and co-cap­tain of the Viet­nam Swans’ women’s team, the Lady Swans, and the driv­ing force be­hind it all.

The Lady Swans are a re­ally di­verse group, with lo­cal play­ers from Viet­nam as well as from Aus­tralia, New Zealand, the Philip­pines, Ire­land, Canada, the US and the UK.

Last month, they won the first AFLW divi­sion of the Asian Cham­pi­onships, beat­ing a strong side from Hong Kong.

The con­test in­volved teams from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Cam­bo­dia as well as Viet­nam.

The women’s divi­sion of the cham­pi­onships quickly emerged with the sup­port of AFL Asia and the Swans say there is a re­ally strong bond be­tween the teams.

For many of the Lady Swans, it was their first sport­ing ti­tle ever.

Some play­ers had learnt the game only over the few months be­fore the comp.

Ce­cilia – or Chia as she likes to be called – was born to play Aussie rules and loves the game.

She’s built for speed, like her grand­fa­ther, Vin­cent Sab­batucci, who played for St Kilda way back when, and also

Austin is happy Aussie Rules footy is alive and well in Saigon, where Ce­cilia Sab­batucci is head coach and driv­ing force of the Viet­namSwan’s women’s team.

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