“I had no fear of flying, I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt”
SCG Muangthong United's #1 keeper, Vietnamese-Russian Dang Van Lam, almost never made it to professional football, and his journey to between the uprights at the SCG Stadium is one filled with struggle, failure, disappointment, and finally success.
Dang Van Lam, or “Lam” was born into a regular family in Moscow, neither wealthy nor poor. His father was a ballet dancer from Vietnam who had moved to study the arts in Russia. There he met a Russian woman, also a performer, and they fell in love and married. Dang Van Lam was born a short time later, the future keeper of SCG Muangthong United.
Lam also has a younger brother and younger sister, completing the family of five.
As a boy, Lam says he was naughty, but from the age of seven it was playing football that captured his attention. “I have always enjoyed playing sports. Volleyball, basketball, swimming, and tennis. But as a boy I was really taken with football, and always dreamed of making it professionally.”
When he first played as a kid, it was street football. There were no positions, just the fun of playing against friends. Lam remembers when he was eight years old. Family and friends were visiting the beach, and a pick-up game was quickly organized. Luckily for Lam, watching nearby was the coach of the local school. He asked Lam to try his hand as a keeper. The coach placed the ball on the sand and fired off a few shots. He could see Lam had no fear about diving for the ball. "I had no fear of flying, I wasn't afraid of getting hurt."
From that day on, keeper became his position and he began to play with purpose.
Spartak and Dynamo Youth Teams
Football now became a routine to Lam, and he was always ready and organized to attend training, and driven to do well. At about the age of nine, Lam’s public school coach, who had a connection with Spartak, arranged a friendly match. Even though Lam’s team lost that game 13-0 and he was the keeper, he’d caught the attention of the Spartak coach.
“I was, at that time, quite a bit taller than all the other kids, and the coach invited me to come and train with Spartak.”
This was a great opportunity for Lam and he was thrilled at being part of one of the country’s leading football clubs.
Said Lam, “I remember my father would drive me to practices, and my mother was always there, cheering me on, as if she was the coach herself. I wish to thank my parents for allowing me to choose my path. They never tried to tell me what I should do, but let me follow my passions.”
The time at Spartak was the start of his professional development, but at 15 years old, in search of more playing time, Lam switched to join Russia’s other big club, Dynamo. He was never the starting keeper, however, and it was challenging competing against many other quality players.
By the age of 18 a pivotal moment had arrived for Lam. Without a contract from Dynamo, and not yet at a university, Lam was faced with mandatory military service.
“I discussed this with my father. The idea came to try my hand with teams in Vietnam. To be honest, neither my father nor I knew much about Vietnamese football. But I had many cousins and uncles in Vietnam, and we decided to give it a go and play football in the land of my father’s birth.”
V-LEAGUE DREAMS: Hoàng Anh Gia Lai
In the year 2010, one of Vietnam’s top clubs, Hoàng Anh Gia Lai, accepted Lam into their academy. It was a professional club, with good facilities.
Said Lam, “But being away from my home and family was difficult. I missed them. But I knew I had to get through the hard time, and to be patient and not give up. I always knew how proud my father would be if one day I played for Vietnam.”
Lam was not able to gain a position with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai and play in the V-League. Instead he went on loan to Hoang Anh Attapeu F.C in Laos for a season.
“This was another challenge for me. I didn’t know anyone in Laos, and it was a new language and culture. But all these challenges I had, only made me stronger, and I learned from them.”
HIS FIRST TASTE OF THAI FOOTBALL
When his contract with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai ended in 2013 Lam returned to Russia. His football career had appeared to have stalled.
Lam continued to play with local amateur teams, and he would often get calls to play keeper for one team or another. Said Lam, “The keeper gloves were always in my car in case someone called.” His love of the game never faded and he kept up his training, working out informally with Duslar Moscow, a third division team.
Even had Duslar wanted to offer Lam a contract, he was ineligible, as he was registered with FIFA under his Vietnamese nationality. Although a player can change, he’s only allowed to do so once. Prophetically, a friend advised Lam to keep his Vietnamese identity with FIFA, and not close the door on playing again in Vietnam.
Then, in 2014, Lam received an idea from his former goalkeeper coach with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai, who happened to be Thai, and was now at Suphanburi FC. He invited Lam to come and train with Suphanburi, and see where that might lead!
After about one month of training with Suphanburi, and with no solid interest from any of the V-League teams, Lam and his family were again faced with a tough decision. Alone on the other side of the globe, they worried about him, and decided it would be best to return permanently to Russia.
Lam began to accept that maybe this was the end of his football career, and he enrolled in college to study sports science. “It was a time of challenge. I thought I was going to have to give up my dreams of professional football.”
In Russia, attending school was difficult for Lam. During class it was football that he was thinking about more than anything else. Said Lam, “I needed to try and change who I was and adapt to the situation.”
THE TURNING POINT!
Then, in 2015, the offer finally came from the V-League. Hải Phòngin, one of the league’s long standing teams, invited Lam to sign with them. He did not hesitate. All the struggles and perseverance had led him to this point, and he flew out to Vietnam to join the club.
That first season, Lam didn’t earn a role with the first team, but at the start of the 2016 season he got the nod. Lam went on to make 76 appearances over four seasons Hải Phòngin.
After just his second V-League came, Lam caught the attention of the national squad, and he was called to training camp. With Vietnam, he was initially their #3 keeper. This did not bother Lam, as he felt immense pride at having made it to this level.
In 2017 Lam had his first appearance for Vietnam, playing against Jordan in the Asian Cup qualifier match. The game ended 0-0, and Lam was awarded the Man-of-the-Match for his performance.
From then on Lam was the keeper of choice for Vietnam, and he’s represented his country in the Suzuki Cup and Asian Cup tournaments. Lam’s story and identity began to become known in Vietnam, and his hard work and determination was a source of much admiration amongst football fans.
“I am proud to have played for Vietnam, my father’s country, and the heritage that is also 100% in my heart.”
SCG MUANGTHONG UNITED
Lam’s abilities became known across Asia, helped in part with his amazing performance winning the Suzuki Cup in 2018, and only narrowly losing to Japan in the Asian Cup. It’s no surprise that he became the target of clubs throughout the region, but in the end the team he selected to join was SCG Muangthong United.
“There were other clubs calling, but I chose Muangthong because of the club’s history as champions, and for having produced players such as Teerasil Dangda and Kawin Thamsatchanan. Also, Muangthong is very well known in Vietnam.”
Lam states that Kawin had always been his inspiration, following his progress on Instagram and catching game highlights. “Kawin inspires me for his professionalism and incredible work ethic and focus on physical development.”
Since joining Muangthong in 2019, Lam has steadily improved. He’s also been affected by the football culture and atmosphere at the club. “Muangthong United fans are amazing, they follow the team to away games, they sing and cheer throughout, and remain behind us whether we win or lose. They cheer the full 90 minutes, and all players can feel the encouragement.”
Said Lam, “I will give my very best, every day, with every practice, every game. I wish this 2020 season to be great for myself, and for Muangthong United.”