Here at WEF we have a bit of a culture clash whenever the topic of relocation comes up. To someone from the UK, the idea of a team relocating is unheard of, akin to an iconic building in the city suddenly leaving. However, for an American, it’s just something we’re used to as teams regularly hold the local government and fans “hostage” and threaten moving to a better location.
Yet even for this American, the news that Shaanxi Chanba may be leaving Xian came as a major shock. Typically clubs decide to relocate based on weak attendance in their current home, but Shaanxi’s attendance was the 3rd best, regularly getting over 30,000 fans, and local fans are known as some of the most fervent in the country. Further, while the club’s apparent destination, Guiyang, is new, unchartered territory for China’s top flight, the city’s China League team was stuck in the relegation zone all year and went down.
This is entirely an economic, non-football related decision. Renhe Commercial Holdings is a major Chinese company and is Hong Kong listed. It’s mainly involved in building and maintaining underground malls in major cities. The company doesn’t have much in the way of operations in Xian and has recently had some issues with the local government. At the same time, during the summer, Renhe signed a major deal with the Guiyang city government to oversee a massive project in that city.
Renhe’s boss, Jia Yongge, is one of China’s richest men and money’s not an object for him as can be seen from the investment he’s made in the side over the past few seasons. However, without much business activity in Xian, investing money in a club located in that city doesn’t make commercial sense whereas moving the club to Guiyang, where the company is very active and seemingly has been given assurances by the local government and sports organization, is viewed much more positively.
The 52,000 seat Guiyang Olympic Sports Center, a sparkling new stadium that opened last year and has remained empty, is most likely where the club will play it’s matches. There has been little reaction in that city as the media has been advised “from on high” not to report the story until everything is finalized. Sun Jihai staying with the club was an important part of the move, and despite rumors of him returning to Dalian, Sun’s agreed not to leave and even take on some coaching responsibilities. The club has started winter training in Kunming, though national teamers Zhao Xuri and Yu Hai have yet to report to camp.
Xian football fans are very distraught over the move, but there are options. Obviously, the first one that comes to mind is Song Weiping’s Hangzhou Greentown, who are on the market. Song has insisted that the buyers agree to keep the team in Hangzhou, but so far all the offers have come from outside of Zhejiang. The sports bureau in Shaanxi plans on convening a meeting of large and medium sized companies to discuss options for an individual company or a group of companies to bring football back to Xian, most likely by purchasing Greentown. While Song’s attempt to keep the club in Zhejiang is noble, one wonders how long he’ll hold out or at what price he’ll give in.
It is a depressing day for all Chinese Super League fans, but it’s especially hard for those in Xian who must feel like this is deja vu all over again. Shaanxi Guoli was formed in the city in 1996, only to leave in 2004 after incidents with crowd control. The city was once again blessed with top flight football in 2006 when Inter Shanghai moved to the northwestern city. Despite loyally supporting the side for six years, even through multiple years of a average-at-best product on the pitch, the fans are getting screwed.
It’s at times like this that we as fans are once again reminded how little we mean in the eyes of the management of the clubs we love. To them, the club they control is nothing more than a play thing and a commercial for their business and fans are just annoying bugs to swat.