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Chinese Football: Bad boys reunited

China’s biggest football bad boys, Xian, come to town tonight to take on Shanghai Shenhua in a CSL clash with more complex plot twists than a tornado ripping across your granddad’s allotment.

The Terracotta Army City, famed in the world of Chinese football for being home to the craziest and rowdiest fans in the land, is something of a hotbed of football hooliganism, having been the scene of several riots in the past. Referee’s attacked, stadiums set on fire, vehicles overturned, pitch invasions, water cannons — Xian has been there, done that, and went back for more.

So much so that the city’s old team, Shaanxi Guoli, were banned from playing matches at their own stadium during the early 00s, before the club was finally kicked out of the city banished to Harbin, after one riot too many, and later disappearing off the map completely.

Of course, China is too big for large amounts of travelling fans to attend away matches, so Shanghai need not fear the modern day Terracotta Army. But of course, this is Chinese football, so there is always a twist. Inter Xian used to be called Inter Shanghai until moving out west last year — leaving their Shanghai fan base behind and reluctant to support hated cross-city rivals, Shenhua. So, Shanghai-based Inter fans are expected to turn out in numbers tonight to support what they still see as their team even although it is now based in far-off Shaanxi Province. The name may have changed, but not much else has — and Xian’s fans clearly haven’t mended their ways, having played a game on Wednesday behind closed doors following more trouble.

Shanghaiist’s sources close to certain sections of the Shenhua fan groups assure us that “we will be fighting even if the player’s aren’t” to settle old scores — a large ruck between Shenhua and Inter fans took place outside Shanghai Stadium when the teams last met in the city, almost exactly a year ago. Shanghaiist was at the match but left slightly early and missed the rumpus. We heard from several independent sources, however, that a significant football-related disorder did indeed take place.

The match looks like being the last one to have any particular significance for either team this season, as champions elect Shandong Luneng are 16 points ahead of second placed Beijing Guoan. The top two meet tomorrow and Shandong will clinch their first title since 1999 should they win. Shenhua currently lie third after a stop-start campaign in which their biggest problem has been putting the ball in the net. Former German international Carsten Jancker should be back after being sent off in last week’s game against Shenyang, but the giant striker has yet to score for his new club since joining in May.

The match kicks off tonight at 7:45 pm at Hongkou Stadium. Take Metro Line 3 to Hongkou Football Stadium station, and follow your nose. Tickets: Cheap and plentiful!


This post was originally published on Shanghaiist.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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