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Rumpus at Hongkou Stadium for “National Derby”

There are few sporting spectacles which rouse passions as much as a football match between two great rivals, and Saturday night’s grudge game between Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan, in the Jing-Hu Dazhan (京沪大战) , was no exception.

Shanghai and Beijing love to hate each other, and the twice-yearly footalling clash constitutes a very public forum for the expression of this rivalry. Indeed, the excitement was to boil over on several occasions throughout the evening, with all manner of shenanigans taking place – fights, scuffles, shirt-burning, laser-pens disrupting play, Beijing fans suddenly appearing in the wrong end, and clashes with the police after the game.

Your correspondent has seen quite a few Beijing-Shenhua games, but Saturday night’s game topped the lot.

Both clubs came into the game with contrasting fortunes. Beijing, who have always been one of China’s biggest sides but somehow have never won the Chinese Championship since it was formed in 1994, were riding high in the table. The mood up north is of cautious optimism these days since the local government pumped 20 million RMB into the club inline with other city improvements as part of the Olympics. The side also recently moved back to its spiritual home at the newly-refurbished Gongti Stadium after three years at Fengtai Stadium, and sold a record number of season tickets this year.

Indeed, over 50,000 fans crowded at that ground to watch Beijing take on Shenhua earlier this season in May, but the game finished a 0-0 stalemate. And just to rub their rivals nose in it, during the close season Beijing pinched Shenhua’s best player, Emil Martinez. Signing the Honduran international who was last seasons Chinese Super League player of the year was something of a coup and led to smug grins all round the capital.

Shenhua started the season, as always, with the burden of expectation. Owner Zhu Jun splashed the cash to sign a number of foreign players. With the exception of Belarussian Vyacheslav Hleb, and Australian Mark Milligan, the other signings floundered. Shenhua also crashed out of the Asian Champions League at the group stage, and continued their frustrating habit of winning most of their home matches but being abysmal on the road.

Flop signing from Argentina, Hernan Baracos joined Shenzhen on loan until the end of the season, and in a shock move, so did local hero Mao Jian Qing, whose rebellious habits appear to have pushed the patience of the Shenhua management too far. Despite Mao seemingly having a drink problem, Beijing again tried to get one over Shenhua by offering RMB 3 million for him earlier this season, but Shenhua turned it down.

Why would Beijing want to buy Chinese football’s ‘Bad Boy’ Mao? Well, in typical Northern style, Beijing CEO Luo Ning challenged Mao to a “drinking contest” and said he simply needs more strict discipline. Its unclear weather Luo and Mao will be breaking out the Baijiu over roast duck just yet, but seems Mao’s Shenhua days are numbered.

There is always a real buzz outside Hongkou before any game but tension was in the air on Saturday evening and you just knew something was going to happen. It went off about 90 minutes before the match when thee foolhardy Beijing fans walked right past the home end chanting and gesticulating. They were promptly set upon by a mob of Shenhua, and some classic toe-to-toe action followed. One Beijing appeared to escape while the other two were given a good kicking. The Old Bill were slow to intervene but thankfully there appeared to be no serious injuries. A Beijing fan’s shirt was ripped off his back however and prompted burned to massed cheering, dancing and singing by the Shenhua lads. The fuse had been lit.

The atmosphere inside Hongkou is impressive even during lesser games but during the match it was positively electric. A small knot of 100 or so Beijing fans jumped up and down, but they were drowned out by around 25,000 Shenhua supporters. The game kicked off amid ferocious chanting and singing and play surged back and forth at a typical big-match pace. Shenhua had the better of the first half and when Vyacheslav Hleb surged forward to score a well-placed goal on the half-hour mark, Hongkou went berserk.

Half-time passed and the teams kept up the pace in the second half. Attention towards the game was interrupted half way through the second half when, a crazed fool in a green T-shirt began chanting for Beijing – right in the middle of Shenhua’s Ultras, the Lanmo. As one might imagine, the Lanmo didn’t take too kindly to this and the individual was escorted out by police – but not before he was subjected to several kicks and punches. Looks of stupefied disbelief were exchanged between everyone as he was frog-marched out of the ground.

Back on the pitch, Shenhua continued to have the upper hand but some slackness at the back allowed Beijing to equalize 13 minutes from time through Huang Bowen. It was somewhat against the run of play and Shenhua reacted in typical fashion by looking lost and clueless. Beijing resorted to gamesmanship for the rest of the match, indulging in some blantat time wasting and players pathetically going for ground after minor clashes. Full-time, Shanghai Shenhua 1-1 Beijing Guoan.

After the match, around a thousand fans gathered beneath the metro station to sing, chant, dance and burn a Beijing team jersey (see video clip). Disorderly scenes followed as they were dispersed by the Police, who themselves were roundly abused with rude chants. The Shenhua fans continued to let off steam with several songs from their amusing anti-Beijing repertoire, before the crowd slowly disappeared into the night.

Shenhua were the better team but that was no consolation and they really needed to win to give their 2009 campaign a much-needed kick-start. However, this year’s standings are incredibly tight and it looks like it is going to be a very exciting finish to the 2009 season – just five points separate the top nine teams. Shenhua are 8th on 31 points, whilst Beijing moved into joint-top place on 36 alongside Shandong.

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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