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Authorities throw spanner in travelling fans’ works yet again

For the third year running, the Beijing-Shenhua game has been inconveniently-scheduled, making it very difficult for visiting fans, who have a 2,000 km round trip, to get to the game. Shenhua fan group’s plans have been thrown into disarry because train tickets to the capital were sold out to scalpers within minutes of being put on sale, because the game falls at a time when millions of Chinese are travelling in a public holiday period.

Shanghai Shenhua’s annual road trip to Beijing Guoan for the Jing-Hu Dazhan (京沪大战, literally Beijing-Shanghai big war), is the most eagerly awaited fixture of the year for Shenhua’s hardcore ultras group. It’s Chinese football’s huge grudge match, between the country’s two pre-eminent cities, each representing various fault lines in Chinese  society – north v south, political capital v economic capital, cultural mecca v dynamic metropolis, mandarin v Shanghainese dialect… the list goes on and this match is the only real public forum for such rivalries to be expressed.

Not surprisingly, security for this match is tight and its a match which always makes the authorities nervous. This would be the case for any big game in any big country. What also comes into play here is the China dimension – a long held fear by those in power of separatism. China’s history is long and full of various regions breaking away and coming back into the fold at various points. So anything in China which shows one group of Chinese in conflict with another, is something the government goes to great lengths to avoid. It’s all part of the “harmonious society” philosophy face they like to present to the outside world.

Unfortunately, this fear manifests itself in the scheduling of the match itself, which will be played on Saturday 25 Steptember, which has been designated a working day by the government. Frankly the Autumn holiday season is an absolute mess this September / October in China. Shanghaiist has a good piece on just how much of a dog’s dinner it is this time around.

To cut a long story short, there are public holidays coming up in late September, and then the national holiday from October 1-3. Some of these traditional holidays fall during the middle of the week, so the government makes people work on the weekend and take days off during the week instead so everyone can enjoy a longer period of days off in a row. So many people are taking annual leave in the week between the September public holidays and October public holidays, so they can take one huge long holiday, which means that tickets to go anywhere in China are scarce during this time.

Last year the Beijing-Shenhua game was also on a public Holiday, May 1. And in 2008, away fans were banned from travelling at all “because of the Olympics”. Yes, its not logical but thats the way officaldom explains it.

It’s not so much of a problem when Beijing come to Shanghai – Shanghai’s hooligan element is pretty much non-existent and police keep a tight lid on things. Shanghainese are generally a non-violent bunch. But Shenhua going to Beijing is another story, Beijingers are a bit more macho and eager for a dust-up, plus generally Beijing matches have a much higher attendance than Shanghai’s.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, it looks like a repeat of 2007’s amazing Beijing away trip is rather unlikely. During that visit, your correspondent witnessed for himself the very tight security arrangements put in place for the game – police escort for the fans bus, human wall of around 100 police each side between the stadium exit and the bus, with Beijing fans shouting and baying for blood behind the old bill.

But all in all, the scheduling of this game to co-incide with working weekends and an insanely busy holiday period is just another issue for Chinese football fans to deal with. But, its like water of a duck’s back – “This is China. We just have to get round these problems by ourselves,” said Blue Devils organizer Frank Ding.

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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