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A Night at Hanghai…

the battle of Hanghai

This post is going to be long, please  put up with me and maybe take the time to read it to the end.  This was written on the bus on the way back and has absolutely nothing to do with the match, but to be honest, there were 15-20 minutes last night where the match was the last thing on our minds.  I’ll have a match report tomorrow, but what happened at Hanghai and the general issue of away supporters security needs to be discussed.  Will the CFA do the right thing?!?

the battle of HanghaiHanghai Stadium’s away stand has a high, rusty fence on all three sides.  It’s there to “protect” away fans, but on Saturday night it felt a little like a prison.

At a rest stop a few miles outside of Zhengzhou, there was a congenial mood among the supporters, but as we left the order was given that nobody should show colors.  People changed into non-green clothing, the bus curtains were drawn, and the mood got serious.

In China, the vast majority of fans aren’t looking for trouble on an awayday, they’re just out to support their side.  At the same time, they know to expect the unexpected and that aggro could be involved.

The walk to the stadium was without incident, the calm before the storm.  In a bit of luck for us, as we were being led to the away terrace, Henan’s bus pulled up, giving Guoan fans a chance to get up close and personal, chant, and offer a “welcoming” to the home side.

The pitch at Hanghai is surrounded by a large track, so the home “ultras” were just a Tony blur in the night at the other end of the ground.  Guoan fans who were expecting creature comforts like water and toilets were having a laugh, nothing was available to us. Henan made the “intelligent” decision to deploy their riot police in the stands on either side of the away end, these stands were completely empty.  Instead, their idea of protection for the away fans was locking and barricading the exits to the stand.

impromptu barracade

Yes, we tore up the seats. No, if the police would have prevented Henan fans from entering our end, this wouldn't have happened.

When things kicked off after Henan fans busted through one of the locks and invaded the away end, where were the riot police?  Still protecting empty seats.  It took the efforts of Beijing fans, and the few police that would do anything to keep them out.  It was only at this point that Guoan fans started tearing up the seats to create an impromptu barricade to slow down another invasion.  At the same time, it was the efforts of the Guoan substitutes, in particular Roberto and Lang Zheng, who prevented Guoan banners from being ripped down by Henan fans/media/club representatives who invaded the track (and went untouched by police).

At this point, the goings on of the match became unimportant and the safety of the Guoan fans, in particular the female fans that made the trip, took precedence.  Fenced in on all sides, with one exit locked, if Henan fans were to invade in numbers, there would be no way out.  Where were the riot police?  Still busy protecting the empty seats.

A stalemate was finally reached and the gate was closed, but only after garbage cans containing piss and puke was thrown on the terrace and a fire extinguisher was sprayed at some fans.

After all of this, the Guoan fans who had been in good voice up to this point were in a state of silent shock and anger.  When Henan was awarded a late penalty, it just seemed like the unjust end to a bad day.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t over.

The match ended around 9:30 pm and the away fans settled in for a bit of a wait.  Even an hour later, we could still hear a lot of Henan fans outside and had no idea what would await us once we left the stand.

As the hours passed, Guoan players, in particular Xu Liang, who knew of our plight locked in the stand without water, made efforts to get water to us but were turned back by the police. We were finally provided a substantial amount of water at almost midnight, 6 hours after entering Hanghai.

As negotiations for our “release” from Hanghai “prison” went on, weibo pictures of the night’s events were passed along and news came that our buses were destroyed by Henan fans.  When we were finally allowed to leave just after 2 am, continuing the prison metaphor, the two cops served as wardens and only saw us off to the gates of Hanghai, leaving us to head down the streets of Zhengzhou to our bus alone.  Fortunately, only one bus was damaged.  Beijing fans departed Zhengzhou just before 4 am, 21 hours after the whole journey began.

What would it have taken to avoid this incident?  It doesn’t take a police presence like at Gongti, just a willing police force to form a wall and prevent home supporters from getting to the away end.  Zhengzhou had the police in place, unfortunately they needed to protect empty seats.

I’ve asked this question before, but what will it take for the Chinese Super League/CFA to step in and standardize the away supporter process?  A death?  A massive riot?  Zhengzhou knew how many Guoan fans were making the trip and agreed to make preparations, but in the end they were unwilling or just didn’t care to carry them out.

I kept getting the question, “would something like this happen abroad?”  The answer is an unequivocal no.  Hooliganism isn’t a part of the American sports scene, where police deal are heavy handed when it comes to this sort of thing, and most of Europe has taken massive strides to clean up its leagues.  It isn’t like China doesn’t already have a model for how to deal with it.  The Gongti away experience, while it may be overkill, is a shining example for the whole league, 1/5th of the security that Gongti has in place would have been enough to guarantee last night was completely uneventful.  While it may be expensive, so is the over RMB100,000 price tag for damages to the Guoan buses and Hanghai seats.  Hopefully the CFA doesn’t just focus on what happened in Zhengzhou on Saturday, but takes time to look at the bigger issue.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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