You’ll have to forgive me for the delay in my match report. I’ve spent the past few days trying to keep my mind off the devastating events I witnessed last Saturday night in Shanghai. It was a match that started with so much excitement but ended in utter heartbreak for the visitors.
Thankfully two contributors were present at the match, me and the editor himself. If you haven’t done so already check out the match report from a Shanghai point of view, it’s guaranteed to have a jollier tone than what you’re about to read. Because the earlier report goes into detail regarding the happenings on the pitch, I’ll structure this account more as a summary of the day for the traveling fans.
A supermarket just north of the Nanjing city center was the meeting point for hundreds of Jiangsu fans who were eagerly awaiting the match in Shanghai later that night. Buses are not the ideal form of transportation between the two cities, but the price was right. A ride on one of the G-trains will get you from one city to the other in 75-minutes, but a one-way ticket will cost you 274rmb. The bus on the other hand took over four hours one way but only cost 130rmb, which included a ticket to the match.
When one thinks of football fans traveling in mass to a rival city a single phrase comes to mind; booze cruise. If these buses were traveling from Seattle to Portland, or vice versa, you better believe people would be drowning themselves in alcoholic beverages. Kegs would run dry, flasks would be emptied, and the toilets on the buses would runneth over with puke and piss. The bus I was on resembled more of a middle school field trip than anything you’d experience in America. Besides me sipping on a few bottles of jinjiu, there were only two other men drinking on the bus, and they split a six-pack. Hardly the pre-game festivities that Western sports fans engage in.
Regardless of my reserved bus mates the four hour trip passed quickly. The Jiangsu caravan stopped just after a toll booth on the city limits to group up. I counted eight full sized buses and dozens of cars that all lined up to head into the city together. There were two police cars that joined us, and I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s nice, they’ll escort us into the city”. Once we started off on the highway I noticed there weren’t any other cars on the road. The next freeway entrance showed why; the Shanghai police had blocked off the entire freeway for the Jiangsu contingent to enter the city. This VIP treatment left me speechless. As we exited the freeway we saw that every intersection had police vehicles stopping all traffic. The way the Shanghai police handled this situation was highly commendable, and almost the exact the opposite what fellow contributor bcheng experienced the same night in Henan.
Once the buses arrived at the stadium we were greeted by hundreds of policemen. Some were the local police you see sprinkled around stadiums at every Chinese Super League match while others were riot police with shield and all. By far the most intimidating of the police were the men dressed in black cargo pants with matching black polo shirts and black berets. Strapped to their sides were massive nightsticks that were enough to scare off any troublemakers.
The 700-some odd Jiangsu supporters were stuffed in the second level of Hongkou stadium. Not having a track between the fans and the field helped give us a good view of the action. We also had a good view of Shanghai’s largest supporters group, The Blue Devils. The two groups of fans exchanged yells and chants throughout the entire evening.
Again, like I said before, the Editor has already given a solid match recap so I won’t write too much on the actual match. Although I will give you my somewhat bias opinion on some of the key moments of the game.
Jiangsu didn’t have too many chances in the first half, with only three shots on goal, but they were able to convert two of the three chances into goals. Were they lucky to be up 2-0 at half? I guess you could say that, but everybody has to get lucky once in a while, and so far this season Jiangsu has found little of that on the road.
The start to the second half couldn’t have gone any worse for Jiangsu, giving up an early goal off a PK. My first reaction was that the ref was being bribed because there was no way that foul warranted a PK. Although after watching the reply I can understand why the ref called the foul. Jiangsu’s Zhou Yun went up for the header with his elbows out. I’ve seen red cards given for that before so I’ll admit the ref got that one right.
With Shanghai reducing the deficit to one goal so early all the wind had been taken out of Jiangsu’s sails. It was only a matter of time until they leveled it. Moments before Shanghai scored the second goal the home side was awarded a corner kick. From where I was standing the ball clearly (and I mean clear as the light of day) went off a Shanghai player and out of bounds. There was no question in my mind that corner kick should not have been given, but it was, and it led to the goal. With the amount of pressure Shanghai had been applying a equalizing goal was bound to happen, but the way it did made it a tough pill to swallow for the Jiangsu faithful.
The final goal was downright painful. I’ve only been able to sit through the replay once. Watching your keeper leave the box in the final minutes of the game to stop a oncoming striker is nerve-racking, but then when that striker dribbles around the keeper and heads straight towards the goal, that’s heart stopping. When the ball is finally drilled into the back of the net, you wonder how a sport can be so cruel.
After the final whistle was blown, and Shanghai won 3-2, the hundreds of Jiangsu fans could do nothing but stare in disbelief as the home team stormed the field. Shanghai’s Dai Lin showed what a class act he was by running in front of the visiting fans and yelling and making gestures in our direction. I couldn’t hear him but I bet he wasn’t wishing us a safe journey home. It takes a real tough guy to scream obscenities at hundreds of fans in the nosebleed section.
Did Jiangsu deserve a draw? Based on the second half performances by both teams you could argue that Shanghai got a well earned three points. The home side thoroughly outplayed Jiangsu the entire half, but Jiangsu never gave up. They showed heart and battled until the final minutes, only to give up the winning goal in the 90th minute. As a Jiangsu fan I’d say we deserved a draw, but as Clint Eastwood so coldy told Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, “deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.
I was expecting to be greeted by jeering Shanghai fans after the game, but as we exited the stadium is was eerily quiet. Once again the police were out in force and there wasn’t a single Shanghai fan to be seen as we were escorted to our buses. As we exited the city all the streets and freeway entrances were again closed off. Other cities police should take notes on how Shanghai handles things because they were top notch.
All in all I’d say this turned out to be a very memorable away trip. The result wasn’t the one I was hoping for, but as the Editor texted me after the match, “That was entertainment of the highest order.” You can’t argue with him there. If anything this was about as lively a football match as you’ll ever see. Hundreds of fans hurling insults and profanity (and sometime bottles) at each other added to the already great environment.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015