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Pub Talk: The show must go on…

beers lined upA somewhat gloomy Pub Talk this week as Bcheng and the Editor lament Beijing’s failure to beat Guangzhou in last Monday night’s big match. Also on the agenda is an impromptu socio-culturual discussion, Shenhua’s dysfunctional defence, super Jiangsu Sainty’s unstoppable form, and how Guoan’s 40,000 average crowds are confounding stereotypical views of the Chinese Super League matchday experience. Meanwhile, Bcheng is disgusted by the Editor’s suggested route back from Beijing’s away match to Dalian…

Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua): So lets cut straight to the car chase – is the Chinese Super League title race over after you failed to beat Guangzhou at home?

Bcheng (Beijing Guoan): I think so, 9 points in 12 matches is always going to be one hellf of an uphill battle. Especially because I can’t see Guoan keeping their pace as well.

S: Dissapointing conclusion to reach when we are barely past the half-way stage of the season.

B: Yes it is. Now it’s all on your boys, as they have two matches against Guangzhou. This Guangzhou side isn’t all that impressive, they are up because Guoan lost one more than them and drew three more, that’s not a huge difference. Guangzhou has just done a better job against the league’s lesser teams.

S: The lesser teams have probably been intimidated psychologically. Psyched-out as it were. The bigger teams, seems to me as if Guangzhou have rode their luck.

B: Exactly, so I don’t see them going the season undefeated, but I also just can’t see Guoan making up nine points, too many tough games remain.

S: As for us, I think Shenhua are in no fit state at the moment to offer much of a challenge against Guangzhou.

B: Right, you guys have your own struggles.

S: I don’t think Shenhua have ever had such a terrible run of form before. One point from 15… that’s relegation material.

B: It is, fortunately they started out alright and so should be safe. Will be interesting to see if they can right themselves against a true relegation zone side this weekend.

S: Well Shenhua were doing pretty well earlier in the season. But these last few games, just keep thinking they will turn it around, but they get worse each time….

B: You can’t face a side much worse than Henan though.

S: Your’re right – but only because Shenhua can’t play against themselves.

B: Henan’s going to be motivated to avoid the drop, and they’ve added that Aussie, so will be interesting to see what happens in that one.

S: So lets go back to the big match of Monday night – nearly 60,000 people at a Chinese Super League game – that doesn’t really jive with the common perception of the Chinese Super League does it?

B: Everything about a match in Beijing doesn’t jive with the common perception of the Chinese Super League. The rabid fans, the merchandise sold all around the stadium, the walk up to the stadium, even eating after the match. We were at a restaurant near the stadium and almost all the tables were taken by people in green. If you’re in Beijing and haven’t been to a match at Gongti, I highly recommend it, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.

S: Come on B-dog. Surely pulling on that green top, having a few beers with fellow Beijinger fans before the game, taking in the sights, sounds and unqiue buzz before the match, stepping down onto the terrace to join in rousing choruses of local pride 60,000 of your brethern, and everyone being together on all the ups and downs an thrills and spills during the biggest match of the season….surely that’s not as good as pulling on a fake Inter Milan shirt and going nuts for a team which is thousands of miles from where you lived and grew up? We can’t have people saying Chinese football produces amazing fan experiences, can we? That’s just not right at all………..Hahaha.

B: It doesn’t happen all over the country, but here in Beijing, the experience is first rate for sure.

S: So, at the risk of starting a Pub Talk fight, why do you think its like this in Beijing, but not Shanghai?

B: In part it started coming back after we won the title in ’09, Shanghai hasn’t had a championship in awhile, so that’s part of it. Beyond that, I honestly don’t know, I don’t buy into that Shanghai is more Eurocentric or doesn’t have time for the league or any of that crap.

S: Shenhua are averaging around 12,000 or so, the capacity of Hongkou is about 35,000. So its barely a third full. To be honest, I think Shenhua play fairly entertaining football, the pass it about and mount exciting counter attacks. So on the pitch, its really nowhere near as bad as some people say. As to why they don’t get a bigger turnout yet Beijing does, I think Shanghai has more fans “supporting” foreign clubs.

B: See, I don’t have a better reason, but I just don’t buy that. One game starts at 7:30 pm, the other starts at midnight, you have time for both. There are tons of people in Beijing that support both the local side and a Euro side (or in many cases, three). And I don’t agree that Shanghai is more “cosmpolitan” so they “look down” on the Chinese Super League. There are plenty of blue collar locals in their 20s, or high school kids as well, who have to be proud of their city and who are far from the nouveau riche of Shanghai. I mean that’s where Guoan’s support is strongest, at least in the “supporters sections”. Not to be punching above my weight class and go into socio-economics, but the supporters are often those “left behind” by China’s development, they don’t care about what is “cool” to the middle class, they just know they love football and they love Beijing, so they’re going to support the local side.

S: Interesting. There are definately fans from all classes of Shanghainese society in the Blue Devils. Off to the top of my head, I can think of one who works in the Diamond exchange market, another is a baggage handler at Pudong Airport, and another is from a watermelon farm in Nanhui district in the far south of what is Shanghai municipality. So that’s quite a mix. Seems its really individualistic.

B: It’s very cheesy, but I think in a lot of ways, “football explains China”, being a supporter, you learn a lot, you see a lot, politics, economics, you get an inside view into what’s going on in China.

S: I think it’s not cheesy, its spot on. I’ve seen Japanese fans and Chinese fans drinking and having a laugh together before Shenhua games – I can’t think of any other context that could possibly happen in China outside of a business setting.

B: It’s a good point that you made, even visiting fans often end up meeting up for a meal and a drink before or after a match.

S: So, after that unexpected socio-cultural discussion, shall we take a look at what’s going on this weekend?

B: Sure, we already got into your side’s trip to Zhengzhou a bit. Any Shenhua fans going to experience the Hanghai hospitality?

S: There will be a few going for sure….Oh, hang on. We are in fact playing at home. So I hope some Shenhua fans will still turn up.

B: Haha, yeah, my bad on that one.

S: I thought we were playing at home, but then assumed I had read the fixtures wrongly

B: At home to a side like Henan, this should finally be when you guys get back to winning ways

S: That’s what we thought before we went down to Shenzhen. But this bad run can’t last forever. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. Zhu Jun needs to splash the cash and buy us a proper defence.

B: Well, that will have to wait for next year…Good luck to Shenhua, I don’t want to see Henan in the Chinese Super League next year.

S: Haha. We all remember One Night in Hanghai….
So who are youre lot playing this weekend? And what’s the general mood in the wake of the big match last Monday night?

B: Away at Dalian, another side in the relegation zone, should be an easy 3 points. The mood is dejected, for sure, we missed our chance. With that said, 6 points in 12 matches is still hard to make up.

S: So its all a bit depressing in the pub this week really. What’s your take on the how the rest of the season is going to pan out?

B: I think its ultimately going to get a lot closer, leading to a bit more excitement around the end of the season. I don’t think Guangzhou will run away with it, I think Guoan can reduce their lead down to 4 or 5 points.

S: I have to say, I watched the big match live on TV, and Guangzhou didn’t look anything special at all.

B: They aren’t, credit it to a deeper squad (that’s what big spending will do for you) than other Prem sides and a bit of luck. Mark my words, they won’t go the season unbeaten. Then again, Guoan’s unbeaten streak is up to 15,I don’t see that continuing…

S: Yeah its all about streaks at the moment. You guys are unbeaten in 15, Guangzhou are unbeated all year, Shenhua haven’t won in 5 matches…. and what about Jiangsu’s result? They are ON FIRE.

B: They are! Still don’t understand how they crushed Liaoning like that, very surprising. Should be able to continue that streak this weekend when they host Shenzhen.

S: Yeah Kenneth is really lapping it up.

B: I’m sure, 2 points separate your sides, any prediction which one will finish higher?

S: Right now I don’t dare make any kind of positive prediction about Shenhua. Perhaps I might challenge Kenneth to a wager. That Shenhua will finish below Jiangsu….

B: Are either side in contention for a ACL spot? On and when talking about streaks, Shandong has gone 10 unbeaten.

S: I think Jiangsu could be if they continue their streak. Shenhua, its looking more and more unlikely. You may have read my half-term report on Shenhua, I think it mentioned our defence is a joke, since Zhu Jun didn’t bother making any new signings at the back, I’d say our chances of doing much this year have deteriorated significantly.

B: But Jiangsu is 8 points away. It’s going to need to be one mighty strong run and some top sides are going to need to fall apart. I think the interesting question is how long does Liaoning stay up there. They have to play Hangzhou this weekend, that could be an interesting match.

S: Interesting about Shandong made a poor start, seems this is their habit. But for Liaoning, they seem to be a side focused on youth, good for them I say. Perhaps their defeat was a one-off.

B: Will be interesting to watch, another fun weekend of Chinese Super League action.

S: Yeah. I just really hope Guangzhou slip up.

B: I don’t see it happening this weekend, its unfortunate they aren’t playing stronger opposition as they’ll be missing Feng Xiaoting, whose red card at the end of the Guoan match was a very smart one to take.

S: Yeah it may have been on purpose indeed. So for your match, will you be making the trip to Dalian or not?

B: I’m 80% sure I’ll make the trip, haven’t gotten my hands on return tickets yet, though it seems like they’ll be availabe up in Dalian.

S: That’s always risky business in China. Many is the time I have found myself stuck in another city, unable to secure train tickets back to Shanghai.

B: As much as I hate to fly, it’s always an option if worse comes to worse.

S: That’s true. Or the boat to Tianjin?

B: *audibly grumbling* you want me to spend time in Tianjin?!?? I think it’s time to bring this chat to a close, just booked my hotel, need to see if they can help me get hold of a ticket.

S: Hahahah.

B: Cheers, good luck to your boys Saturday, beat Henan!

S: Well, unfortunately I won’t be at the match on Saturday. I’m going to play at a big music festival in Rizhao, near Qingdao, this weekend.

B: It’s good to have a life away from football, wish I had one. Hope you’ll be lifting many a pint of fresh Qingdao.

S: I will indeed, and will knock one back in your honour. So, time to wrap it up. Cheers B, see you next week.

B: Cheers!

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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