Saturday night offered a number of tough choices for football fans in northern China. The Bird’s Nest hosted the annual major match to celebrate the anniversary of the Olympics, this year’s was a truly unique occassion, seeing AC Milan and Inter Milan face off in the Italian Super Cup. In nearby Tianjin, Real Madrid was facing off against Tianjin Teda, who cancelled a league match for the friendly. Of course, there was also a full slate of Chinese Super League matches across the country, including the capital side playing away to Dalian. For those in the region, what they chose says a lot about where their heart is.
I’m not going to write about the Italian Super Cup, if you want to know more about it, go here. To be honest, that came was surely somewhat more entertaining than the abomination that happened in Tianjin. After Guangzhou, who’ve maintained a position on top of the Chinese Super League all year, were crushed by Real, it was pretty easy to guess what would happen to Tianjin. Real Madrid proceeded to crush Tianjin 6-0 in an uncompetitive snoozefest (more on that here), I can’t be bothered with writing much about what happened on the field Saturday night, but there were some interesting behind the scenes issues involving this match.
Tianjin splits their home matches between Teda Stadium in a development zone on the outskirts of Tianjin and the Olympic Stadium, built to host the final of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, as well as Olympic football matches. The match against Real Madrid used the much larger (and more central) Olympic Stadium.
In an “only in the Chinese Super League” moment that angered many, the Real players already used to be being treated as kings, received treatment above and beyond proper in Tianjin. The home side was forced to give their home locker room to Real as well as wearing their change kits so that Real Madrid could wear their traditional white kits. As it turned out, slating Tianjin as the away team wasn’t a mistake, once the match started, it was obvious the crowd was fully behind the Spanish team.
The foreign players on Tianjin were very angry, stating the treatment was a “joke” and the anger boiled over to a few incidents during the match. Yu Dabao, one of Tianjin’s stars, was quoted on Weibo as saying “They’re treating Real Madrid as Gods, this is our home field, this is our city, such a pain,” among other things.
Unfortunately, the reality of these friendlies are that fans are coming out to support the famous international visiting side. And for fans who are Euro-centric, these crushing midseason victories of Chinese Super League sides (typically more a reserve team than anything) only solidify their impression that the Chinese league is not worthy of their time. They won’t stop anytime soon because they sell tickets and help clubs (only a few, select group of European clubs as can be seen from the massive failure of Birmingham’s tour last year) sell a ton of shirts (and yes, many of them are buying official, licensed gear). It is difficult to see what these games do for the domestic scene beyond making some money for the local club, though perhaps they help inspire young kids who see the matches or participate in camps the clubs put on.