[singlepic id=57 w=320 h=240 float=right]It can be difficult finding a woman who loves football, even harder turning one into a fan, but amazingly I tried to do so — lo and behold I did it! Some use the game as a diversion from their home life, but since I knew that I didn’t only want to attend home matches but a number of away ones, I knew it wouldn’t work unless I tried to bring my wife into the experience of it. I figured I’d convince her to go and watch, but I never expected I’d turn her into a serious Beijing fan. Here’s her story…
I never really paid attention to football before, in fact I almost never watched it, like most Chinese people I took it as universal truth that Chinese football was unwatchable and the national team would always lose. However, once I met my husband, that slowly started to change (though I still have no faith in the national team).
As I said, I was never into football, it was meaningless to me, but after I met my now husband, I started paying attention more and more. He’d be watching it every weekend, so I’d join him from time to time with an eye on the game but more focused on a book, magazine, or just about anything else. Now I’ve changed to the point that I am at every home game and many of the away games and am growing to love the sport.
It wasn’t an easy path, at first I’d sit with him when he was watching at home, but I always refused actually attending a match. Then finally in 2009, on the last day of the season Beijing Guoan was playing for the title, a win would mean they secured their first title in 16 years and I decided I was ready to go to the stadium. I was excited, not because I liked football or was a Guoan fan, but as a Beijinger, I fel t that Guoan was my team and I wanted to see them win a title. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a ticket and so watched at home while my husband texted me from the stadium during what was a very momentous victory and a happy day.
My first time actually attending a match was the next season, when Barcelona came to Beijing and played Guoan at the Bird’s Nest. In reality, I didn’t want to go, but my husband surprised me with a ticket so I assented. We both remembered fondly the 2008 Olympics and he’d attended the Italian Super Cup there in 2009, so he wanted to take me in 2010, if for nothing else to witness the sight of it all. I agreed to go and even put on a Guoan jersey, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. To be honest, I felt like the money was wasted, I didn’t really understand the game, though my husband was trying to be patient and explain it.
At the same time, I didn’t hate the experience, but my husband insisted it was a boring day and decided that since I didn’t completely resist the experience, I’d be okay going again. He decided it was time to make up for the Bird’s Nest boredom by taking me to Worker’s Stadium, with its large crowds and bawdy language. Again, he’d buy tickets without telling me, but after awhile it just sort of became natural that if there was a game that weekend, we’d go together and get tickets from a scalper outside the stadium. The games weren’t that often so I could put up with it, and though I didn’t always understand what was going on, I got excited alongside everyone else when a goal was about to be scored or other tense moments.
Then 2011 came along and he applied for a season ticket. When it arrived, I was shocked to find not one, but two tickets, one with my photo on it. He had done it again. I couldn’t easily transfer the ticket and so that meant I was going to be committing to a trip to Gongti every other weekend.
After awhile, I even became what I never expected, a real fan. At first it was due to the fans around me and the real spirit that they had, they were as much a part of the team as the players on the field and there was a real bond among them and a willingness to reach out to other fans. Also, since I was an athlete, I enjoyed the fight for victory on the pitch and the tightness of the game that could explode at any minute. Plus, the fans in the Yulinjun (Royal Army, the Beijing supporters section) where my seat was were intense, standing all 90 minutes, jumping around, and singing and screaming themselves hoarse sometimes. This was unique, this was cool! I started learning the rules of the game and even started remembering who each of the players were. A year before I only knew a single player and it took me a number of games to learn, by 2011 I knew every single one, including some of the reserve players.
My first away match experience was an unforgettable one, away at Dalian. I was nervous going into it because I’d known what happened earlier in the season when Guoan fans went to Henan and I was scared it could happen again. My husband and other fans reassured me and the Dalian fans did a great job protecting us on the way to the stadium and met us after the match to assure we got away safely. The match itself was kind of boring, a 0-0 draw, but afterwords the Dalian fans took us out to eat and drink. We took over the entire bottom room of the restaurant, 20-30 Dalian fans on one side of the table and a similar amount of Guoan fans on the other side. We ate together, we drank together, we even sang our chants together, it was a memorable night.
The experience caused me not to fear away matches and so I agreed to go to Qingdao with a group of fans. There was no drinking with the other team’s fans, but Guoan fans had a number of fun meals together and a great time traveling around the city and then going to the game. I was also touched by the male chivalry, when things got a little heated after the match, the supporters organized it so that the women and younger fans were in the middle while the bigger guys were on the outside, to protect everyone, though fortunately nothing happened.
Guoan failed to win the title this past season, but they played hard and performed well, and won a new fan. I’ve gone from being “forced” to attend matches to happily applying for my own season ticket in only a couple of years. Over the past year, I’ve met more fans, made some great friends, and heard a lot of stories. I know that I’ll be at Gongti for many more years, my story merging with all the others. While not everything on the field is always perfect, when you see all the people in green, all the fans who love the team, it’s a moving experience and enough to turn someone into a real football fan.
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