Three weeks before the start of a season is an exciting time for fans who’ve waited months for the team they love to return to the field. Fans pour over the schedule, the transfer ins and outs, as their squad prepares with a final few friendlies. While that may be the case in the rest of the world, it’s far from it in China where over the past few days a team has changed cities (and names) and other sides are left scrambling for a home venue after ground reviews.
This year it seemed like the league had things in order, a preliminary schedule appeared online shortly after China’s Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday, almost a month and a half before the season, the earliest a schedule has been released for many years. Many, including us at , took it as a positive sign, we should have known better. That schedule was quickly taken down and we’re still waiting for a finalized schedule.
Part of the reason for that is Nanchang Hengyuan’s move to Shanghai, undoubtedly causing headaches for those at the CFA. The move has now been made official and the club has even changed names, now to be known as Shanghai Shenxin (“上海申鑫” cheekily using the same “shen” as new intercity rivals Shenhua). The change is a shock, made all the more so by the timing, just weeks before the season is to kick off. The draft schedule had it set up so that whenever one team in a city was at home, the other had a road game. With a third pair of clubs to worry about, it might not be doable to keep the schedule set up that way.
It’s not only teams moving on their own accord that is creating problems. The CFA did their walk through of all the planned stadium last week, less than a month before the start of the season, and found Qingdao’s Tiantai Stadium below standards, forcing the club to find a new venue in Qingdao or have to move. It may seem strange that a stadium that would be okay during the 2011 season is suddenly unacceptable, but the AFC actually did a walk through of the stadium last year and found it lacking. During the AFC walk through, they said the flaws including seating and tunnels, were “fatal” and would be too difficult to rectify. Qingdao Jonoon had a plan in place to make the changes that could be done, but didn’t go ahead with them because they never got confirmation from the CFA about whether the stadium would be able to meet the CFA’s standards after those renovations or if they shared the AFC’s view. The city does have Guoxin Stadium, which is up to all structural standards and would meet approval except for an important problem, the stadium has sat unused for five years and the pitch is in horrible shape and would require resodding. The club’s goal is to work with the government to get Guoxin ready for the season, otherwise the club will be forced to find a new home for the year, most likely in Jinan, Zibo, or Weifang.
Qingdao’s not the only ones to have problems, the CFA found the pitch at Guangzhou Fuli’s Yuexiushan Stadium below standards, forcing the newly promoted club to rush for a solution. Most likely the club will be able to remain at this classic venue, but its a little disconcerting that this is all happening so close to the season, forcing clubs to scurry to find quick fixes or new venues. It’s easy to complain that the Chinese Super League has yet to release a schedule, but what good’s a schedule when you don’t even know where teams will be playing? Cutting it this close to the start of the season is something you’d only see in China.