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Pub Talk: Special Edition On the Upcoming CSL Season

With the season about to start, we decided to give you a special, slightly out of the ordinary, pub talk.  We convened supporters of five of the country’s top clubs and asked some of the questions that are on everybody’s mind before the start of the season.  Don’t worry, we’ll also help you find the place to grab a drink before a match in Hangzhou or where to go for a bite after a Guoan match.  So here goes, five contributors, five teams and a unique look at the upcoming season.

With the season almost here, what are you most excited about?
Shanghai Shenhua (Shanghai Ultra): As a Shenhua fan, and in particular as one who just endured on of the club’s worst ever seasons, this is shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons ever for the team – due to Anelka coming of course. If the club remains at Hongkou the stadium will be sold out for much if not all of the season I think. This will be the first time for many Shenhua fans to experience this. With Guangzhou having a star team also and other sides really upping the quality of foreign signings, this is also going to be a very exciting season for the Chinese Super League as a whole.

Beijing Guoan (BCheng) : Like any fan, I’m eternally optimistic, the new season is almost here, anbody can win it, I’m excited for Beijing’s title chances and just can’t wait for the next eight months or so of great soccer.

Jiangsu Sainty (Kenneth: The most exciting part of the 2012 season will be to see which teams, if any, will challenge Guangzhou Evergrande for the league title.

Hangzhou Greentown (Trevor): First and foremost, the return of Hangzhou Greentown to playing matches inside the city of Hangzhou. Playing 100Km away from the bulk of the team’s fan base was debilitating last year. This year, combined with the former 2010 Japanese MNT coach taking the job, should establish Hangzhou as a Chinese Super League must-see-team, both home and away.

Guangzhou Evergrande (Piers): I’m excited about our first season in the Asian Champions League. On paper it looks like a baptism of fire coming up against the champions of Japan and Korea in the group stages but it will be great to see how we fare against Asia’s finest. The emergence of Shanghai as a financial force and Beijing Guoan hopefully in for another strong season means it should be very interesting at the top this year also.

Which match are you most looking forward to?
Shanghai: I think it has to be the home and away fixtures against Beijing, as we posted recently, this year’s China Derbies are going to be special not only because of all the general increased interest in the Chinese Super League, but also because Joel Griffiths and Mao Jianqing are going to be playing against their old clubs. More fuel to the fire!

Jiangsu: For us Jiangsu fans the season opener at Shanghai is the biggest match. After losing in truely gut wrenching fashion in 2009 and 2011 it will be interesting to see if Jiangsu can shake off the demons of the past and grab a point or three in Hongkou.

Hangzhou: Hangzhou’s match against Guoan. There’s a chance to get several members of the team gathered in Hangzhou, where I can show them a real football experience, Longjing tea included!

Guangzhou: Personally I’m looking forward to playing Guangzhou Fuli away, one of my favourite memories of last season was travelling with the Evergrande faithful to an away game in Shenzhen and singing our lungs out for 90 minutes. Local derbies are what football rivalry is all about and it adds even more spice to the fixture that Fuli were a Shenzhen club last year.

Beijing: I always love the China Derby matches, but this year I’m also pumped up for our two clashes against Evergrande, last yer both ended in draws, I want to see us taking 3 points from one of them.  Also, for purely personal reasons, I’m looking forward to when the Dalian fans come to Beijing, a night of drinking is sure to ensue.

What’s your favorite part of the matchday experience at your ground?
Guangzhou: The Ultras at the Tianhe Stadium have enough songs to easily fill a 90 minute game and it’s enjoyable joining in with them even though my Cantonese isn’t quite to par. There seems to be a lot more actions to Chinese chants compared to in England and they are always well rehearsed combined with huge flags being waved. It’s truly a spectacle and great fun to witness and be part of.

Beijing: I live close to the ground, so I don’t get the chance for the buildup on the way to the match and seeing everyone in the subways, but I always avoid the east gate and make a special walk around to the north gate.  The atmosphere there is just amazing and unmatched anywhere in China.

Hangzhou: The limitless imagination and creativeness of profanity from the Greentown fans and the ruthlessness that can make anyone a victim, on their off-day.

Shanghai: I enjoy taking the elevated metro train to the ground and looking down onto the bustling scenes around the stadium. Having pre-match drinks or hot pot always gets me in the mood and the lads banter around the table sets the tone for the rest of the evening.

Where’s the best place to grab a bite before/after a match?
Beijing: There is a popular northwest style restaurant across from Worker’s Indoor Stadium that gets a lot of fans, though a lot tend to congregate at the McDonald’s close to Dongsishitiao station or at the KFC across from the stadium.  For a night game, the Den’s great for a happy hour pizza (the longest running (and longest) happy hour in Beijing) and during the colder months, nothing’s better than Beiping Lamb Soup across from the east gate, but my choice is Chun Yu Shifu, a block away from the stadium.

Jiangsu: Considering that there are no restaurants around the stadium in Nanjing your best bet is to hop on the subway post-match and head further into the city to grab a bite.

Hangzhou: For the white collar; Waipojia, a local chain-hit with affordable and standard dishes from everywhere.
For the blue collar; BaiShaQuan (白沙泉)…BBQ Seafood, Xiaolongbao, and 3kuai Qingdao, all in the company of local eye candy.

Shanghai: For food, the Tan Huoguo hotpot restaurant is the venue of choice for most Shenhua fans. Renao indeed, as the Chinese themselves say.

What about a pre/post match pint?
Hangzhou: BaiShaQuan or nearby Maya Bar.

Shanghai: If you want to sink a few beers, the Tsingdao pub on the corner of Sichuan Lu is your best bet, to the best of my knowledge there aren’t any other bars near the ground.

Jiangsu: See last question.

Beijing: Since Worker’s Stadium is so close to Sanlitun, there are plenty of choices, but Fubar or the Den are two good ones.  Personally, I prefer doing it “Beijing style” and enjoying a cold Yanjing straight out of the bottle while sitting outside at a small restaurant.

What makes your fans unique amongst Chinese Super League fans?
Shanghai: Shenhua’s fan groups have a very well deserved reputation for being amongst China’s most hardcore. True to the ultra spirit, they just don’t stop and have endless passion for their team and see supporting Shenhua celebrate their local culture. These guys are the emodiment of what being a football fan is all about.

Beijing: No team in China has a better fan culture than Beijing, as opponents and other team’s fans grudgingly admit after a trip to Gongti.  The prematch “wall” of scarves is a thing to behold.

Guangzhou: We’re unique because we’re vocal, we’re passionate and we come out in our droves week in week out for the team come rain or even heavier rain. I recommend anyone to come to the Tianhe Stadium and witness the sea of red for themselves.

Will the Anelka move turn out to be a big success or a big bust?
Jiangsu: As a fan of Jiangsu I hope the move turns into a bust of monumental proportions, but as a fan of the league I hope it works out and encourages other big name players to take the plunge into Chinese soccer.

Beijing: It depends on how you define success.  He’s bound to bring a ton of new attention to the league, and will bring in new fans, though hopefully they’ll stay once Anelka has left.  I think measuring it solely on “on-the-pitch” accomplishments and trophies, its bound to be a failure, but Shenhua could have found a “no-name” player who could score a ton of goals.  They choice of Anelka wasn’t so much about what he’ll do on the pitch for the club, but what he’ll do off it.

Shanghai: Nothing is certain but I would be willing to put money on Anelka being a hit. Everyone knows his history isn’t the smoothest so Shenhua will be working hard to pull out all the stops. He will be a hero right from the start and I think he will be right at home in Shanghai and at Hongkou with the team’s freverent supporters.

Hangzhou: This is the quintessential question of the 2012 Chinese Super League season, but the answer doesn’t matter. Almost like the Beckham effect in the MLS; regardless of how he performs there’s already been oodles of press circulating the Chinese Super League; and so far it’s all been positive. Even if he turns out to be a flop, is booed each game by the Shenhua ultras, and leaves in July, it’s still a milestone for the Chinese Super League and a reason to keep raising the stakes of the domestic game.

Guangzhou: I think it’ll be a success for Shanghai and for the Chinese Super League as a whole. He’s scored goals throughout his career and he still has the ability to do so for a good few years to come. One man doesn’t make a team but it’s a big coup for Shanghai and it’s made the rest of the world stand up and pay attention to Chinese football, I’m sure more big names will follow.

What was your club’s biggest offseason move?
Shanghai: Hmmm. I think possibly some foreign striker. What’s his name again?

Beijing: It has to be the return of Shao Jiayi, though Bai Xiaolei’s going to have the most pressure on him, it’s up to him to replace Yang Zhi, those are some big shoes to fill.

Hangzhou: Okada! Fresh off masterminding a World Cup campaign that designated Japan as the ‘Brazil’ of Asia, Okada is expected to bring a new brand of football to Hangzhou. I don’t expect immediate results, but if the team can adapt to the playing system that has made Okada a success then there’s hope for Greentown to challenge for the title by September.

Jiangsu:  Biggest gain would be signing Deng Zhouxiang, biggest loss had to be losing Liu Yu and Tan Si.

What’s the one reason you’d give to non-Chinese Super League fan friends as to why they should come watch a match?
Beijing: No matter how much better the European leagues are, nothing beats standing in a stadium watching a live match that you paid next to nothing for, but it’s also a great way to meet and befriend a diverse spectrum of Chinese society that most foreigners never see.

Jiangsu: Cheap entertainment!

Shanghai:  Simply that nothing is better than experiencing a football match in the stadium surrounded by those who love the team.

Guangzhou: It’s hard to pinpoint one reason why I’d get a friend to come and watch because for me there are many: friendly but vocal atmosphere, decent prices, good technical football and a league which is improving year by year.

Do you think this is going to be the biggest Chinese Super League season ever and why/why not?
Hangzhou:  Absolutely. Again, the Anelka factor. You can guarantee that the international football community has at least an occasional eye cast on Shenhua. You can also guarantee that all of the players and fans of the Chinese Super League are aware of this and will feel like it’s time to raise up their level of professionalism and performance.

Shanghai: Without a doubt it will be the biggest Chinese Super League season simply because interest in the Chinese Super League, both domestic and international, has never been higher. The Chinese Super League was already on the way up for the past couple of years, attendances have risen steadily and now with Guangzhou buying big, and Shenhua’s blockbuster signing Anelka about to make his debut, stadiums are going to be fuller than ever.
Guangzhou: I believe it will be the biggest Chinese Super League season so far because it will be competitive at the top of the league and Anelka’s arrival as the first true superstar of Chinese football is also pivotal. Investment is key to the success over here and moves for players like Anelka and Dario Conca are positive as these are players not at the twilight of their career but still have a great deal to offer. It’s just the beginning still but homegrown talents can learn and improve from these players and maybe one day in the not too distant future there will be eleven Chinese players who will be good enough to make the national team competitive on the international stage.
Jiangsu: Absolutely. Clubs spending big bucks on big named players and two inter-city derby’s is bound to make the 2012 Chinese Super League season one to remember.
Beijing: I don’t see why not, lots of exciting derbies, some budding non-derby rivalries, the first time we’ve ever seen professional soccer in Guizhou, two newly promoted teams that are bound to be competitive, a league that should finally be “clean”, and of course the arrival of a certain Frenchman; I’m looking forward to what hopefully will be a tight, exciting year.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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