The best part of being a sports fan is that you never have to be completely faithful to your team. Polygamy should be the flavor of the day in Shanghai, especially when Shenhua is out of town. With that in mind, when your weekend doesn’t have a trip to the Hongkou penciled into the calendar, there is instead the Shanghai Stadium and China League One’s Shanghai East Asia for your footballing needs.
Right off the bat, getting to the stadium and acquiring a ticket itself isn’t a problem. The Shanghai Indoor Stadium metro stop (‘ the red line one) will drop you nearby, Shanghai Stadium Station on line 4 is even closer, and there are also a number of bus routes (if you are coming from Shanghai South Station or there about, the 359 will do the trick. For those coming from Xujiahui – the intersections of Tianyaoqiao and Xingeng road, 15, 44, 122, 958 will all do the same). Once you get there, walk around the stadium rim until you get to ‘Staircase 6’, where you can buy a ticket from the office for 30RMB (there are obviously touts as well if you arrive with five minutes before kick-off).
Once inside, you can sit pretty much where you want – Shanghai Stadium is known locally as “The 80,000 stadium” so there is no shortage of seats. Certain stands are closed off but you’ll most likely find yourself in sections 16-19 which are at the midway point of the pitch, although you can choose whether you want to sit at ground level or watch the action from the seats from the upper tier. However should you go for ground level seats, you’ll be more than likely to come into contact with the exceptionally passionate East Asia fans, who despite their small numbers (a rough guess of the crowds suggest that East Asia games attract about three-thousand people) make an enormous amount of noise.
At this point, things become extremely surreal. Firstly, the drum to person ratio sounds like it’s about one-to-ten even though the number is probably higher and everyone stands for the whole game. The club’s supporters group gathers in section 17 and newcomers are quickly ushered into the crowd. When I was spotted coming down the stairs, one supporter, wearing an ‘East Asia Ultras’ t-shirt immediately came up to me, brought me down to the front and tossed me a replica shirt, insisting it was for free and that the price was that I had to come every week (which, rest assured, I will). The shirt itself also needs commenting on as well- its custom made, by which I mean that as East Asia don’t sell their replica kit, their Ultras have instead seemingly gone away and made their own carbon copy to issue to their members.
In terms of the team itself, East Asia (from this season known as Shanghai Tellace for sponsorship reasons) set themselves up in a well-marshaled 4-5-1 formation that tries to control the middle third of the pitch before finding space on the counter attack. Many of the team’s Chinese players are drawn from the club’s youth academy run by Shanghai football kingpin Xu Genbao, and a lot of the East Asia’s play goes through its attacking midfielder, Wu Lei, who made his debut for the club in 2006 aged only 14. Like his former stablemate, current Shenhua playmaker Cao Yunding, Wu will drift around the pitch, picking up possession and looking to exploit space in the defense. Other decent East Asia players who are well worth the price of admission are forward Lu Wenjun, who gave Dai Lin a few problems in a recent preseason friendly and Ghanaian centreback, Ransford Addo.
With Shenhua either out of town and/or having their games scheduled for late in the evening, (East Asia almost exclusively play at 3pm on Saturdays), there aren’t too many better ways to spend a weekend afternoon than taking in some lower-league Chinese football. Having already made a promise to the Sirus Ultras (whose name is a nod to the Sirus star constellation), that’s what I’ll be doing at least…