Soccer fans in America are a little unlucky when it comes to traveling to away games. Due to the size of our country diving to most games is not an option, unless you enjoy a three to five day road trip. China is similar in size to America but it holds one distinct advantage when it comes to traveling to away matches: High speed trains. While these may not be the cheapest means of transportation they’ll get you where you want to go in a timely fashion.
Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to travel to Jinan, home of Shandong Luneng, and watch Jiangsu Sainty take on the three time Chinese Super League champions. This post won’t be a match report, you can read my match report here. Instead this post will serve as recap of my trip which some of you may hopefully use as a guide for traveling to Shandong in the future to support you favorite Chinese Super League side.
Saturday afternoon my fiancée and I traveled to the newly built Nanjing South Railway Station. Hailed as the world’s second largest train station, this massive building is home of the majority of high speed trains going in and out of Nanjing. A single D train ticket from Nanjing to Jinan will set you back 190rmb and the trip takes roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes. The price might be a little steep if you’re buying multiple tickets but the D and G trains aren’t your grandma’s trains. Clean bathrooms complete with a sink with soap and water and comfortable seats with large leg room, these trains are a far cry from the old K trains and T trains, or the dreaded green trains.
After a pleasant train ride we arrived at Jinan West Railway Station. This brand new station is location far from the city center and it took us 30 minutes by taxi, or about 40rmb, to reach our hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel we quickly dropped off our bags and headed out to grab a bite to eat before the match. Luckily for us our hotel was located directly across from a BBQ/Muslim food street. We stopped in at one of the many restaurants and had some BBQ and dumplings. To wash down this delicious grub I tried the local brew, Laoshan beer. People often describe crappy beer as being water like in taste, but if there was ever a beer to be described as water, it would be Laoshan. I don’t consider this a bad thing, as it goes down easily, but if you’re looking to get a bit tipsy before the match you’ll need to down several Laoshans due to its low alcohol percent (3.1%).
From our hotel to the stadium it took about 15-minutes by taxi in heavy traffic. The stadium is fittingly called Shandong Stadium and isn’t too far from downtown. Around the stadium are several restaurants, including a KFC and Pizza Hut for all your western food needs. The atmosphere outside the stadium was what one would experience at any other stadium in the west before a big game. Tons of people milling about, scalpers and food vendors trying to make a quick buck. We ended up dropping 140rmb for two tickets. That seemed to be the going rate, and the scalper swore our seats were good.
On the inside Shandong Stadium looks a little rustic to say the least. If you told me the stadium was built in the 1960s I would have believed you, when in reality it was built in 1988. One downside about the seating is you must sit where in the section printed on your ticket. There are barriers between each section and police/security outside each entrance who check your tickets. This was unfortunate for me as I was hoping to stand with the Jiangsu fans who made the trip, but alas I was forced to sit among the home fans.
Shandong has a large fan base, which is to be expected considering they’re by far the most successful team in the short history of the Chinese Super League. That night there were over 25,000 people in attendance, including 50-75 Jiangsu fans. There seemed to be two supporter groups for Shandong, one along the sideline and another behind the goal. As far as songs and chants go, neither were very impressive, but visually one of the groups had several large flags and banners, which added to the atmosphere. Throughout the night the Jiangsu section constantly could be heard over the two Shandong groups.
Sitting among the Shandong fans wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought. Besides some jerk throwing paper airplanes at me there were no incidents throughout the match. Once the match ended though I decided to walk down to the front of the stands to congratulate the Jiangsu players as they left through the tunnel. This was probably a bad idea as I wasn’t there for more than 30-seconds and a water bottle whizzed by my head. I turned around to see a group of young men yelling and swearing at me. Another man next to me said now would be a good time to leave, and heeding his advice I took off before any more projectiles came my direction. You’ll never know how many curse words Chinese people know until you wear a rival teams scarf to a Chinese Super League match. It’s really quite impressive.
Outside the stadium there were no taxis to be found so my fiancée and I started walking. Seeing as it was a beautiful evening we just kept on walking all the way back to the hotel. This took us roughly 30-minutes, but it was pretty much a straight shot back to the city center from the stadium.
The next day we decided to take in some of the tourist attractions in Jinan. We saw two of the more popular attractions, Daming Lake and Baotu Spring. The lake wasn’t all that special, especially if you’ve already seen West Lake in Hangzhou or Slender West Lake in Yangzhou. Baotu spring on the other hand was actually quite nice. It was pretty crowded on a Sunday afternoon but the scenery there is beautiful. If you could only go to one of these two sites I’d definitely recommend the springs over the lake. Jinan is home to several other scenic locations but seeing as we only had one day we were unable to visit all of them.
I would absolutely consider visiting Jinan again to watch another soccer match. The dumplings and BBQ alone are enough to make me want to come back to this provincial capital. Next time though I might stand with the Jiangsu fans to avoid any paper airplanes or flying bottles.