Here at , we spend almost all of our time focusing on the Chinese Super League (CSL) and not very much talking about the other levels of football in China. Our intrepid reporter sacrificed his Saturday for the betterment of all the readers, to give a look at all the different footballing options available on a Saturday in the capital.
08:00 – The fucking alarm on my cell phone is going off, it’s way too early for this to begin! Knowing full well there’d be an early start to the day, I packed it in around 01:30 the night before (well this morning) after a couple “pops” to celebrate Beijing Guoan’s victory over Dalian Aerbin.
08:35 – I finally get out of bed and have my first cup of coffee while looking at highlights from the night before and the news stories. Not much going on, but it seems the news is really going easy on Marcello Lippi. Perhaps he and Nicolas Anelka should talk, it won’t last for long.
09:15 – Showered and cleaned up, I head out and am lucky to get a cab almost right away. It’s Friday nights at Gongti and Saturday mornings at Xiao Wu Ji, which literally translates as “small weapons base”, is there a cooler named football ground? Unfortunately, it’s also located in southeastern Beijing in the middle of nowhere and I have to go over the location multiple times with the cabbie.
09:45 – I arrive at Xiao Wu Ji, thankfully we didn’t get lost or stuck in traffic, but because of the insane decision to move reserve match start times up from 10:00 to 9:30, I’ve missed the opening 15 minutes of the match. Guoan is up 1-0, but it seems nobody has any freaking clue who scored or how it happened.
10:05 – Guoan scores again, this time I’m here to watch youngster Zhang Junzhe elevate and head in a corner kick, giving Guoan a 2-0 lead.
10:20 – It’s halftime and this is why I love the reserve matches, I go for a piss and I’m standing between Wang Changqing and Mao Jianqing as a Dalian player and two agents wait impatiently behind us. Reserve games are a mix of past their prime veterans, out of shape former starters, the foreigner(s) who didn’t start the night before, and youngsters who aren’t yet in the starting lineup. It’s a real hodgepodge and so are the fans, from the diehards to the locals that seem to have just stumbled upon the matches. Inside the fence, it’s all media people, club officials, and agents and after a Guoan win the night before, things are fairly relaxed, at least on the Guoan side of things.
10:25 – Injured youngster Lei Tenglong is busying himself with stretching exercises, after having spent the first half running on pitches nearby. It’s good to see Lei around the pitch and hopefully we’ll see him able to dress and play soon.
10:30 – The second half kicks off with Guoan making three substitutions and club general manager Gao Chao arrives to watch his troops.
10:50 – Zhu Yifan misses an absolute sitter. There’s a reason he’s playing in the reserves and not with the big boys, yet another young star who never really panned out.
11:02 – Aerbin pulls one back, though there are loud jeers (from home fans or Aerbin fans?) that there is “only one true club in Dalian”.
11:14 – Manu comes on as a sub in the 88th minute. The Portuguese winger never really found his spot in Beijing and this is likely the last time he’ll be seen in a Guoan jersey. Too bad, he wasn’t all that bad on the pitch, never really got a shot. Anyways, happy trails and good luck, Manu.
11:18 – Full time, Beijing wins 2-1, more jeers. Assistant manager (and head of the reserve team) Lius Diogo comes over with manager Khadim Faye and, as is his custom, says hi and shakes my hand. I wish I spoke a little Portuguese because he doesn’t speak much English beyond “hello”, nor does he speak Chinese outside of “hao bu hao” “kuai” and some swears. Behind him is the very relaxed Fu Hao, the team’s translator, who has nothing to do since manager Jaime Pacheco is now on a plane back to Portugal.
11:20 – I have a short talk with Lei about when he’ll be back and beg for an interview, he laughs. I then talk with Gao, begging for an interview, at least he tells me to stop by his office to set something up. I take this as a plus and don’t beg for a ride back to civilization. Instead I find a taxi and take it to the subway.
12:00 – Sitting down for lunch now in Sanlitun’s Village. I thought about heading home, but it seems I’ll be going straight back to the subway station and heading for the next match. In honor of the afternoon’s game, I’m having Korean.
14:50 – Lunch goes long and I’ve only just arrived at Beijing Institute of Technology’s campus in Haidian. Fortunately the subway stops right in front of the campus, unfortunately it seems all the free tickets have been given out and I start trying to remember what little Korean I know in an effort to sneak or bamboozle an away end ticket
14:51 – In the end the guard accepts my sob story and literally pulls a ticket out of his hat, which was on the table. I thank him profusely for this magic trick and head inside.
15:00 – To the familiar FIFA anthem, the players march into the stadium, it’s a match that I try to get to every year, Beijing Institute of Technology, a team that is made up entirely of students (perhaps that should be in quotes), is up against Yanbian FC, a team almost entirely made up of ethnic Koreans from a tiny corner of northeast China. As stories go, this is a great one.
15:20 – After dominating the early action, Yanbian gets on the board first, a headed goal from a nice cross. 1-0 to the visitors. While at Gongti the guards are actual police, here they are just the young “bao’an” that are common at buildings and apartment complexes across China. They’re also undisciplined and bored in the midday sun, the one in front of me is hunched over, asleep.
15:47 – It’s halftime.I see Beijing Guoan star (and former Yanbian player) Piao Cheng on the team’s bench and go over to talk with him. Despite the rumors, Piao’s Chinese is very good, it’s accented, but more a “dialect” accent than a “Korean” accent, if that makes any sense. In any case, he’s easily understood, if slightly shy.
15:48 – I had this week’s issue of Guoan’s program in my bag and found a pen, Piao’s on the cover of the program and I have him sign it, he obliges and I instantly become the envy of teenage girls across Beijing when I post the picture to Weibo.
16:07 – Yanbian scores a counterattack goal to go up by two and looks like they’ll cruise to victory, but some annoying signs of time wasting have already started cropping up.
16:21 – The ball goes out of bounds for a Yanbian goal kick. The Yanbian keeper’s been stalling since the end of the first half and when one of BIT’s foreign players gets the ball and hands it to the keeper with a tiny bit of force, the keeper falls down, screaming and rolling around in pain. It’s a laughably bad act, but the embarassing, cringe-worthy nature of it makes it hard to watch.
16:33 – As if to bring justice to the world, BIT pulls one back.
16:49 – Full time, its BIT 1 – 2 Yanbian. The referee gets the brunt of the fan’s abuse, Piao gets a brief cheer, but when the Yanbian keeper walks past, expletives and projectiles fly. This being a crowd of 500 or so, its obvious who was throwing things, one of the few actual police yell at one of the kids, “I told you, a little abuse is okay, just don’t cross the line and look what you did.”
17:00 – I head back to the subway station, I’m supposed to meet my friends at the pitches at Guomao in eastern Beijing at 18:00 and I’m way out in the northwest of the city.
18:25 – After making a stop at home to change and get my shoes, I make it to the fields in time for a little bit of 7 a side. As most of my friends are fat, out of shape, basically your average football supporters and not players, they are all already winded.
20:00 – Our time on the pitch mercifully comes to an end, most decide to celebrate by lighting up a cigarette, before we head off to the outside “bar” for liquid refreshment in the form of Yanjing.
20:02 – It’s been a long day and the first taste of cold beer is amazing. It’s much needed after this one. I’m pretty sure it’s the last time I’ll submit myself to this again. Finish beer, rinse, repeat. There goes Sunday…
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