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China Derby from a neutral perspective: Caught in the Crossfire

One match, four goals, and hundreds of thousands of “Shabis!” later a sizable contingent of contributors gathered to have a real ‘pub talk’ following an exhausting roller coaster ride of football. Now that you’ve already read the fantastically fan-perspective reporting from heavyweights B-Cheng (Beijing Guoan Report) and Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua Report), here’s a glimpse into both a neutral-onlooker and away-fan-virgin perspective of the epic China Derby last Saturday.

The innocent analogy fits perfectly in summarizing a first time experience of attending a Chinese Super League match in the away fan section. There was a sense of excitement, violation, and loss of Chinese football innocence. Excitement was for the derby match itself, but also the added element of Drogba’s first appearance at Hongkou, his new home stadium.

Violation stemmed from a blue army of 20,000 emptying its lungs in spiteful unison directly towards your vicinity. The loss of innocence? Maybe I’m just exaggerating on that one, Chinese football has never been innocent.

Beijing Guoan fans often reference the historic 1997 9-1 victory over Shanghai Shenhua at Beijing Workers stadium.

Perhaps it didn’t help that this correspondent was positioned at the end of the away section nearest the Shenhua ‘Blue Devils’ North Terrace, thus caught in constant “Cao ni ma!” crossfire. Yet, at the same time there was an amazing dynamic added while being in the away section at a  CSL derby. And aside from the occasionally frightening moments of flying bottles and police-required-restraint, the match experience was that much more sensational with fanaticism. It’s the same dynamic that underlies the inspiration for this website’s namesake. Chinese football is indeed wild.

The match itself was wild as well. Freddie Kanoute made his first CSL appearance with a scissor kick slammed off the post, while Didier Drogba appeared before the match (after arriving to a mob earlier in the day) to try on number 11 in a brand new Shenhua kit (another one for only in the CSL). Guoan displayed an impressive passing front via the work of Xuliang and Piao Cheng. While Shenhua seemed like a one man offensive show through Moreno, who is fast cultivating a love-hate relationship with Chinese football fans (love from home fans, non-from away) with his ‘showmanship’ and omnipresent 1.9m frame in matches.

On a special night, and year, for the club, Shanghai Shenhua finally rose to the occasion. Guoan may leave it to the “Hongkou Curse” but they cannot deny that, in arguably the best football stadium in China, taking three points in such a heated environment is always going to be a challenge.

These Guoan and Shenhua fans don’t seem to be at ends, then again, neither do they seem to be watching the match.

Although he didn’t lineup, Drogba’s presence charged an already electric atmosphere, no doubt contributing to the victory. Guoan, who along with Guangzhou Evergrande, enjoy the strongest home following in the league (over 40,000 at most matches) can attest to the importance of the 12th man.
For Shenhua, such support may be the missing link this season more than Drogba or that other guy who hasn’t really shown up yet.

In conclusion there are encouraging signs for the Chinese Super League to experience increasing numbers of fans at matches, even if they were telling me off in unison. As one correspondent pointed out, “Sometimes China seems like the most confusing place, but when I’m at a Shanghai vs Beijing match everything makes perfect sense.”

At the end of the day it’s still the beautiful, albeit a bit wild at times, game.

Trevor has always been a student of the game, thus becoming a teacher and ambassador for the sport was only natural. In 2010 he joined Sinobal Football Club in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, a grassroots football club founded in 1998.
First starting as a player, then as a youth and first team assistant coach, now Trevor spends most of the time coordinating international projects with the club. These include school football co-op projects, China Grassroots Football Foundation in rural areas of China, Street Football, China Grassroots Football exhibition, and finding new opportunities/events to popularize, enhance, and project grassroots football in China.
For WEF Trevor contributes primarily on happenings away from the CSL, where, arguably, Chinese football needs the most development. Although coverage on Hangzhou Greetown FC, a partner of Sinobal FC,is to be expected.
If you are interested in contacting Trevor or finding out more about grassroots football in China contact trevor.lamb@sinobal.net.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Yiddo Huayi

    19/07/2012 at 15:58

    You see, from your last photo it is possible for fans from different teams to get along.

    Although maybe if they were fighting in a paddling pool of jelly…

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