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Pub Talk: Typhoon Derby?

Maybe it’s because of the Olympics or something but this week in the pub, Bcheng gets all British and joins in a lengthy discussion with Mr Ultra about the weather. ‘s man in Beijing also gets stuck into Tianjin and their naughty shenanigan-indulging fans, as the two get side tracked talking about football-specific stadiums. Elsewhere, there’s time to ponder the Wu dialect derby as Shenhua welcome Hangzhou to Hongkou, and Bcheng conducts a post-mortem of Guoan’s crashed season as the CFA cup is briefly touched upon, Meanwhile, there are turtles in the pub again this week, possibly swimming this time what with all the rain. All that, and more, this week, in the Pub.

S: How’s it going this week B? Nice weather?

B: Fuck no! It’s either too damn hot or pissing down rain…

S: Seems Beijing continues to get Shanghai’s summer rain. Although there are two typhoons in SE China at the moment, they may wreak havoc on this weekends CSL fixture card, or they may have blown over by Saturday afternoon.

B: It seems like they will blow over by the weekend, but we’ll see. The CSL obviously doesn’t care about playing in the rain.

S: No, we’ve seen a few games of “waterball” in the CSL, haven’t we?

B: A few too many, especially this season. The two Guangzhou sides seemed to be under water pretty much every match in the spring…

S: Maybe that’s just the price China has to pay for being such a big country. It rains so much in some places at certain times, it would probably be pointless postponing games. If I’m not mistaken, the J-League also has a “the show must go on” policy for rain.

B: I’m not against it entirely. Football should be played in rain, but it’s not an issue of just the rain. When the pitch is soaked and the ball just stops dead, that hurts the game.
Not to mention the danger of large numbers of fans travelling long distances to watch the matches.

S: Yeah its a difficult issue. I’m not sure what I think of it. Coming from the UK, I know all about the problems weather can cause, and how futile it can be to build your plans around the forecasts. It does look farcical in very heavy rain, as you say. But I’m not sure what the answer is.

B: I’m not sure about the J-League, but referring to the UK, a lot goes into making sure the pitches are quick draining, that just doesn’t seem to be the case in China.

S: Don’t be silly B! Clubs get more face from spending massive amounts of cash on signing aging EPL stars, rather than on long-term investments in improving facilities and infrastructure.

B: The problem is that clubs don’t have much incentive in investing in stadiums because they are only renting the ground.

S: Yeah that is it. Even Shenhua don’t own their stadium, when it’s obvious Hongkou was built mainly for their benefit.

B: Right, so very little actually goes into stadium improvements, which leads to these insanely water-logged pitches.

S: China has made really impressive strides forward in improving its infrastructure, with new roads, railways, subways, airports, homes, offices, etc etc. That can’t have been done without considerable forward planning involving well-thought out processes. It’s such a pity that absolutely none of this kind of effort and expertise had gone into improving football infrastructure.

B: The improvements that have come have been in public works, though. It’s the city or provincial government that has controlled those and they have all been closely watched. Football’s a different story entirely.

S: Yeah but the government owns many of the stadiums that are used in the CSL.

B: It’s interesting how they’ve seemingly divested themselves of the stadiums, or at least handed over management.

S: Yeah but, local govs I’m sure still call the shots.

B: I’m now talking without having done any research into the situation, but I know that Worker’s Stadium, Hongkou, and Tianjin’s Olympic Stadium among others are all run by an entity called iRena, which I believe is a private company.

S: I don’t know much about this either. Regardless, I’d like to see more football-specific stadiums built-in downtown locations. Hongkou is the best stadium I have been to in China for watching football, it’s pretty much the yardstick for other’s to aspire to as far as I’m concerned.

B: You’re seriously dreaming.

S: So where is better than Hongkou?

B: That’s not my point, though Tianjin’s stadium is far more along the lines of a “football specific” stadium than Hongkou (though Hongkou’s acoustics are awesome). What I’m saying is there isn’t a chance in hell we’ll see more centrally located football specific venues. If, and that’s a HUGE if, we start to see football specific venues built, they will be way out in the burbs.

S: How is Hongkou not a football specific stadium?

B: Calm down there! I’m just saying that there’s some distance, especially along the sidelines, between the stands and the pitch.

S: Alright, I’m just asking why you think it isn’t.

B: But let’s not get sidetracked on minutiae. Your point was about more stadiums in downtown locations, and that ain’t happening anytime soon.

S: That’s true, although it should be pointed out Hongkou isn’t downtown, but it is in the city proper, on the north side.

B: Plus, honestly, China doesn’t need more stadiums built, football specific or not, what it needs is affordable housing in the city center. But, that’s getting us further sidetracked. You want to talk about last night or last weekend?

S: Those points are true, sidetracked or not. So yeah last night, and Guoan’s miserable run continued in the cup….

B: It’s another horrible summer for Guoan, this year it’s starting a little early. Fortunately the club got off to a good start and everyone else has struggled a little or else we’d be worried about the relegation zone.

S: What is behind this reversal of fortune?

B: It seems there’s a lack of confidence, which makes sense. They threw everything they had at the other side in two of those games, and still lost. Partly it is the manager’s strategies. Beyond that, it’s just teamwork issues, too much reliance on Kanoute, and palyers who are struggling.

S: Bad to rely on a player who just arrived, In fact it says something that the team was doing well earlier without him, now they are relying on him too much.

B: Definitely! It may sound shocking, but I think they might want to go back to that “no striker” formation they used just before he came.

S: The no-striker is becoming fashionable these days. But at least Guoan would play it as a tactical option. Shenhua found themselves in that position before because they literally had no striker.

B: I’m at a loss as to what Guoan needs to do, but they better do something fast. The fans were placing a lot of faith in a good cup run, but now if the club wants to be in Asia, it’s going to have to come through finishing third, and even then it will require qualifying.

S: Yeah… that is if Guoan don’t decide to pussy out like Liaoning did last season.

B: They have to get in first, that ain’t going to be easy.

S: Yeah we are moving into the final third of the season soon – its August already. But lets talk about what I think it most interesting at the moment – Jiangsu Sainty. Three weeks ago, would you have put them just two points behind Evergrande at this point?

B: I think it has as much to do with Guangzhou’s struggles as Jiangsu’s success, but yeah, I didn’t have them as a team that could stay up that high all year. It’s a great side to watch because they’re the anti-Evergrande.

S: Yeah. And Cristian Dănălache is about to sign a two-year contract extension I believe. He’s the model CSL signing, Sainty’s answer to Duvier Riascos.

B: He’s been huge for them. I mean, it’s amazing what has happened with that side, from close to relegation midway through last year to now challenging for the league title, a great turn around.

S: Yeah and an impressive away victory at Dalian on Sunday night. But…. I think I know what you are gonna say when I ask, can they hang on in there?

B: I would tend to say that it’s still Evergrande’s to lose, but it’s really up in the air. Evergrande have a tough game this weekend against Guizhou, I think it’s the match to watch this weekend. If they give up points again, they could very well be tied or even behind Jiangsu when we reconvene. Plus, they have both the ACL and the CFA Cup to deal with, whereas Jiangsu’s already been knocked out, so their focus is solely on the league.

S: Yeah, Sainty have a clear run. They have already shown they can mix it with the best, plus, I’m sure they haven’t forgotten their stunning 5-2 victory over Guangzhou last season, which gives them the Indian sign over the Cantonese.

B: They host Evergrande on matchday 27, that could be one hell of a clash. And to make things all the more interesting, they play R&F on the final matchday, could come down to Evergrande’s local rivals helping them win the league. Though we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

S: We are, but this weekend is round 20, so it’s not that far away, and the way the table is, I can’t see any other two teams being involved right at the end.

B: No, it’s definitely between those two sides for the title.
And I think we can say with a degree of certainty those two will represent China in Asia next year. Now all that’s left is seeing who takes the CFA Cup spot and the fight for third, which will be exciting.

S: Who do you think are the contenders for 3rd place at this point?

B: It’s wide open…Guizhou, R&F, Guoan, and Changchun are the obvious candidates, but even the likes of Shide, Liaoning, and Hangzhou are still in the picture.

S: No room for super Drog and a late dash up the table from Shenhua then?

B: If they had three more points, I’d say they were in the picture, but 10 games to make up a nine point gap and leapfrog eight other teams? I’m not a betting man, but I’d be more than willing to bet it won’t happen.

S:  I’m not a gambling man either, but yeah I think that’s fair. Speaking of Drogba, I see the Shanghai media, and in fact Sina also, see fit to put his appearance at some event promoting a car brand as headline news. It makes me think there is some favours being done, is this a curious aspect of Chinese news we are seeing? I think Drogba endorsing a car brand isn’t worthy of mention, never mind a headline.

B: I think everything Drogba does is worthy of a story, at least in the minds of Chinese media.
But yeah, who knows how much the brand paid the media for the free advertising.

S: Yeah that’s my point. So what have we got on this weekend? There’s another Yangzte Delta Derby, a bit of a six-pointer it is. And Drogba’s home debut.

B: What are your thoughts? I know Hangzhou are bringing a lot of supporters. Will this be where Shanghai turns around their season after some tough draws in Guangzhou?

S: I’m going to stick my neck out and say I think it will be. All the signs have been pointing to a Shenhua recovery, they have Drogba onboard, Moreno has made a significant instant impact, plus Shenhua are unbeaten in four games, which I think is a record this season.

B: Right. This is an important match for Hangzhou, needing points if they want to remotely have a chance at getting that final Asian spot. For Shenhua, this could be Drogba’s home debut, so I expect the crowd to be huge.

S: Yeah I would certainly hope so. I can see Shenhua winning it but let’s not forget Greentown are Shenhua’s bogey team, this is a derby we do poorly in.

B: Yeah, it’s sure to be a match worth watching.

S: It’s been a tasty clash in the past, some pwoper nawty stuff went down this time last year.

B: And with a large contingent of Hangzhou fans coming to town, we might see something similar this year. I must say I’m jealous, I was looking at pictures from the Jing-jin derby in 2009 when Tianjin packed the away stand and actually rewatched part of this year’s most recent version, the absolute farce that was played last weekend. Hopefully next year the away fans will be able to travel again, making things more interesting.

S: Right, how was your trip there?

B: It couldn’t have been much worse. The Tianjin fans are by far the worst you’ll find in the CSL: constant sb/cnm chants, the lasers and throwing of bottles that caused the referee to stop the match twice, it was bad. It didn’t help that even the ball boys and the kids with the stretcher were in on the action. To make it worse, I now know why Guoan was bitching at the referee in extra time, the ball clearly struck the Tianjin players hand and then hit Kanoute’s, but the ref called it a hand ball on Freddie.

S: Is this true or is it Beijing perspective? lol

B: I’m a Beijing fan first and foremost, but I think anyone who attends a match in that city will be shocked. I’ve never seen fans who paid to attend a match and yet cared so little about what was actually going on the field.

S: Shouting SB and so on?

B: It goes beyond the swearing, but I think part of it is that Tianjin fans rarely travel to away games, so even their supporters section is clueless.

S: Hmm. What else were they doing?

B: The lasers, the bottles, tossing around turtles….

S: I’m shocked and appalled by this abuse of the nation’s captial club.

B: ….It’s the treatment (with the exception of the turtles) any side gets when they visit Tianjin.

S: I look forward to that. At least they have a nice stadium eh?

B: Unfortunately it was played in the Olympic Stadium instead of Teda Stadium. The authorities realized that if it was at Teda, there’d be no way to play the match because the pitch would be covered in bottles.

S: Hahha. Good old CSL. Build a football specific stadium in Tianjin, then play football games in an athletics stadium. So any other fixtures this weekend worthy of note?

B: The focus has got to be on Evergrande-Guizhou.

S: That’s a big game for sure. I think there will be a huge crowd at that game.

B: Yeah, let’s hope it lives up to the expectations. Is it time to close the pub again?

S: Yeah time to stagger off home for another week. Until then.

B: Cheers!

S: Cheers.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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