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The Whistles: A (somewhat) fictional story of a night on the road

What follows is meant as a semi-fictional account of one awayday. Any similarities to certain incidents is coincidental and all the names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent. I’ve loved the idea of awaydays for awhile, but the reality is far different from the idea. It’s not for everyone, but for those who really love a team and who aren’t afraid, it’s well worth experiencing.

I’m still hearing them days after what happened. The whistles, the squeal of them breaking the night’s silence and the calls that followed, more like drunken, bile filled shouts of “There are Guoan fans over here” still haunt me.

It didn’t have to be that way. Coming out of the stadium, if the coppers would have let us take the desired right turn we wanted to make, the situation would have been avoided entirely. Instead, that route was denied and so a circuitous course was laid, taking us around the entire stadium only a half hour or so after the match had finished meaning there were plenty of locals still milling about. Or we could have just hopped in a cab and gone somewhere a little further away to eat, probably the smarter choice.

Yet these are the kind of thoughts you have after the fact, in the hours spent at the police station or sitting on a stool outside drinking. It’s not the kind of thing you have the chance to think about in the heat of the moment.

Not everyone likes away games, for some it can be hard hearing thousands of fans swearing at them or their favorite players. For me, I revelled in that shit! It was a test, a test to make yourself heard, a test to stand up for your team, and the whiff of danger it brought with it, however small, was what I loved. The “whiff” of danger, inside the stadium away fans were almost always extremely safe, even in the worst circumstances you knew the police weren’t too far away and wouldn’t let things get too out of hand.

Outside the stadium was a different story though. Outside the stadium was no-man’s land, or worse, was divided by invisible boundaries that a visitor wouldn’t know about but could get into trouble for crossing. The rules were simple, you change into something that doesn’t show your side’s colors at all, you keep your head down, walk straight, avoid standing out, and avoiding areas where there were groups of home fans.

While a group of 15 or so, mostly in black, mostly wearing backpacks may be somewhat suspicious to the home fans, there was no reason to suspect we were from Beijing. That wasn’t the same of another group of fans who were ahead of us, wearing black but that had the name of their group on it. The leader, Qiu, was a 17 year old, a bit of a trouble maker, without the responsibilities or baggage that us older supporters had. He was someone I’d generally stay away from on awaydays, knowing that trouble could follow, but he was a member of our group and he was in trouble, having been spotted by the home fans who were now in fast pursuit of his small group.

Qiu’s group was at the northwest corner, with fans rushing through the intersection, dodging cars, to get at them. When they passed a streetside stall where local fans were eating chuanr and drinking beer, the fans didn’t have time to react, except to blow on whistles that they had at the ready. Thus would start a sound I’d hear a lot for the next half hour.

We were standing at the southeast corner when we first saw Qiu being chased and that’s when Li ran across the street. Li, one of the skinniest, smallest in our group, was typically bullied around by the bigger, older members, perhaps because of this he was always the first to a fight. We called for him to come back, but not wanting to give up our Beijing allegiances, we didn’t want to continue shouting.

“What the fuck are we going to do? Qiu doesn’t even have 10 people with him, and some of them are girls,” Wang stated worriedly.

“We don’t want to get too separated, those who are still here, stay here. I’ll go check it out and come back,” I offered, before darting across the street, though crossing the opposite intersection as Li had just crossed.

When I got closer to the situation, I heard the whistles going down the street, but I also saw that there was a significant distance between Qiu and his group. It seemed the locals were out for Beijing blood, but they were also incredibly lazy, looking for an easy target, and only a few bothered to halfheartedly chase after Qiu.

I was walking amongst the home fans, keeping my head down, when the whistles started and they attacked a “Beijing fan”. They were hitting him with a long, metal pipe and I didn’t think, stepping in, resulting in me taking a blow to the back before getting away quickly. The guy wasn’t someone I recognized and I didn’t want to get into the shit for someone that “didn’t matter.” I’m guessing the locals saw me as a crazy, meddling foreigner and not a Beijing fan.

The incidents were taking place on a side road, divided from the main road by a median with bushes and trees. This late at night, well after 10 pm, the cars on the road were few and far between and the bushes provided enough cover so that I wasn’t noticeable, but could still view the situation.

That’s when the whistles started again. Li and one of the others didn’t change shirts and were caught, the chants of “there are Guoan fans over here” were louder as more and more whistles were being blown. The streetside restaurants started emptying out as everyone went over to see what was going on.

Fuck, what do I do? My brothers were caught in the shit, but I was all alone. I got out the retractable metal poles used for my two-pole banner, thinking that they’d make a decent weapon if needed. Then I gave up, there was no way I was fighting through the hundred or so that had gathered around. The Guoan fans had, literally, been backed into a corner, taking refuge in a dorm building that had a large sheet metal gate that they’d closed, protecting them from a fan rush.

The fans had backed off, but there was no way out. The eight guys had found themselves together now, crammed into a small courtyard, the gate providing protection, assisted by a ditch, almost a moat on one side. The guys in there were a tight knit group, but things were breaking down, people were losing their cool. It was like a repeat chamber in there, one guy saying “What the fuck are we gonna do? What the fuck are we gonna do?” Another saying, “those motherfuckers, those motherfuckers.” One of the other guys was shadow boxing in the corner, pissed off at being caught in the situation.

The six of us outside were trying to get in touch with them, but the eight had turned off their mobile phones to lower their profile. Not before calling the police first. Then it came down to waiting, without knowing if or when the fans would make a charge. There was a lot of anger, but if not for that opening, that metal door, things could have turned violent fast.

Fortunately the fans were too lazy, they preferred to eat their chuanr and drink their beer over actually going after the fans. It was a strange situation, as an away fan it was one of the worst experiences anyone had gone through before and yet it also didn’t include any violence. The police came, another hassle ensued, but eventually, the eight were brought to our hotel in a police van, the six of us had swelled to 15, when the large van pulled up, the jubilance was like the end of a hostage situation. Those caught were a lot like hostages too, not wanting to talk and instead going straight to bed.

All because someone was in a hurry and didn’t change shirts.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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