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Gongti Stories: A view from the East Stand

What does it mean to be a Beijing Guoan supporter? What’s on the mind of a fan? Over the next few weeks, I’ll sit down with a couple different supporters and present their viewpoints for you here. The first fan is Wang, a 26 year old East Stand regular who is a travel agent by day.

I sit in the East Stand at Worker’s Stadium and that’s where I’ve usually been, in 2011 my season ticket was in the West Stand, but other than that, since moving back to Gongti, I’ve been in the East. I didn’t have a season ticket in 2009, but around the end of the year I was able to get to some of the matches, that was a very memorable season. Before that at Fengti, I’d go to games here and there, but it was just too far, even though I live in the south, and the subway system isn’t what it is today.

I’m in the East Upper this season, just off midfield, those are by far the best seats in the house if you get there early enough. That’s the problem, there is no reserved seating at Gongti. My friends and I will try to line up early enough, usually at 5 pm for a 7:30 start, then when the gates open up at 5:30, it’s a free for all, everyone’s charging to try and get through and get seats in the front of the stand. It’s seriously a mad dash, it’s insane! Typically I go to the matches with four friends and at least one of us will go early to save seats. That’s always kinda hard to do, but as long as people are there by 6 or 6:15, it goes okay.

I think I’m like a lot of fans, I started watching Guoan when I was in junior high and high school, back in the mid 90s. Back then it was cool to watch them, and my dad took me to a few matches. As I got older, the club was struggling, there were a lot of scandals, and I was busy with college and girls, I got away from the team. The 2009 season, winning that title, that was big, that really brought a lot of people to Guoan, including me.

Now it’s hard to imagine not being a Guoan fan, it’s become such a part of being a young Beijinger, it’s everywhere in the city, often in some really unexpected places. There’s this feeling that it separates us from the waidi ren (ie outsiders, people not from Beijing). You see the term waidi bi (derogatory term for non-natives of a city) a lot in the bbs’, but I don’t really go for it. People make a distinction between waidi ren and waidi bi, but if you’re not from Beijing and you’re hearing people talking all the time about wdb, it’s kind of hard not to take it to heart. Being a Guoan fan is a way to show your pride in being a Beijinger, but there’s no reason that it also means you have to dislike those who aren’t.

There’s definitely a rivalry between the East Stand and the North Stand, it isn’t always friendly. To be honest, I don’t really get the Yulinjun (ie Royal Army). Sure, they are very passionate, I think about the match when it poured and they stood out there, no umbrellas for the whole match. That’s great, but they seem to not want to be a part of the collective atmosphere. They even have their own scarves and they refuse to sell them to anyone who isn’t a part of their group. They used to start the prematch “Guoan bisheng” (Guoan be victorious) chant in the North Stand, while the East Stand supporters group would get it started there and it would spread all across the stadium. Then halfway through this season, we started this great call and response chanting between the upper and lower tiers of the East Stand. After a few matches of that, the Yulinjun stopped participating in the chant. Then there are those matches where they didn’t even sing for a full half or something like that. And then they are always swearing at players. Joel Griffiths, Yang Hao, these are players who gave their hearts for Guoan, Yang is a Beijinger, they deserve greater respect from us. Honestly, I think their time has passed, there are so many other fan groups, and even the East Stand is singing for much of the match, a totally new development.

The rivalry extends to away trips, they always keep to themselves, they don’t stand with us. Sometimes you’ll even see them talking with fans of the other team before they’ll even say a word to us, I don’t get it. We’ll have people from all the different stands together as well as Beijingers living in the city where the match is, everyone’s chatting, having a good time, then you see the Yulinjun, off to the side, mostly wearing black. They always talk about the dangers of away trips and get really angry if they see Guoan fans wearing their jerseys around an away stadium, I just don’t get it.

Beijing has always been a one team city, but I’d love to see another team in the capital, it’s such a large city it could easily support multiple top flight teams, and venues are already in place. When I have time, I sometimes go and watch Beijing Baxy or BIT, its fun to be in a smaller, more intimate venue. Even though they’re in the same league, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with supporting both of them, after all they are both Beijing teams. If there was another CSL team in  Beijing, I’d go to the matches and if they could put out a winner, I’d seriously support them. I do love Guoan, but CITIC has so much money and they just don’t put it into the team, if another team came along and did that, respected the fans, why not support them?

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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