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Gongti Stories: View from the North 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. Today I  talk with Zhang, who is 28 and a longtime member of the Yulinjun (Royal Army), the fan’s who sit in the lower tier of the North Stand [north terrace is probably better, as pretty much the entire north end stands for the entire match]. He is a fairly unassuming guy who works at an import/export company by day, but comes alive when talking about Beijing footbal.

“Oh Oh, Women Guoan dui, oh oh, women gongjin tui, oh oh, Gongti bei kantai, oh oh, women zui niubi!” (ie Oh oh, we are Guoan, oh oh, we’re always together, oh oh Gongti north stand, oh oh, we’re the best!”)

Let me tell you a little bit about the history of the group, which will give you a better understanding of who we are. The Yulinjun was created in September 2005, a bunch of guys in their late teens and early 20s who were a part of the official supporter’s group were fed up with that group and its decisions. They all started supporting Guoan at different times, but due to their age and passion, they slowly found each other on the terrace and stood together. As they talked more and their anger grew, they decided they could create their own group and did just that. From the start, the group was about a more European “ultras” style of support vs. the “cheerleaders” title the official supporter’s group accepted, it was about independent thinking instead of direct club/government control, and most of all it was about a commitment to supporting the team through good and bad.

It quickly attracted a following and when Guoan moved to Fengtai in 2006, the group began its roots in the north stand that lasted through the Fengti years and then, in 2009, they moved into Worker’s Stadium’s north end, stand 24, where we’ve remained up through today. There are other groups that are a part of the north stand, namely the Brothers United (xiongdi lian), who are in the Upper 23rd stand, and I’ve heard that this year there will be another group nearby as well. Of course like all the other stands, there are those who are just regular fans in the north stand, but the noise and culture is dominated by the two supporter’s groups.

We’ve gotten a bad reputation over the years, often being referred to as trouble makers or that we have dirty mouths, but its unfair. When everyone in the stadium is shouting “shabi”, we rarely join inMuch of the problem comes from how our grop was started and that it was started by a bunch of kids.

Then there’s those that say we always start things on away trips or that we separate ourselves from everyone else on away trips. It’s just stupid. Yeah, we do that, yeah, we get angry at our own fans on away trips, but it’s not without reason. Away trips are different from going to Worker’s Stadium, there is always a bit of danger involved and so we never wear our colors until we enter the stadium. Yet there are these new fans, young fans who don’t get it and walk around the other teams stadium proudly wearing Guoan gear, then they wonder why they get sworn at, get things thrown at them or worse. It’s downright stupid and we stay away from them because we want to get home safely, without trouble. We never go to away matches looking to pick fights, but if someone attacks us, we’re not going to back down.

I only support Beijing Guoan, period. I watch European football, but don’t have a team I “support”. Beijing has other clubs, but I have no interest in them. A lot of fans say they are “Beijing fans”, but it’s hard for me to accept. That’s the difference between “ultras” and just your regular supporters. I have no problem with those who go and watch them, but there’s only so much time in the day, how can you tell me you support all of Beijing’s clubs? What would you do if there is more than one team from Beijing in the CSL? At some point you have to get up off the fence and declare yourself as something.

Perhaps it’s easier for me because I’m from south Beijing (南城), really a lot of people on the north stand are from this area. You have to understand what it means when I say “south Beijing”, a lot of foreigners, even non-Beijingers, tend not to know, but in the past, everything south of Qianmen was outside the “imperial city”, everything south of Tiantan was outside the city walls. This is where the commoners lived, its been that way for thousands of years and its still that way today. Back during the Olympics, there was all this talk about the modern Beijing, but all reporters had to do was come to south Beijing to see a different side of the city. It’s not to say we’re all poor here, but this is where the everyday Beijingers live. We know about Beijing and we hold it dear, we’re not going to change loyalties due to some newcomers.

When we say we’re the north stand, it means something. You can tell football fans in Europe, South America, other areas and say that you’re the north stand and it means something. Others ask why we want to be in such a bad location where it’s hard to view the match, but that was our choice, we have pride in being the north stand. Many in our group spend a lot of time studying this culture, the ultras culture, looking at pictures, translating descriptions in other languages, etc. It might be hard for others to understand it, but it’s our hope this culture can grow further in China, it’s slow to happen and there are a lot of things we have to fight against, but it is happening.

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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