Being an away supporter is much harder in China than in many other countries because of the vast distances involved. Apart from the Cantonese derby, the closest away trip for Guangzhou R&F fans is the 630 mile haul up to Wuhan. Because of this the club were expecting 200-400 fans to make the trip but the reality turned out to be a little different. Click here for the match report or read on for the away day experience.
Living in a city just outside of Guangzhou meant I couldn’t get into the station in time to travel hard seat overnight with the others from my supporters group so I left on Saturday morning on a considerably more comfortable, if more expensive, high-speed train to Wuhan.
Everybody met outside the ground one and a half hours before kick-off and we were all struck by how different it was to a game at Yuexiushan. There were a lot of orange clad Wuhan fans already there and there were hardly any touts, instead there were lots of official ticket selling booths. The away fans entrance to the sports complex was away from the main entrances and it was a couple of minutes’ walk until we reached the gates to the North stand. ‘We’ at this point consisted of ten young guys, one of their girlfriends and I. Possibly because of the incredibly dull game the week before against Shanghai East Asia, lots of R&F fans were suddenly ‘busy’ but the club had told Wuhan to expect 200-400 away fans so the security men behind the barriers were confused and annoyed when only 12 of us showed up! Things improved a little after we’d finished setting up our banners inside the ground as 20 more R&F fans who live in Wuhan arrived, one of them had come straight from badminton and still had her racquet on her! Even so, what looked like soldiers in green uniforms with riot shields still outnumbered us almost two to one.
We got a shouted welcome from the Wuhan fans nearest to us and then all seven Wuhan fan groups started off on their repertoire of chants and didn’t stop until the game ended. Because the Wuhan fans groups were spread out, unlike at Yuexiushan where all the groups are in a line, there were flags and banners on all sides of the ground and the atmosphere felt much better.
An impeccably observed minutes silence for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake and then the game was underway. About ten minutes into the match the Wuhan supporters nearest to us started up a ‘Guoan SB’ chant which has particular feeling for them and when we replied we were given a big round of applause. R&F were 1-0 up at half time but the Wuhan fans didn’t turn nasty and if anything they got even more friendly. Another shared ‘Guoan SB’ chant prompted two of their number to clamber over the waist-high metal barriers surrounding their area and make their way towards us. The police and army/security woke up at this point and tried to intervene but backed off when it became clear that it wasn’t hostile because the Wuhan fans had taken off their supporters t-shirts and scarves and were offering them to us. Great cheers went up when two Guangzhou fans hopped over the fence near us to make the swap. A third Wuhan fan sprinted over to get in on the act and now I’m the proud owner of an orange and black Wuhan Zull scarf. If you look at the video in the match report you can play a fun game of spot the difference when the camera cuts to the away fans after both goals.
After the game finished and we’d cleared up our banners we were hustled out quickly by the security who then melted away as did the R&F fans who lived in Wuhan. Six of us were left to go for dinner at a hotpot restaurant opposite the ground. It served up good spicy Wuhan food and unsurprisingly there were a lot of Wuhan fans eating there too. These ones hadn’t been anywhere near us in the ground but again there was no animosity and they were all really friendly, coming over to ganbei with us. We went upstairs to return the compliment and found that there were about 30 Wuhan fan on two massive tables. Queue more rounds of ganbei and bonding with yet more ‘Guoan SB’ chants and discussions about this size of the soft toy/inflatable turtles that the Wuhan fans had bought, and the Guangzhou fans would buy, for Beijing’s visit. Things nearly turned sour when one of the Wuhan fans noticed that while they were drinking rice wine we were drinking beer and asked what the meaning of this was. He was quickly appeased and following another ganbei a chant of “Wuhan jiayou, Fuli jiayou” sealed our friendship.
This was my first away trip, the Cantonese derby doesn’t really count, and it was fantastic to go away with the other Guangzhou fans but what made it really special was how welcoming the Wuhan fans were. If the game and the experience off the field are anything to go by then even if
Wuhan are relegated their fans will still have a great time.
“Wuhan jiayou, Fuli jiayou”
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