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Huang Bowen’s Beijing adventure

Huang Bowen played his first match at Worker’s Stadium since leaving Beijing Guoan in November 2011, the “homecoming” of sorts was far from warm, instead filled with vitriol and hatred.

Huang arrived in Beijing as a 14 year old, where he joined Guoan’s youth side, but he developed quickly and at the age of 16 would get his first chance to feature at the senior level. He grabbed the opportunity by scoring a goal and becoming the youngest scorer in CSL history. When Huang left Guoan to join the K-League side Jeonbuk Hyundai, it was hard for fans to take, though most understood that it was for the best, the chance to play in another country would give Huang a chance to develop his skills. Huang made it easier by promising multiple times and in a variety of ways that, without qualification, if he was to return to the Chinese Super League, he must return to Beijing Guoan (“回国必回国安”).

Words are easy enough to say, but actions matter most. After being frustrated by not playing very much in Korea, Huang was looking to return to China during the summer of 2012, though he and his agent only had one team in mind, Guangzhou Evergrande. He failed to contact Guoan about his desire to return to China and by the time they knew and made an offer, it was already too late.

With that, all the good will that Huang had developed over eight years in the capital was destroyed. Huang would forever be seen as a traitor in the eyes of Guoan fans. Last season, as the Guoan-Evergrande match fell on the last day of the season and Evergrande already had the title wrapped up, Huang didn’t travel to the capital.

This time around, Huang made the trip and trouble began at Thursday night’s practice session when a group of Guoan fans showed up to “welcome” Huang. The next day, despite the club’s insisting that fans not taunt Huang during the match, many did.

Post-match, Huang did something that is common in China, but rare everywhere else in the world, taking a lap around the stadium to thank the fans. There are few things that all Guoan fans are unified on, including the treatment of most former players, but one thing they can agree upon is their hatred of Huang. Fans in the East Stand threw whatever they had on hand at the player, including a number of soft drinks.

When he was almost to the North Stand, security attempted to intervene and convince him it wasn’t a good idea to thank fans who’d been insulting him throughout the match, but he tried to break free from the growing security contingent while fans were pushing to the front of the stand waiting for him to come over. Finally, the security guards won out and Huang was walked off the pitch, the end to what was an emotional night for fans.

It wasn’t the end for Huang, though. He went on Beijing Television after the match to issue a tearful apology to Guoan fans, admitting that he “lied to” the fans. Why he waited until after the match to defuse the tension is anyone’s guess. While many in the media have come down hard on Beijing fans for their reactions, fans across China, including Evergrande fans, could understand the outpouring of emotion seen on Friday night.

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.



  1. Damian Jones

    02/04/2013 at 16:13

    I see Guoan SB fans have about as much class as the playing staff.

  2. GZBiffo

    02/04/2013 at 16:57

    “fans across China, including Evergrande fans, could understand the outpouring of emotion seen on Friday night”

    Bullshit. That kind of childish foot-stamping tantrum crap is just retarded. If Guoan weren’t run by such a pack of miserable tight-arses, I’m sure he would have been much more inclined to go back, but they are, so who can blame him for going to the club that offered him much more in wages than Guoan ever would?

    The sensible thing to do would be to get annoyed with your board (after all, Guoan sell about as many tickets as Evergrande and have at least as much government backing), but it’s much easier and more gratifying to pour vitriolic abuse over a defenceless player’s head than to attack the bosses, right?

    • bcheng

      02/04/2013 at 17:07

      This has zero to do with Guoan’s board, who I am always very likely to criticize. Huang made a promise that he didn’t follow through on. When he decided to return to China, he and his agent were focused on Evergrande, by the time Guoan knew about it, they put a package together that was along the lines of what Evergrande were offering in salary, but Huang had made his decision.

      Not only that, but his decision to do a “victory lap” knowing exactly how much fans disliked him was completely self-serving.

      • GZBiffo

        02/04/2013 at 17:10

        Are you sure that Huang approached Evergrande for a job, and not the other way round? And are you totally sure that Guoan were prepared to pay him as much as Evergrande were?

        And come on, promises (especially of this kind) mean nothing in football, we all know that.

        • bcheng

          02/04/2013 at 17:22

          Yes to both, Huang still had a year and a half on his contract but was looking to leave Jeonbuk and so had his agents contact Chinese clubs. And Guoan did make a generous contract offer to Huang (which isn’t hard, CSL contracts aren’t very high, despite the transfer fees being huge).

          And, yes, promises mean nothing when they come from the mouth of a liar, but Shao Jiayi made a similar promise and returned to Guoan. I met up with Evergrande ultras for drinks after the match and they understood where we were coming from. I think any true fan, who watched a player for many years and was offered up such a promise, would be pissed off when he didn’t follow through on it.

          • GZBiffo

            02/04/2013 at 17:55

            So you are saying that Huang decided to return to China and had his agent contact other CSL clubs to see who would give him a job, but deliberately did not contact Beijing Guoan? Do you have an opinion on why he excluded the possibility of returning to Guoan like this if no other CSL club had initially made contact with him? Besides “because he’s an SB/traitor/inveterate liar/etc”.

            Also, “generous” is not the same as “as much as Evergrande offered” – who offered more? Can you let us know where you got the info as to what the respective offers were?

            And the comparison with Shao is a bit disingenuous – he was in his thirties and coming towards the end of his career after a decade abroad, much as Huang probably envisioned himself being on his return when he made that promise. Instead he returned to China after a disappointing year and a half in Korea and still only 25; it wasn’t like he was looking to wind down his career at the club he started at.

  3. Cameron Wilson

    03/04/2013 at 09:30

    Huang said he would only play for Guoan if he came back to China. But he signed for one of Guoan’s championship rivals instead. It’s really as simple as that. I think the Beijing fans reaction is understandable.

    All the points made on this thread are very valid however, glad to have contrasting views, this is what WEF is all about.

  4. Damian Jones

    03/04/2013 at 09:50

    Well the views of those GZ fans in Beijing seems to contrast with the views of those on the forums in GZ. The usually laid-back Cantonese are looking forward to welcoming Guoan ** to Tianhe. That could be the hyped-up feeling after the game I suppose.

  5. Mark Dreyer

    03/04/2013 at 10:36

    As much as promises mean nothing these days, I do get why Beijing fans are pissed off at what has transpired.

    But is it not plausible, and even likely, that he did mean his promise at the time (aged only 23), but that away from the emotional circumstances surrounding his departure, he saw the situation more objectively and and did what was best for his career? There’s no fault in that.

    I also wouldn’t call it self-serving to applaud the fans, even though as others have said he could just as easily have done it from the middle of the pitch. It’s much easier to walk straight off the pitch and get the hell out of there, especially after he had Guoan fans chanting “shabi” in his face as he got off the bus beforehand (when, of course, he is just expected to take it).

    Yes, he’s gone back on his word, and though he hasn’t broken any law or contract, I still think he feels bad about that and has actually shown a lot of class.

  6. smari

    06/04/2013 at 04:07

    I was surprised that Huang Bowen decided to go back to China, considering he was actually playing well and respected in Jeonbuk. I believe he has to potential to play oversea after Korea, but ultimately, it is the player’s decision to play for any club he wants (opportunity provided), whether it is Guangzhou Evergrande, Tianjin TEDA, or even Shanghai Shenhua.

  7. Yiddo Huayi

    06/04/2013 at 07:21

    Just to stir the pot a bit.

    The football world is full of Judas SBs. Maybe he is remorseful (until he checks his bank account after pay day), but the fans are also entitled to hurl whatever invective and projectiles they see fit his way.

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