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A weekend in Wuhan with the Shenhua Element Crew

As all real football fans know, there’s nothing quite like an away trip for experiencing the game at it’s finest. Take the usual thrills and spills you may expect from a football road trip and toss the cheerful chaos of China into the mix, and you have an experience that is completely unlike anything else. What follows is a personal account of what would be an all-time classic yuanzheng (far expedition) for Shanghai Shenhua’s recent away fixture in Wuhan. If tales of a weekend of debauchery, shenanigans and general tomfoolery on the road appeals to you, then you just hit the jackpot. The names have been changed to protect the guilty…

In the beginning – The SEC

For quite some time now I had resisted various requests from senior members of Shenhua’s long-standing Blue Devils (Lanmo) fan’s group to play a more visible and active role in the organization. I had always politely refused; it’s never been my intention to get in the spotlight because I was a laowai, or use my position as the club’s most recognized foreign fan for any purpose other than getting people of all creeds and colours together to enjoy this magic game we call football. If anything, I have always been slightly embarrassed by the fact almost everyone on the North Terrace knows my name. Add on top of this that I am quite a low-key person, I enjoy my privacy, and I don’t really like being in the centre of attention. So when I was asked to form a foreign fan group underneath the Blue Devil banner, it put me in a tight spot. Could I please do it? Shenhua were going to have a rough season this year, they needed all the help they could get.

Reluctantly, I accepted and this year the Shenhua Element Crew (SEC) was born. The name was chosen after a vote, on the basis of it not making much sense but sounding not bad – the perquisites for any foreign name in China. The group would assemble in the middle of the terrace behind other mini groups in the Blue Devils, the UNS, Tricoloure Boys and several others. Already the formation of one of China’s first official foreign fans crews affiliated to a Chinese club had created waves over weibo. The Shanghainese wore it as a badge of pride and proof of their cities multiculturalism and internationalism. Frankly, that large numbers of foreign fans follow Shenhua is evidence of this and the Blue Devils deserve their bit of face from it. Their deadly mixture of wild enthusiasm, beer and football has done more for cross-cultural relations than any lame corporate or government sponsored program. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, it was an honour to be asked to engage in such an under taking. And the bottom line was, I suddenly realised, what the hell, I’ve been here nearly eight years, no-one does that if they aren’t a proper supporter of the team, I should just face reality, I’m a foreigner, I’m always going to stick out, so I may as well make something good of it and spread the wonder of supporting your local club. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding between foreigners and Chinese, I’ve always strived to try and bridge these gaps, and what better bridge than the world’s most popular game – it truly is a universal language, as the weekend which was yet to unfold would prove once more.

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Friday night – destination Wuhan

Wuhan lies some 680km (423 miles) west of Shanghai, in central China’s Hubei province. The main body of Shenhua fans took a 6-hour fast train, which necessitated taking Friday off work. That was not an option for most of the SEC who instead travelled by plane. So, after some forward planning and discussion via an email list, the plan was to meet at Hongqiao Airport at 6.30pm. I was, to put it bluntly, gob-smacked when all six of us managed to make it on time. Smiles were exchanged, and some members who were not so familiar with each other set about getting acquainted. Our group contained a colourful mix of nationalities and backgrounds – a Chilean-born Canadian, an American, a Mexican-French, A half Singaporean-English, and one plain vanilla Scotsman and Englishman apiece. We checked in together, and then had a quick bite in McDonalds before going through security. One member announced he had to dash to the lavatory before boarding the plane, to which someone quipped it “may have problems taking off otherwise” – toilet humour would be a prominent feature of the weekend for most of the party. In the departure lounge, there was an immediate consensus that the first task in hand for the group would be to lay our hands on a case of beers without delay. After some searching, we cleared out an airport shop of their stock of Tsingtaos – then all relented the fact the beverages were not chilled.

[singlepic id=74 w=320 h=240 float=right]Boarding the plane, our party of six found our seats in the very back row. At first this seemed an advantage, but when we realised we couldn’t recline our seats but those in front of us could, it became rather uncomfortable. Interestingly, our party’s seating arrangements was neatly divided by continent . The isle of the plane formed a virtual Atlantic ocean, with the Scotsman, Englishman and English-Singaporean on the European side and the Chilean, American and French-Mexican on the other. Action on the American side of the isle was muted during the flight – faces buried in newspapers and kindles for the most part. On the British side, plans for the upcoming weekend were discussed, anticipation for the match was expressed, and other random topics, such the Shanghai music scene, discussed. What united both groups was disappointment over the lack of beer served on the flight.

Friday night – arrival

The flight was mercifully short – it had been very hot in the cabin. Thankfully everyone had remembered the instruction not to bring in any check-in luggage, so we were able to make haste and get out of the airport as soon as possible. After a brief post-flight toilet trip to counteract the beers, we were ready to head into town. The group split into two – a trio stood in the taxi queue, the other scouted out airport bus options. I found an attendant and asked which bus went near to the riverside, the area of Wuhan where our hotel was. The answer came in the form of a local accent, but I decoded enough to understand that we’d require a 15 minute taxi journey once the bus reached its station. Taxi it was. Or two, one for each group. As we climbed aboard, little did we know this would be the first of several very lengthy journey’s inside Wuhan itself  – a city confusingly made up of three smaller cities, and our party would later somehow manage to travel from A to B via Z each time we went anywhere.

I think I had the plain vanilla Englishman from Manchester and the Chilean Canadian in the back of my taxi, I was deemed least worst mandarin speaker so I rode shotgun next to the driver as we sped into town. The roads were clear, it was around 11 at night. The driver was the friendly type. The conversation went something like this.

Driver: “Is this your first time in Wuhan?”

Me: “No, been here once before just for travelling.”

Driver: “Oh really? How is our Wuhan?”

Me: “I like it, the people are really friendly and easy-going”

Driver: “So where are you from?”

Me: “Scotland, UK”

Driver: “What about those other guys in the back? You’re all from the same place?”

Me: *joking tone* “Nah, see that fat guy, he’s from Chile but he grew up in Canada, the skinny guy is English.”

Driver: *laughs his head off* “You’re a humorous guy! So you’re not from the same place, what you all doing here then?”

Me: “Haha. Actually we are all here to see a football match.”

Driver: *suddenly looks confused* “Play a football match?”

Me: “No, not play, we are going to watch, watch Shanghai Shenhua play Wuhan Zall”

Driver: *looks more confused to the point where he’s not paying enough attention to the road* “You’re watching a Chinese Super League game and you travelled from Shanghai to see it?”

Me: “Yeah that’s right.” *I know the Taxi driver won’t be able to get his head around this fact, so I just move the subject on a bit* “How’s Wuhan playing these days?”

Driver: *eyes back on the road* ” I tell you, they’re bollocks. Lost all their games and sacked their coach.”

<voice from the back chimes in> “Hey Cammy ask him what’s good to eat in Wuhan, I want to take some of that shit back to Shanghai dude.”

Me: “Aye alright. Driver, what kind of local delicacies have you Wuhan folk got around here”

Driver: *happy to talk food as Chinese invariably are*. “There’s regan mian (hot dry noodles), and you should really try these spicy duck necks, and some <says some kind of food I never heard of>.”

Me: “I tried spicy duck necks in Xian once, they were super hot. Are they the same here?”

Driver: “No, Wuhan people’s taste is a bit different, its a different kind of spicy here <explains but I don’t catch the meaning>.

Me: “That’s interesting. All the different parts of China have their own stuff eh?”

Driver: “Yes. So Wuhan, do you think its different to Shanghai? What’s the difference?”

Me: “Yes it’s different for sure. The pace of life is much quicker in Shanghai and it’s more developed than Wuhan. But Wuhan people are down to earth and easy to get along with. Sometimes in Shanghai people can be bit cold.”

Driver: “That’s absolultely right. Big city life. In Wuhan there’s less pressure, right?”

Me: “Oh yeah that’s right. I bet you all play majong here all the time, yeah?”

Driver: “Haha, yes.”

<voice from the back> “Hey, ask him where we can go and drink beers”

Me: “Where are all the bars around here?”

Driver: “Well, there’s (name, part of town I don’t recognize), there’s places for eating and drinking there. There’s also the riverside, you can drink outside or go into the clubs there. You guys are going there to chase chicks, right? *smiles evilly*.

Me: “Hahahah, maybe.”

Driver: “Haha, very maybe!”

Me: “Not me, I’ve got a girlfriend. I had to sweet talk her for half a day just so I could get away with the guys for a weekend.”

Driver: *sighs* “That’s women.”

Me: “Haha. Yeah you know how it is, driver.”Driver: “Then, you did well to come to Wuhan with your brothers. <says some Chinese proverb, not sure what it is, from his tone and look on his face, it seems like “cats away, mice shall play” etc>

Me: “Anyway, no matter what we do, we’ll drink a lot of beers this weekend.”

Driver: *nodding* “Oh, that’s a must! Hope you have a good time in our Wuhan.”

And so on. After what seemed a little over half an hour, we made it to the hotel. We were immediately greeted by a welcoming party of fellow Shenhua fans outside the foyer. Some had been drinking already, but this brave band of foreign warriors who had travelled far to stand alongside the Shanghai’s finest, were given a warm welcome.

Checking in to basecamp Shenhua

The entire hotel it seemed had been taken over by Shenhua fans. Even at around 11.30 at night, there were many just milling around in the lobby. We milled around with them as the hotel staff took ages to photocopy our passports during the check-in process. There was a call for beer from within the group, as the various members of the group interacted with each other and their new Shangahinese friends. We reflected upon how the evening had gone so smoothly. Everyone on time for the plane, no delay, straight to the hotel without a hitch.

Or so we thought. After selecting room-mates, the six of us went up to our three rooms. I opened the door and was shocked to see only one fairly small double bed. “For fuck’s sake,” I said, as I realised the hotel had put us in single rooms. However myself and my roommate, the Singaporean-English, laughed it off and went to investigate the state of affairs in the other rooms. Looks ranging from dread to confusion to “lads on tour laugh at anything” type expressions were in evidence. Try as we might, the hotel had no other rooms, the giggling reception girl confirmed, much to our chagrin. At this point a phenomenon was born. Every good lads trip is characterised by some kind of central event, or more likely mishap, which gives rise to a catchphrase or saying which is repeated for the rest of the trip. And so it was, as the six of us realised we would have to share three beds – “ass-to-ass” someone said, and it would not be for the last time during a weekend which had only just begun.

First encounters

[singlepic id=75 w=320 h=240 float=right]With their being upwards of perhaps a couple of hundred fans staying in the hotel, and most of them knowing exactly who I was, the next issue was how to politely decline the numerous offers for those who for whatever reason, wanted me to head back into town with them. But I had my best Lanmo mates to try to meet up with, so we told everyone to head to where we were going. After a short taxi ride, we were drinking with a group of Shenhua, and, to the surprise of some in our group, Wuhan fans, on a street hotpot restaurant. Our arrival caused quite a stir – the Wuhan guys had been told to expect us it seemed, but nothing could prepare them for the sudden arrival of six laowai clearly in town with Shenhua. As is customary, I was swiftly introduced using several sobriquets bestowed upon me by the Blue Devil top lads – Lanmo waizhang (Blue Devil minister of foreign affairs) Waiguo laoda (foreign mafia boss). The names are of course silly, but it amused the Wuhan fans, as the Lanmo set about explaining in quite some detail about the SEC, their new official foreign contingent. One tipsy Wuhan fan at another table said jokingly “foreign ghosts SB!”. Usually I always pretend I can’t understand when encountering Chinese who assume you don’t know what they are saying. Playing dumb comes naturally to me. But this time for banter purposes I put my hands on his shoulders and said “yeah, foreigners really are SB” and the whole table erupted as the tipsy one shook hands with me. Icebreakers, Wuhan style.

[singlepic id=122 w=320 h=240 float=right]We sat around a table with a hotpot of some kind in the middle. It was taking ages to heat up. We later discovered this was because the gas cylinder was empty. Then a load of meat and veg on sticks arrived, uncooked. Was this a barbecue or a hotpot? In Wuhan, it seems both are mixed together. Meanwhile, we received guests from all over the entire eatery (about 6 large tables spread out on the pavement). Everyone wanted to raise their glass to their foreign guests. I was ordered to introduce everyone and say where they were from. If the proverbial ice had been there, it would have evaporated completely when I introduced one of our number as Maradona. Now, just think about it, to a Western eye, if someone bears a passing resemblance to another westerner, this means to a Chinese eye they look exactly the same, so having a all-time legendary player look-alike in our midst pumped the inter-cultural banter up a good few notches.

The beers flowed, and as the night wore on, some of our number had to relieve themselves again. Where was the toilet? Asked a few. Some rather vague instructions and pointing ensued. “Up the road a bit” was the jist of it. In fact no bathroom was found by anyone; a small alley sufficed for some late night public urination. At around 2.30am or so, feeling a bit merry but by no means drunk, everyone decided to move on. We flagged down some taxis and told the taxi drivers to take us to where the bars were. They weren’t far, but when we arrived, most had closed.

Taxi to nowhere

[singlepic id=120 w=320 h=240 float=right]Wuhan was no 24-hour party city like Shanghai it seemed. However, it did have a rather odd leisure pursuit on the middle of the street at night which Shanghai lacks – balloon-shooting with an air rifle. Several of the group grabbed their weapons  made short work of big white boards with rows and rows of multi coloured balloons pinned to them for 20 rmb a pop, as it were. We posed like terrorists in the street with our new weapons, then quickly tired of the shooting. We made our way further down the riverside area, we saw a club which had music going on, but suddenly some Shenhua fans emerged and told us it was dead. But, determined not to end the party too early, we bought yet more beers and sat at the edge of a park near the river. It was about 3 in the morning by this point, and the six of us watched strangers in the night set off Chinese fire lanterns into the sky. Ass-to-ass jokes made a return, and the beers took their toll as several members went off in search of a public convenience. None was found, but someone would find a creative solution a little later.

[singlepic id=77 w=320 h=240 float=right]Despite it being very late, ships continued to honk their way down the darkened Yangtze. We watched them float past, the dull rumble of their engines echoing into the sky as they faded from view. Under the cover of darkness, the hefty vessels looked almost graceful, their tatty exteriors and the murky brownness of the river obscured from view. Portholes and bridge lights twinkled as the big boats passed into the night. Some members were now stretched out on the sloping concrete flood defence wall we were sat on. The mood became contemplative, and I stretched out and gazed towards the heavens. One could see more stars here than in Shanghai. Looking at the night sky has always been a source of wonder for me. I looked up and thought of those dear to me and if they were perhaps looking at the same star. I pondered the nature of our existence, of the possibility of life on other worlds and what such beings would make of a band of rowdy foreigners following a Chinese football club. I laid back contentedly, and as I gazed skyward, that I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be at that exact point in time.

[singlepic id=78 w=320 h=240 float=right]”I JUST GAVE A SQUIRREL A GOLDEN SHOWER,” said one excited member, emerging from the bushes with a grin on is face, and smashing my hitherto blissful state of mind. Confused amusement was the reaction of the others, amid laughter and at least one “what the fuck?”; it prompted other members to make their way to the same spot. The creative solution to the toilet issue was found – the unlucky squirrel was infact a bizarre-looking plastic piece of park furniture. It was soon again regretting being placed where it was, as others made their way to it.

It was time to call it a night. “Let’s keep our powder dry lads,” said someone. We all knew we had a big day ahead of us the next day, and as thoughts turned to the hotel, the phrase “ass-to-ass” once again became a familiar refrain only it was more amusing this time since we’d all sank quite a few beers. We got up and made our way back to the road, interrupted only by a very pretty local girl who, seemingly fearless, asked one of our number, as we walked in the darkness, for a cigarette. Everyone was so shocked to say much back to her. So she wandered off into the darkness.

Back at the hotel, there was, surprisingly, still some activity in the lobby, as a few Shenhua fans milled around, with a body flaked out on a sofa. Another pair of lads emerged from the lifts and headed outside. “We’re going out for a stroll” said one of the two in a classic piece of Chinese innuendo, smiles were exchanged as everyone laughed. Certain other individuals announced their intention to also go looking for a late night wander,” as we don’t fancy going ass-to-ass just yet”,  however, your correspondent retired for the evening.

Saturday – local lunch and match day

[singlepic id=104 w=320 h=240 float=right]The next day, there was little movement amongst our group until 11am or so. Surprisingly we managed to co-ordinate ourselves to all meet at a nearby hole-in-the-wall restaurant to eat some regan mian. The girl behind the counter was surprised to see strange foreigners stroll in and order a local dish without being first offered it. Not to be outdone, she gestured to a big frying pan, and said “do you want some doupi (fried rice and some kind of toufu stuck together). Sure was the answer from everyone, in what would soon become a classic eyes-larger-than-stomach moment – no-one was able to polish off all. In fact we thought one paper tub contained two separate helpings – but when another three rubs came along, we realised we had over-ordered. There was a lot of conversation about popping balloons, squirrels, the sleeping arrangements, “ass-to-ass” jokes, and this amused us all. Nevertheless, the entire bill for six portions of noodles and fried rice/toufu, plus some drinks, came to about 50 rmb. We scoffed our faces with as much as we could and bid farewell to the staff.

[singlepic id=80 w=320 h=240 float=right]With the match kicking off at 3.35pm, and us finishing what was meant to be breakfast but inevitably become lunch, by around the back of 12, there was no time to do anything other than hang around for half an hour and wait for the bus to take all the fans from the hotel to the match. The immediate concern was beer for the trip on the bus. There was a shop next to the hotel, and it was promptly relieved of its entire stock of cold beer. So fearful were we of running out of grog, we even bought warm ones. Around 24 cans were purchased. There was also time to wander into a sex shop, randomly placed right next door, where some rather odd products were sold. We engaged with the middle aged female proprietor in small talk as if were down the market buying vegetables. Come to think of it, some of the products on sale resembled vegetables, but they were not to be eaten. Some chinglish on a vibrating vagina box amused us, which prompted another “ass-to-ass” joke. But soon it was time to climb aboard the bus to the stadium.

[singlepic id=81 w=320 h=240 float=right]The “three cities in one” factor came into play again. As the bus, and I mean bus not coach, because it was a more standing room than seats type design, rolled into town, time seemed to slow down. Suddenly the two buses the Shenhua contingent from our hotel was on pulled up and everyone got off outside a grand looking hotel. We realised we had come to cheer the Shenhua players as they emerged from the hotel to board the team bus. It was a rowdy spectacle – random passers-by looked completely non-plussed as a couple of hundred Shenhua fans gathered at the front entrance of the hotel, let off blue smoke bombs, and shouted the players names one-by-one as they emerged from the building. Most of the players seemed to appreciate the effort, without being overly responsive. Wang Dalei got a particularly big cheer, Gio Moreno and Firas were full of smiles and Li Jianbin clapped back at the fans. Sergio Batista was also afforded a particularly warm cheer. After 20 minutes or so, the Shenhua show was moving onto its next stop, and hotel staff and adjacient shop workers had nothing more to oggle as the street quickly reveted back to its normal Saturday afternoon state.

So another journey through the endless roads of Wuhan, this time to Wuhan Stadium which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and took ages to reach. Several of the party regretted drinking so much beer on the way, toilet stops were not forthcoming. Upon arrival at the spacious carpark near the spacious land around the stadium, a gaggle of Wuhan fans could be seen amongst a cluster of food and knick-knack sellers. The instruction went out “Let’s all abuse Beijing as we get off the bus, that’s the way to make friends with Wuhan fans ha ha”. Sure enough, 200 hundred Shenhua fans were shouting “Guoan SB” amid amused looks and some applause from some wondering Wuhan supporters. It was a hot day of over 25c, and the sun was beating down. After securing some water in lieu of more beer, we joined the main group of Shenhua fans. Despite the Stadium being nearby, we had to follow an elongated route to get to the stadium. There, we were given tickets and met up with a large number of Shenhua fans already in the stadium. Before long, it was kickoff.

[singlepic id=92 w=320 h=240 float=right]You can read the match report here already. The atmosphere was boisterous in the Shenhua end and the Wuhan newspapers would later say 400 Shenhua fans were in the stadium. The feeling when Wuhan went 3-0 up was one of, well, feeling this may put a dampener of what was proving to be a great weekend. Shenhua equalized with about 20 minutes to go, we all applauded the aparent consolation goal and thought, “ok, well at least we had a goal to cheer for, another two is a bit much to ask really.” Then, Shenhua managed to pull back another, the cheer was five times louder, we each said to each other… “shit, Shenhua are gonna pull this back aren’t they?  And in a game that will be long remembered by each of the six SEC that day, when the equalizing goal went in, just 13 minutes after Shenhua’s first, each of us to a man went apeshit. Shirts were taken off, a group hug celebration went on for a few seconds, chairs were climbed on, backs were jumped on. If you look closely at the video highlights from the match, one American member can be seen trying to celebrate and keep his balance at the same time, his arms waving like a drunk bird trying to fly as he is held by another member at his rear. The Mancunian member can be seen with a look of total disbelief, hands on his head, the gesture probably summed up the moment best of all. It was hard to describe that moment, and the whole game in general. It was just one of those brilliant football moments which come along once in a while, and we had been lucky enough to have travelled half way across China to see it.

It took some time to get out of the stadium, but we were soon back on the bus, and again making a lengthy journey through town back to the hotel. One the way back,”ass-to-ass” had a new rival –  THAT equalizer. The game was discussed endlessly, and once we got back to the hotel, everyone was in the mood to party. We retired briefly to enjoy a few beers in one of our rooms and take in the highlights of the game we had just seen. We laughed as we spotted ourselves celebrating wildly on the terrace after the third goal went in. Soon though it was time to head into town and rendezvous with the main body of Shenhua fans. “Just up a bit from the place we ate last night,” was the instruction. We split into two and took two taxis. Not being familiar with Wuhan or paying an awful lot of attention the previous night, we were not sure where exactly we ate on the street the previous evening. Suddenly we found our bearings though, as our American member suddenly pointed out the window, “Yeah I remember taking a piss at that spot last night.”

Drink-a-thon with the E-Mo

Soon afterwards we were greeted by an advance party of Shenhua foot soliders, and to the surprise of some of the group, some very friendly Wuhan fans. We made our way upstairs; the entire top floor was taken up by around 10 tables of Shenhua and Wuhan fans. Some unfortunate souls who had nothing to do with the rabble were in the adjacent private dining rooms. Copious amounts of food and beer soon arrived on our table, including some delicious smelly doufu. Were were proudly introduced to the Wuhan fans as Shenhua’s foreign contingent – which of course led to much clinking of glasses with our new friends. As the clinking continued, the atmosphere became more boisterous. And as food was scoffed, the beer-to-eats ratio on the table started to become skewed in favour of liquids. Something had to be done about this of course – drinking the vast amount of beer on the table.

With most of the room already well on their way to inebriation, it was time for all the cross-table toasting and gan bei’ing to move up a gear into full blown drinking contests. It was at this point that I found one of the perks of having some seniority in the Lanmo as a leader of the foreign sect. Having a position of some responsibility conferred upon me the right to nominate a henchman, instead of myself,  to accept a drinking challenge from another table, with no loss of face or honour whatsoever on my part. I took full advantage, ordering our French-Mexican member to make his way over the adjacent table. Both the SEC member and a Wuham E-mo counterpart stood on chairs, and, amid racous cheering from the rest of the room, the two chugged their way a whole bottle of beer each, in a race to see who could finish first. Check the video below:

Next the stakes were upped – not just one beer was to be downed, but three, all poured in a very large bowl which the restaurant staff were ordered to bring out. The next two contenders stepped up, as a very young Mr Miagi-type figure sat, barechested, at the table, to adjudicate the contest. With memories hazy by this time, one can’t quite remember what happened, only that one SEC member made a decent fist of downing his bowl, whilst an unfortunate E-mo competitor was made to pour what he could not finishing over his own head, as the pictures reveal. There was a slight pause as our Singaporean member spotted a stray peppercorn floating in his beer. One of the Shenhua Cappos fished it out, “mmm, delicious!” he said, swallowing it whole.

[singlepic id=95 w=320 h=240 float=right]The post-eating drinking games became rowdier and rowdier. Since our group occupied the entire upper flow, except for some very unfortunate diners eating in private side rooms, who from time to time poked their heads out to see what the commotion was. As the night wore on, they were greeted by a somewhat primal sight – many of those in the room had taken off their tops, and, bare chested, were signing and chanting and downing whole bottle after bottle of beer in one. It was a somewhat male-dominated affair, and it reaffirmed the beautiful simplicity of football’s universal appeal – take an exciting match, and put a load of football-loving lads anywhere in the world together after the game, and everyone has their shirts off and is singing and downing beers. It may have appeared to be a rather crude spectacle to some, but it was thoroughly good natured and at least, for a few hours, everyone forgot all the tedious stereotypes which often separate foreigners and Chinese. We were one, we were football fans. We celebrated this together, for one evening brotherhood of a kind, at least fleetingly. Soon it was time for the party to move on – and within minutes, the entire upper floor was empty, a trail of debris left in our wake as broken bottles, rubbish, and muddy footprints in puddles of spilled beer were left behind. On the street, things showed no sign of slowing, a Wuhan fan set off a flare, as more fans bounced around signing on the pavement infront of bemused on lookers and slowing passing traffic.

Hitting town

[singlepic id=99 w=320 h=240 float=right]After another brief stop to drink and eat on the street with some other Lanmo, the six-strong SEC posse branched off to head to Vox Bar, a venue some of us hard heard of and been to before. Unfortunately it was on the other side of Wuhan and it took as an age to get there. When we did, we found the venue to be cool, but the cheesy electro-house music to be absolutely dire. So someone decided to make up for the lack of aural stimulation by ordering a round of Absinthe shots. Each member downed their glass, reactions on everyone’s faces were a picture. From this point on, things became rather hazy. Some graffiti saying “Firas” was spotted on Vox’s wall, how odd. We then stumbled to Wuhan Prison bar around the corner, where the male-dominated theme of the night was challenged by some single members of the party, who, somewhat under the influence, and egged on by your correspondent, tried their luck with the ladies. However, the night ended in a drunken haze, with someone amusing us all by saying something unintentionally politically incorrect to a Wuhan foreign resident, and everyone realising we had another 30 minute cab journey to get back to the other side of town.

Sunday “tourism with SEC characteristics”

SEC weixin screenshotThe next day was a low-key affair. After all members eventually rolled out of bed, we all eventually managed to meet and eat at the same regenmian joint, whilst we debated what to do with our last afternoon in Wuhan. Yellow Crane Tower, the city’s chief tourist attraction, was the consensus, but after another endless taxi ride there, we baulked at the 80rmb entrance fee. “These Chinese tourist spots tend to be underwhelming” was one comment which seemed to resonate. “Hey, lets go over here and look at all the bullshit for sale,” was another remark. We browsed the knick-knacks on sale for a while, and found out what was on sale was uninteresting. We decided to move on, our next stop, West Lake. It took us a while to find two taxis, but on the way, we came across something you don’t see every day – a tall, muscular Chinese guy wearing high heels, shorts and a cowboy hat. “Look at that guy, he just doesn’t give a fuck about anything dude,’ was the verdict from our Chilean. Whilst all trying not to stare, we all couldn’t help but agree.

Following a brief stop on the street which saw our Mexican-French member accosted by a foreign woman determined to engage him in a Spanish conversation whilst causing a honking mass of gridlocked traffic as our taxis waited for us to board, it was another long journey over town to the park. Once we finally made it there, another round of beers was acquired, and some local “medicinal” alcohol. We passed another small group of Shenhua fans, said hello, then sat at the edge of the lake for a couple of hours, bonding as we reflected over the weekend’s events and discussed plans for the next such away trip. Looking at Google maps, we realised we once [singlepic id=114 w=320 h=240 float=right]again faced a long journey, this time to the airport, so there was no time for a last stop any local food. As luck would have it, after reliving ourselves in the bushes, we found a bread van hanging around outside the park gates. A brief negotiation followed and soon afterwards all six of us were travelling across Wuhan in the same vehicle for the first time – an excellent way to end an excellent trip, adding to the camaraderie of it all. One half-hour delay, an over-priced airport meal, a few souvenir spiced duck neck purchases later, and one final “ass-to-ass” joke later, and we were taking off on our way back to Shanghai. The first SEC away trip had finally reached its conclusion and all on board agreed it would be the first of many…

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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