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Shanghai Shenhua fans protest Greenland name change - Wild East Football
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Shanghai Shenhua fans protest Greenland name change

Supporters of Shanghai Shenhua intend to protest against the club’s new identity following new owner Greenland real estate’s decision to rename the club to “Shanghai Greenland FC, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua team”.

Hundreds of fans reacted angrily to the announcement, cursing Greenland and accusing the corporation of abandoning 20 years of history as the CSL team alongside Beijing Guoan to have retained its original title in some form.

The new identity of the club, which makes a curious distinction between the name of the club and the name of the team, is ironically a similar arrangement to what Shenhua’s long time rivals Beijing Guoan used during the mid 2000s.  Following a new sponsorship arrangement, the team was renamed Beijing Hyundai but the club was still called Guoan and referred to as such by fans and media alike. Guoan reverted back to their original identity when Hyundai ended their sponsorship in 2006.

The club/team distinction appears to be a rare phenomenon which defies common logic, due to the fact practically no-one outside of legal or footballing authority circles would ever have the need, or desire, to refer to these two entities separately.

It is yet unclear how the bizarre nomenclature will affect how the club/team is commonly referred to from now on. However, with “Shenhua” being kept in the team’s name, it seems likely the name Shenhua will continue to be used by media, and certainly fans, when referring to all matters Shanghai Greenland FC, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua team.

Shenhua fans remain largely unimpressed with the new title however, with several pointing to Shandong originally being called Shandong Taishan, and now called Shandong Luneng Taishan officially, but just known to all as Shandong Luneng now.

“If you don’t know anything about football, you’d think ‘Shanghai Greenland Shenhua Team’ was a gardening enthusiasts club,” said one fan, referring to the fact Shenhua means “Flower of Shanghai.” Other remarks were either rude, offensive, hostile to Greenland or a combination of all three and unpublishable.

Some voices online called for calm and a reasoned approach to persuading Greenland to keep Shenhua in the title of the club as well as team, but these appeared to be in the minority.

Reports in the Shanghai media claimed Greenland originally did not intend to keep the Shenhua name as part of the clubs identity at all – further fueling fan anger. Supporters claimed Greenland had kept the Shenhua name in the team to appease the local government only and cared nothing about the fans.

Some even called for the return of Zhu Jun as “at least he kept our name for 7 years.”

Presently, it would appear the majority of existing Shenhua fans plan to continue supporting the club, but anti-Greenland merchandise will be produced and worn by many on the terraces.  Similar protests were seen in 2007 when Zhu Jun bought the club and merged it with Shanghai United, but these died down after a few games as Shenhua’s identity was largely unchanged.

Internal strife at the club appears to be a hard habit for Shenhua to shake.

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.

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.



  1. Damian Jones

    08/02/2014 at 19:53

    I don’t understand this. A new, perhaps responsible, owner takes over with promise of future riches and Shanghai fans want to keep the name of a company which has dragged them through the dirt recently (am I missing something here?). Anyway, why don’t local fans want to chant the name of their city rather than a company ?

    • GZBiffo

      09/02/2014 at 02:52

      Well, first of all, the company called Shenhua hasn’t been running that club for over a decade, yet it seems the fans had grown so attached to this corporate name that they wanted to keep chanting it even after the company had ceased funding the club. The owners in the interim had bowed to the fans’ wishes, but Greenland obviously felt that, since they were basically rescuing the club from disintegration, they were entitled to do what just about every private club owner has done in the recent history of Chinese football, and append their name to the club they owned for marketing purposes.

      This does not sit well with many fans of Shanghai Shenhua. In a very typical display of Shanghai exceptionalism, they feel that what applies to the rest of China does not apply to them. I’d sympathise in other contexts, but the reality in China is that this is what happens when an organisation with oodles of money takes over your club. If those fans can’t handle that, then there are two other top-flight Shanghai teams they can go and support instead.

      So basically, Damian, this is just a little storm in a delicate flowery teacup. It’ll pass soon enough.

      • Steve Crooks

        10/02/2014 at 09:08

        While I have mixed feelings on this, my own conclusion is that “storm in a teacup” and “neediness” are pretty good summaries of how I see things here — particularly given that the potential alternatives essentially involved a move to Yunnan, certain relegation, bankruptcy and the like.

        However, on the “chanting the city name” point — and I appreciate that this might be a tricky concept for some of our southern cousins to wrap their heads around — Shanghai has a pretty strong tradition and history of being a city with more than one football side, meaning that local (club) identity is a lot bigger than local (city).

        It’s not quite the equivalent of telling Arsenal or Spurs fans to just suck it up and “chant for North London FC”, but not a million miles off either.

        • Cameron Wilson

          10/02/2014 at 11:04

          I think we’ve all been in China a bit too long?! Why should these fans simply roll over and accept their club name being changed? They are no different to the Hull or Cardiff fans protesting their identity change issues in the UK just now.

          Can you imagine if Blackburn Rovers were changed to “Blackburn Venky’s FC, Venkey’s Rovers team?” It would never fly. It is wrong to hold Chinese football fans to different standards than other fans – they have a right to expect their traditions to be respected as much as any other fans elsewhere and they should be praised for demanding respect.

          Right now no-one may completely understand the team/club name difference. But legally the club is no longer called Shenhua and even Zhu Jun wasn’t stupid enough to change that when he bought it.

          Identity and community link are the heart and soul of football, without it clubs are just franchises which are are ultimately entities of limited meaning.

          • Steve Crooks

            11/02/2014 at 12:48

            I agree that identity and community are (or at least should be; or used to be) the heart & soul of football and the reason we all care so much about 22 blokes kicking around a pig’s bladder and all that.

            However… I’d say we have to look at these things in context. The way that football is set up here, it’s pretty much true that “clubs are just franchises which are ultimately entities of limited meaning”. I don’t like that, I don’t think it’s the way things should be, but it IS the way things are. Pretending otherwise is just sticking our heads in the sand, ostrich-style.

            Of the 16 top-flight clubs for the 2014 CSL, how many have in the last 5-10 years:
            – Moved city
            – Changed name
            – Adopted different club/team name
            – Changed crest/colors

            I’d wager it’s more than 50%. Quite simply, that’s how football is organized here. It’s not always possible to compare franchise clubs directly to clubs with 100+ years’ history which were set up as (and still pseudo-run as, in some countries) social clubs.

            None of this is saying that the fans don’t deserve better or that I don’t remain a committed lover of the game — it’s just important to have a reality check.

          • GZBiffo

            11/02/2014 at 13:25

            In fairness there are big differences between how football operates in countries where it’s been an established professional sport for over a century and those where it has only been so for a couple of decades.

            Taking the examples above, City and Rovers are examples of generic names long used to distinguish clubs in Britain – you rarely get company names used. Most major European clubs that do (e.g. Bayer Leverkusen, PSV Eindhoven) started off as teams for the employees of those companies and are still sponsored by them. A very small number have been named after whoever bought them and currently owns them – Red Bull Salzburg is all I can think of offhand.

            By contrast, in China and many other Asian countries it’s standard practice for clubs to follow the Red Bull Salzburg model (or even sell on the official team name to a 3rd party). Perhaps this is seen as reasonable and acceptable partly for cultural reasons and partly because costs are far higher than they were at the developmental stage of football in major European leagues.

            I think it’s also fair to point out that many old clubs did change their names and colours in the early years of their existence, e.g. Cardiff City originally being Riverside AFC in brown and gold.

            I don’t think anyone is expected to like this – I’m not happy that my local team is named after a bloody real estate company, and you don’t hear the fans at Tianhe chanting ‘Hengda’ either. However I accept that it’s an necessary compromise here and now if you want your team to have the funds to compete. If it wasn’t for Greenland, Shanghai Shenhua could well be facing extinction – would that be preferable to a name change?

            What I find bizarre about all this hullabaloo is that ‘Shenhua’ was also just the name of a company (albeit a nice sounding one), and at that one that no longer even has a connection to the club. Maybe a big reason fans are so emotionally attached to this name is because almost all other clubs in China have changed their names in the past 20 years – that exceptionalism I mentioned before?

            More importantly, the only other one who claims not to have hails from Shanghai’s perennial rival to the title of number one Chinese city. In other words, I suspect it mostly boils down to face, and I haven’t been here long enough to praise protests in the service of that.

            What’s wrong with just taking the money and continuing to chant ‘Shenhua’ at games if that old company really was so well-loved? And whatever happened to it anyway?

  2. Cameron Wilson

    16/02/2014 at 08:24

    I am disappointed there are no comments praising the fans for demanding the history and tradition of their club is upheld. It’s not easy to oppose the intersts of the rich and powerful anywhere, least of all in China. You can’t buy history and it’s something which the game is much more richer for if it is preserved and nurtured. Shenhua fans actions benefit the entire league, the more individual clubs preserve their history the more the league’s overall cultural sediment grows which is only good for all concerned.

    I always find comments saying European clubs changed their identities in their early years so it’s ok for Chinese clubs to do the same, really baffling. European leagues began well over a century ago; there’s no need to re-learn simple lessons about continuity in clubs identity being a massive benefit which costs nothing. Noone expected Greenland to not put their name in the mix, but having this absurd team/club discrepancy is pointless, all they had to do was call the team Shanghai Shenhua Greenland, as other sponsors did before Zhu Jun, and no one would complain. Instead they put Shenhua in the team name only which is not only massively disrespectful to fans who have for twenty years supported an underachieving, mismanaged, at times corrupt, football team in a country where local football is seen as an embarrassment by the mainstream of society, it’s also completely pointless. Greenland is already the biggest real estate company in China if not the world and in anycase everybody knows Greenland now own Shenhua they can put their name anywhere they like just don’t drop Shenhua from the club name.

    To clarify, the fans feel if they don’t protest this name change then Shenhua will be
    dropped altogether. Many of the protestors say they would rather watch Shenhua in division three than see the name disappear in exchange for big name players and championships and I for one absolutely feel the same way.

    One final point, the origin of Shenhua as a corporate name may be ironic but to the fans it is the name of the club. Shen is an Old character for Shanghai, Hua means flower. That’s partly why it stuck.

    Compared with European football, Chinese football is full of bizarre and
    Seemingly illogical phenomena, and many of its issues are self inflicted. All the more reason why it’s most dedicated followers should be respected and encouraged for using their energies and passions to push the game forward towards such clearly beneficial ends .
    History and tradition accumulate overtime. Why waste it?

    • bcheng

      17/02/2014 at 10:56

      For people who are fans of clubs which change names every few years (probably why the team at a certain southern club chant the XX队, because they could never remember exactly what the name was called from year to year) or are just casual supporters of their team, it may be hard to understand, but what Greenland is doing is crazy and its why fans across China have banded together to stand with Shenhua supporters against Greenland. If something like this happened in Beijing it would probably see me and many other supporters turning in our season ticket, I’m a supporter of Beijing Guoan and those 4 characters in the club’s name are equally important, it is part of the identity of the team, the city, remove two of them and we’re no longer talking about the same team.

      I do, however, disagree with your point on European clubs. Yes, in many cases the name changes, moves, etc happened ages ago, these things do happen and its not surprising that the China league, still in its infancy at only 20 years old, is going through some growing pains. True, China could look to Europe and learn these lessons quickly, but when corporate sponsorship/ownership is involved, until the company names are removed from the team name, we’ll be dealing with these issues.

      Anyways, despite my hatred for Shenhua, I stand beside all the fans and hope that the Shenhua name and blue color will remain.

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