A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to go and watch Fujian Chaoyue (Fujian Broncos) play at home in this their first voyage into Chinese association football. Previously I had only watched one Chinese game live and that was Beijing Guoan in the Asian Champions League a few years back, but being a keen admirer of local football, I was more than happy to accept the offer!
This however was a far cry away from the game in Beijing. As we walked into the stadium we walked past the players, down the tunnel and onto the pitch side before climbing the stairs case to the stands! It never fails to amaze me the quality of local football stadiums in relatively small Chinese cities, this one was capable of holding 18,000! Seat choice was not a problem as sadly the match day capacity was only around 400 or so, but in all fairness they’re a new team and currently do no marketing.
Fair play to Jiangxi , who even in the third tier brought a hundred or so supporters with them all of whom were in a jubilant mood throughout the game, banging their drums, waving their flags and even setting off a cheeky flare or two ( see title picture).
The game kicked off after the usual shaking of hands and a rendition of the national anthem. I waited eagerly to see what quality of football I could now hope to watch on a regular basis. However, apart from the goal scored on the counter attack by the visitors, the first half saw little action and I was beginning to regret my decision after having spent an hour on the bike getting there!
Half time saw us leave the stadium to go to a nearby shop for a drink and a snack as there was no shop or stall inside the stadium.
We returned to our seats as the second half kicked off still slightly demoralised by the first halves entertainment. I was worried my short lived passion for the league and my newly found local team would come to a prompt and immediate end. Luckily to my surprise the second half brought with it the kind of entertainment only possible away from the higher leagues.
The game started well with chances for both teams but it wasn’t the football that really had us up and shouting. On three separate occasions a hard challenge would go in and the player would roll around as we sadly often see in football. What maybe we didn’t see at the World Cup or in the higher leagues though is what happened next. The team mates of whichever player had been fouled would run over and start pushing the perpetrator, more people would join until eventually you had 22 players, a referee and an over excited security guard all on the pitch engaged in a scuffle. During one of these incidents the away teams coach even ran onto the pitch to get involved!
Despite these quite comical scenes there were no sendings off, quite a few yellows but no reds. We would in fact have to wait until the last minute to see the red.With the away team 1-0 up and looking to run down the clock they won a corner! The Fujian captain, who also seemed to be the more senior member of the team, offered personally to go and deal with the short corner. I thought as a more experienced member and a captain he had offered to go to ensure none of the younger players lost their temper. Alas the corner was taken, the player turned his back towards the captain to shield the ball and the captain preceded to kick him from behind. The red card was brandished followed by the full time whistle shortly after. Fujian remain rock bottom of their division and have just a point to their name.
So what would I say about my first game watching this level and would I return to watch another? The answer is yes, although the football quality at times may have resembled more Sunday league than professional standard, the fact that this team is new offers me a glimmer of hope. It takes time to build a team from the ground up and I’m sure the quality of play I see will increase. Until the quality of the football increases I’ll have to be content to watch the entertainment of scuffles and red cards that are often what make lower league football games around the world so appealing!
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