A tale of football, defeat, alcohol, bird-chasing and general sordidness. Just another weekend for the infamous sino-foreign Shenhua fans group, the SEC, except it was an away trip in Beijing. The names have been changed to protect the guilty…
This eagerly-awaited expedition was the Shenhua Element Crew’s first bona fide long-range away trip since the phenomenal Wuhan weekend nearly two years ago.
The fact was not lost on the travelling party, all of whom spent the week leading up to the game discussing it endlessly. Shanghai Baijiu King (SBK) and the Dick and Fart Jokes Leader (DAF) both wore their Fengtai ’07 trip T-shirt’s in memory of their first away trip all those years ago. They hoped history might repeat itself and Shenhua grab a 3-2 victory again as they did that year. With morale high in Shenhua land after winning the opening three games, the party quietly hoped for a decent result in the home of their hated rivals. After all, it’s hope that we fans thrive on, we set out with it in our hearts that morning.
The match being on a Friday night meant everyone needed to take a day off to travel to the capital. It was still a problem for some however to make it on time. The leader of the group, DAF, still adjusting to his new life in the suburbs, misjudged how long it would take to get to Hongqiao station. He eventually made it through rush hour traffic in a taxi, just ten minutes before the train’s departure time. Disaster was avoided – he was holding everyone’s train tickets.
Greetings and formalities were quickly taken care of as the group boarded the G23 to Beijing. The SEC then settled into its natural travel mode – serving themselves alcohol before the train had even left the station. Sensing a long day lay ahead of them, with the big match still some 850 miles and over nine hours off, self-restraint won the day, and the hard liquor prepared by the holder of the SEC purse (HOP) and SEC Minister of Chaos (MOC) was saved for consumption in Gongti itself.
As the train sped relentlessly north, the mood in the group was upbeat. What lay waiting in store in Beijing? We would soon find out.
The journey passed fairly quickly, as the banter flowed. Pulling into Beijing south station, we posed with the SEC flag outside the train. That feeling of excitement, that mild adrenaline rush at having arrived in enemy territory alongside your fellows, washed over us. lt wasn’t like we wanted to start smashing things up or go looking for a dust-up or anything like that. But the ancient echoes from the past still reverberated through our 45th generation warrior minds.
After an impromptu rendevous with several other Shenhua supporters known to us who arrived at Beijing south at the same time, we hit the Beijing subway. MOC, clad in a camo jacket, sat next to a migrant worker wearing camo trousers, creating a curious fashion spectacle which would have relevance later.
Arriving in the city at 3pm left us just 90 minutes to get to our hotel, dump our stuff then report to the south gate of Gongti, a full three hours before kickoff. Our hotel was close to the north gate, but the combined Chinese travel hazards of elongated hotel check-in procedures, unfamiliarity with one’s destination, and massive Beijing city blocks meant we weren’t at the south gate until 5pm, after MOC had posed for a picture outside a sex shop along the way.
It wasn’t a problem though. Infact we had to wait in what loosely resembled a queue for a while before getting our briefs. Media whore DAF then found himself interviewed by Beijing TV. He did his best to keep a straight face when asked what he thought of Beijing fans, and told the reporter that a derby could only be between two teams close together.
Anyway, once inside, our flag was confiscated for some reason and laid, rolledup, at the top of a staircase. No problem, HOP simply sat beside it for a few minutes before making off with it in his jacket. After a couple of hours of dicking around, it was finally time for the match to begin. Game on then, after the group had to relocate from the front rows – we were shooed away by over-zealous groundstaff. No-one was allowed to sit there for some reason. With nearly 700 Shenhua fans in the cramped away end, space was at a premium. Shenhua capo Zhang Yun called us up to the back row where we enjoyed the best view possible for away supporters.
The atmosphere was excellent, almost 50,000 packing out Gongti. The Shenhua fans did their best to make themselves heard, as did whisky-fuelled members of our party. The match itself wasn’t outstanding in terms of entertainment. But as usual, the verbals flowed between, well, not only both sets of fans, but between Shenhua, and knot of Tianjin supporters on one side, and the dreaded Guoan turtles on the other. Both sides made a very respectable attempt at setting a world record for the most utterances of the term “shabi” in one evening.
During a forgettable match, the whisky flasks were passed around. The malts providing warmth and fuel for the shabi chants. Shenhua played decently for a Gongti match, but the inevitable happened when Guiana scored towards the end of the game, and then conceded a dodgy penalty minutes before the final whistle. The result left everyone in the away end feeling somewhat deflated. Despite looking like a decent bet for a draw for much of the game, Shenhua had come away empty handed from Gongti yet again. MOC made a beeline for the gents right after the whistle, to go and refresh himself. However he returned looking not very refreshed.
After what seemed like an age, we were let out the stadium. We then slipped off into the Beijing night. After the customary Lanmo ritual of standing around scratching our balls whilst waiting for someone to decide on a dinner venue, we headed off to a Xinjiang place near the north gate. The food was excellent, we all agreed it was better than the Xinjiang food in Shanghai. Everyone except MOC that was. He seemed to be an alternate state of consciousness, and had to be reminded that 10pm was a bit early for a “rub and tug”.
In something of a reversal of normal SEC night time roles, MOC fucked off to bed early leaving the rest of the party to live it up. Following a bizarre and unnecessary detour through a housing complex, DAF led the rest of the group to a small side street near the southern edge of the stadium, where our Wild East Football companion Bcheng was celebrating his beloved Guoans victory – along with Hali, a well-known Guoan supporter, and a few sheepish Shenhua fans. At first everything seemed to be in order, however it quickly became apparent that some of Bcheng’s group had been drinking heavily, not least of whom Bcheng himself, who, in an extraordinary bizarre turn of events, was speaking English with a Chinese accent.
Bcheng’s state of inebriation and our relative sobriety pretty much ruled out our two groups joining forces for the rest of the evening. Bcheng perhaps sensed this and tried his best to rectify matters by cajoling the group to drink large glasses of baijiu. Members made their excuses, well, not that this was necessary. It was already past midnight by now and the gulf between the two groups too great. However, SBK was undeterred and stepped forward, grabbing a glass of baijiu and downing it in one swift action without even blinking. This amazed the other members present; SBK himself would admit to not being particularly known for his drinking prowess. Bcheng, despite being completely drunk, looked impressed, then continued saying “toh neele” (2-0) in reference to the earlier score.
By now things were very rowdy. Bcheng and his mate Hali were slamming bottles down on the table and conversation was replaced by the exchanging of purple-faced shouts at close range. Even the restaurant owner, presumably a Beijinger used to such raucous Friday nights, began to look a little perturbed. Soon afterwards, another Shenhua fan in the restaurant tried to dash outside to throw up. He didn’t make it. The sound of vomiting pierced the noisy restaurant. The drama continued when, in what was possibly the moment of the weekend, Bcheng ‘s wife decided she had had enough of her husband’s wayward behaviour. After ignoring yet another of her beratings, he booked his place in the doghouse for the weekend, when she picked up a pair of chopsticks and launched them across the table. The eating implements flew through the air and smashed into her husbands torso, before bouncing away, causing bystanders to flinch. Much laughter followed, but not from his wife.
It wasn’t long before the SEC members decided they’d had enough. The group left the scene, laughing at the Shenhua fan “with his head in his pants” as HOP put it, lying bent double on a deckchair in the street outside. It had been a long day, and after a brief discussion it was decided that heading back to the hotel was the preferred option. Possibly due to eating undercooked meat, DAF had an unpleasant and noisy experience in the bathroom upon his return. HOP, lying in his bed just a couple of metres away, was worried enough to enquire as to DAF’s health. He emerged looking relived. HOP would get his revenge on his room mate the following evening.
Saturday morning then, and the group found themselves in the odd position of the main event already having taken place, but rest of the weekend in Beijing still to enjoy. It felt a bit like eating a three course meal in the wrong order. Nevertheless, the party started their day in a dispirate manner; MOC reprised his role as minister of chaos, by getting up before everyone else. DAF opted to stay in bed longer. HOP left to rendevous with MOC, who had been joined by MO. That trio saught sustenance. SBK left the hotel to spend the day with friends in Beijing.
Around lunchtime members re-grouped around Sanlitun, minus SBK. In an unlikely turn of events, DAF turned fashion advisor for MO at a local H&M store, MO following his recommendation to buy a pair of mirrored aviator sunglasses. He emerged looking very Terminator 2 out into the sunny and bright day. Beijing’s notoriously polluted skies were nowhere to be seen, a consulation of sorts for our away trippers. The group took advantage of the fine conditions by heading to the tourist trap of houhai. There, members enjoyed lunch and drinks on a rooftop bar overlooking the famous lake. It was then decided to take a motorized boat out onto the waves. This brought much merriment and scope for mocking the Beijing accent whilst making pirate references. Naturally, beers were consumed on the boat as cameraderie ruled. DAF was helmsman for the voyage, and amused himself by chasing down a duck across the water, as HOP stepped forward to the front of the boast pretending to lasoo it, cowboy-style. After negotiating a Chinese-style boat jam at the narrowest point of the lake, it was time to head for the shore.
Next up was a trip to a brewpub in Gulou. The drinking spot happened to be within walking distance. In Beijing, this a most unusual conincidence. MO took the plaudits for guiding the team to such a fine establshment with excellent beers. The beverages flowed, perhaps a little too much – these were no snow beers or Budweisers and packed quite a punch. Some of the group began to flag somewhat. It was decided to head back to the hotel, where some members enjoyed a nap.
The next re-grouping took place at a pub on Sanlitun. DAF joined latest. Later, fellow Lanmo Heima and Jay entered the fray, as we enjoyed western pub grub and watched some EPL. We left soon after, meeting SBK on the street to head to our final destination that night – Dada Beijing. There, more SEC members who happened to be in Beijing that night to DJ – Will, Caddy and John, swelled the group’s numbers further. Heima looked a little unimpressed with Dada, presumably missing somewhere to play dice. Jay appeared to be in his element. DAF’s digestive troubles continued, making several visits to the gents. Everyone proceeded to begin drinking, special guest that night was Manchester house music legend A Guy Called Gerald.
Later on the dancefloor, John asked DAF his opinion on a very curious matter in relation to, well, something that’s probably best not repeated in writing. A slightly perplexed, but amused DAF, shrugged and said it was people’s own business. As the night wore on, and the alcohol flowed, things became hazy. SBK became a streetfighter champion on an old arcade machine in the bar. A Guy Called Gerald’s set stayed pedestrian and safe. Some members nevertheless got busy on the dancefloor. Heima disappeared, followed by Jay around 3am.
Things got hazy, and a clearly inebriated MO gave his cloakroom ticket to MOC, then left with DAF and HOP to head back to the hotel. DAF passed out on the bed, but not before being awakened by drunken HOP taking his turn to make revolting noises in the toilet – the sound of a vomiting Shenhua fan in a Beijing establishment heard for the second night in a row.
Sunday morning then, and there wasn’t much left to do but find somewhere to eat then head to Beijing South for our 2pm train back to Shanghai. There was still time for two more mishaps however. MOC had dragged MO in a taxi to Dada bar to look for his lost camo jacket. The pair found the bar locked and not a soul in sight – unsurprising for a Sunday morning. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, DAF and HOP were losing 100rmb of their room deposit thanks to an abandoned, vomit-stained towel on the bathroom floor. It was almost worth the 100rmb to add such a silly anedcodte to the story.
Following a quick lunch, SBK, HOP and DAF made their way to the railway station via the subway. MO and a now jacketless MOC were already on the train by the time everyone worked out where they were in the sprawling Beijing South. on the train, role swapping continued to be a theme, even in the closing hours of the trip – a foreign kid seated behind the group talked stupidly and obnoxiously loudly for much of the journey. The rest of the time, conversation was fairly limited as it tends to be on return legs. But members found time to amuse themselves by taking pictures of each other sleeping, whilst MO and DAF discussed classic video games and MO’s impending departure to Taiwan.
Word arrived via Wechat that quite a few other Lanmo were delayed and stuck in Beijing having foolishly opted to fly back rather than take the train. Our G23 gaotie rolled into Hongqiao station at 18.48 precisely and we stepped off onto the shiny platform under a darkening sky. We didn’t come back with a win or a draw, but SEC away trips are never pointless.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015