Guangzhou R&F’s league position is not the only eye-catching thing about the Cantonese club this year – Yuexiushan Stadium is in the spotlight after refurbishment which sees the club leave its mark on one of China’s most storied sports venues.
Whilst not as old as the Provincial Stadium, Yuexiushan is still one of the oldest grounds being used in the CSL this season. Built in the early part of the 1950s, Yuexiushan has undergone many renovations over the intervening period but still faced criticism for the state of its pitch. R&F, who secured 20 year use rights to Yuexiushan from the Guangzhou municipality last year, lost no time in starting a 60 million yuan renovation at the end of the 2016 CSL season.
Despite the many previous renovations, modern day Yuexiushan is still recognisable from old photos of the ground. In a bid to build relationships with the Cantonese public, Yuexiushan’s role in the development of the ‘southern style’ of football is emphasised by the club’s press office at every opportunity. Retaining a visual and symbolic link with past is important to R&F so the latest renovation of Yuexiushan sought to protect and preserve the historical elements of the stadium.
This was relatively easy as apart from the most obvious change – painting everything from the roof down to the running track blue – the majority were internal. The blue paint is in evidence here too though, especially in the dressing room. Another feature of the refurbishment is the prominence of the club crest which can now be seen everywhere from the stadium roof to the improved media room and VIP boxes. The big screen at the northern end of the ground has also been replaced.
Perhaps the most important change though was improving the undersoil drainage and completely re-laying the pitch. It is hoped that this will help the pitch deal with the monsoons which can lash Guangzhou during the early and middle parts of the season.
The club is not finished there though as there are plans under discussion to extend the roof to the currently uncovered north and south ends of the ground as well as doing further work on the main east and west stands. For a stadium that lacked seats as recently as 2012, leaving fans to sit on newspapers on top of the dusty concrete bleachers, these are ambitious plans. But not overly daunting ones for a club owned by a property company.
Sadly for Guangzhou R&F, their return to Yuexiushan has coincided with a tougher fixture list and a loss of momentum in the league. The first game back was what looked like an easy fixture against the then winless Guizhou Zhicheng coached by former R&F assistant and caretaker manager Li Bing. However, Guizhou had other ideas and just like Liaoning in 2013 and Shanghai SIPG in 2015, they spoiled R&F’s homecoming by defeating the Cantonese. It looked like Hebei would come away with a win from the next game at Yuexiushan after Lavezzi’s late goal but Zahavi (who else?) had other ideas and his instant equaliser rescued a point for R&F.
Shanghai Shenhua held Guangzhou R&F to a 0-0 draw in the next Yuexiushan fixture and it is their city rivals Shanghai SIPG who provide the next opposition at Yuexiushan. Before that, Dragan Stojković and his men face an away trip to Henan as they look to end their recent winless streak.