Hi, my name’s Brandon and I used to be a Eurosnob. See, it’s not all my fault, I’m an American and the MLS only came into being in the mid 90s (& didn’t arrive in my town until the late 90s) and with its clock counting down and “penalty shootout” from midfield to break ties, it wasn’t quite the “beautiful game” that we all know and love.
It took having my hometown team temporarily moving literally right down the street from my home for me to attend a match & from there it was love at first sight. I would still follow my favorite clubs in Europe, but they would only have a small spot in my heart, which was now taken over by the local side. This is all to say that growing up without a domestic league (& then one with very low standards), I watched a lot of European football instead and can empathize with the Chinese who show up for the summer tour games that we are in the midst of, but not for their local club.
You can shout “support local football” from on high for only so long, but for many Chinese their first experience of league football came in the late 1980s, when CCTV started showing the Italian Serie A & German Bundesliga. It wasn’t until 1994 that China had a league of its own and, in many cities, it wasn’t until the late 90s when they got a club (and often then it was in the third, or if they were lucky, second division).
Now I understand that the crowds for these friendlies aren’t only because someone fell in love with Bayern (or AC Milan or fill in the blank) as a teenager or young person before a pro team existed in their city and that passion hasn’t subsided, though there are plenty for who that is the case. There are plenty of people who attend who have their own favorite domestic league side, but will still rush home after a weekend match to catch the live broadcast of their favorite European team. There are those who are in love with a specific player and their loyalty to a club is only as deep as how long the club continues to afford to pay his salary. There are those who are looking for “renao” (excitement), our own prawn sandwich brigade, who aren’t that into football but will go for the event of it and to tell their friends they were there. Finally, there are those for whom China’s domestic game bares no interest at all, in some cases its due to a stubborn attitude regarding the leagues quality, in some its because they still don’t have a “local” side to support.
The reasons are endless why fans across China would travel to Beijing and watch a “London derby”, a city that is 5,000 miles away and that some (many? most?) have never visited. I tend to think there’s a pretty even split in the crowds among the groups above, but I’ve never taken an accounting. As someone who loves football, I’m not going to question someone else’s passion, even if I feel its misplaced, just like nobody questions people around the world (and especially in China) who are passionate about the NBA, the recognized greatest league in the world when it comes to basketball. The thing is, while the buildup and excitement before these European tour games can be overwhelming, the actual matches themselves, often played on mediocre pitches, in unbelievable heat, among two sides of jet lagged players, many who won’t be in the regular starting XI turn into snoozefests.
CSL sides don’t help their cause with a total lack (or minimal at best) of marketing. In the US, teams would be trying to keep the momentum, you’ve seen the best in the world go head-to-head, now see our home grown talent fight it out. Or targeting youth football leagues with free tickets or small events with the players (the latter the sort of thing these European sides do on a small scale when they come here).
So if the teams aren’t going to help their own cause, how do we, as passionate fans of local football (and/or reformed Eurosnobs), help our cause? Take your Eurosnob friends to a CSL game, buy them a beer (or drink of their choice), and let them enjoy the gift of live football in a stadium with fans who are passionate about the game. Results will vary, there needs to be a team in their city, which is getting less & less likely as CSL sides bunch up in a few regions, but it can work. Football is about passion, that passion is a drug, and we all tend to be most passionate when it comes to the city where we make our home. I’ve seen it work, I’ve taken people to Barcelona vs. Guoan a few seasons ago, thinking it would be great to see Messi, Zlatan, and all the rest, but sitting in a half empty Bird’s Nest watching the players sleep walk through 90 minutes against Guoan reserves, my wife & friends were about to fall asleep. A week later, I convinced them to give it another go, this time taking them to Gongti for a Guoan league match and in a packed, pumped up stadium I made two new Guoan fans that night.
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