WEF’s Matt Sullivan gives a personal account of why he follows a Chinese third division team, Shenyang Dongjin
I was lucky enough to grow up in Workington during the 1980’s. Among the many blessings this bestowed upon me, was that my formative period of live match attendance meant watching a penniless Workington Reds struggling against relegation from the Northern Premier League First Division as they continued a 30-year slide from Division Three down to the North West Counties League. The glory days of the sixties, playing Chelsea and West Ham in the quarter finals of the League Cup were but a distant memory for older fans; by this time we found ourselves (deservedly) pitted against the likes of Congleton Town, Knowsley United and Rhyl, and still getting regularly beaten. Thin gruel indeed. And yet this experience in my younger days, standing in a wind-and-rain-blasted Borough Park with around a dozen other hardy souls watching the legendary Peter Harbach trip over another attempted stepover against Warrington Town prepares one perfectly for the experience of supporting Shenyang Dongjin, arguably the worst football team in Chinese professional football.
Becoming a Dongjin fan was fated, not planned; as my son got older and more interested in football I wanted to show him that football was not something just for watching on the telly, and that there is a world of football beyond the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona which so entranced his school friends. And so I resolved to begin taking him to the match, and began researching the possibilities.
Liaoning FC were out of the question, being hours away in Panjin; there was a team playing in League Two, whose home ground was at some university far in the south of the city, called Dongjin; but Shenyang Zhongze were still illuminating League One, and with their Olympic Stadium home visible just across the road outside our kitchen window, the choice was made; I’ll start taking the boy to Zhongze.
However, this was not to be; on the eve of the 2015 season, Zhongze folded, leaving Shenyang Dongjin of League Two as the premier- ranked professional football team in Shenyang. Who then announced the release of all their senior professionals; they would contest the season with only the youth players, everything will be fine. I should have called the whole thing off, but by this time my son was almost feverish with excitement about watching real live footballers playing in a real match at a real stadium – we had to go.
That first home game, a 2-0 defeat by newly promoted Baotou turned out to be one of Dongjin’s better results in a true horror show of a season. By the end of the season, we had played 14, lost 14, scoring three goals while conceding 67. And we did not miss a single home match as we fell completely for these young lads, who despite being roundly battered week in week out, as the four-nils turned to six-nils, despite getting spanked 10-1 off Dalian Transcendence, never once gave up. The utter joy of the players’ celebrations on actually taking the lead (Ningxia) in a game for the first and only time, with what turned out to be our only goal at home for the entire season sealed the deal; as the 2-figure crowd went wild and I threw my overjoyed son into the air I knew, this is my team.
Subsequent seasons have seen some improvement (as Yazz once said, the only way is up..); the kids-only policy was thankfully junked for the following season, and we’ve managed a few goals, some draws, and even a couple of wins (Mo Yongjie, last minute against Heilongjiang Lava Spring) while still resolutely being worse than pretty much everyone. Despite having the Chinese Theo Walcott (!) Bai Zijian in the team, despite the heroics of the Xianjiang Mitrovic, Mirzaekber Alimjan who on being introduced as a sub against Jilin, stuck the nut on a defender and got himself sent off while the stadium announcer was still announcing the substitution, despite player-coach Le Beisi rolling back the years with a string of slow-motion midfield masterclasses, defeat over two legs against Lhasa in the playoffs saw Dongjin become the first team in the professional era to be relegated from league two.
Luckily for Dongjin, we were able to “Do an Alty”; thanks to a combination of other teams folding, or choosing not to take up their promotion place, or not meeting the league’s requirements, Dongjin were reprieved, and will once again “rep” Shenyang in League Two. So far after three rounds we are still as high as 12th, looking down on the likes of Hebei Elite and Baotou Nanjiao thanks to a 2-2 draw in round 3 to give us our first points of the season. At the time of writing the club were due to take on Yancheng, for my first home game of the season; I can hardly wait.
- Supporting the worst team in the league? An account of how it happened… on
- CSL travelogue: Take a look at Guiyang before they’re gone on
- Coleman to Hebei and How China Gets into the World Cup Swing: The Chinese Football Podcast on
- Kitchee Defeat Tai Po Again to Win FA Cup and Clinch Domestic Treble on
- The Greatest Foreign Players in CSL History (But Not Iniesta): The Chinese Football Podcast on