Shenzhen is a modern metropolis based in Southern Guangdong, the city’s rise has been astronomical since its foundation – and is currently celebrating it’s 40th anniversary with an impressive light show every night.
Although this city had humble beginnings, merely a fishing village just forty years ago, it’s upsurge is due to the city becoming the first special Economic Zone in China in May 1980. Deng Xiaoping’s economic and social reforms, and with the cities close proximity to Hong Kong, Shenzhen was able to grow at break neck speed. From just 35,000 residents in the late 70’s to over 12 million residents today, and millions more living in the surrounding areas.
This ground breaking creation of prosperity and wealth naturally has attracted migrants from all over China. Many are from neighbouring provinces such as Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, and some from as far away as Hebei Province.
This has somewhat caused a lack of affiliation and affection for the city, and this can be seen during Chinese New Year, when most residents return to their home to spend the holiday with their families leaving the city a ghost town.
How does this affect Shenzhen FC?
Football clubs can become the beating heart of a city and a symbol for their community – think of clubs such as Valencia, Napoli, Dortmund or Newcastle.
Sometimes football clubs can even transcend to an even higher level of importance to a city. Barcelona for example during Franco’s dictatorship of Spain, the Camp Nou was one of a few places Catalan could be spoken freely.
Could the lack of city identity and the cities large migrant population explain the lack of passion for Shenzhen FC? Currently playing in the Shenzhen stadium which has a capacity of 35,000, average attendances are around 6,500.
The State of play in the Chinese game
Maybe it is unfair to compare Shenzhen FC to European clubs, but we can compare them to the big boys in the CSL, and Shenzhen FC does come out the comparison slightly more favourably. Guangzhou Evergrande have seen attendances slowly rise, their average attendance gate figures are 48,000, still not to full capacity of their 58,500 home. Although impressive figures for China none the less.
As Evergrande are China’s biggest club, a fairer comparison for Shenzhen FC might be current CSL leaders Shanghai SIPG who have an average crowd of around 20,000. In fact no other CSL club breaks the 30,000 barrier apart from Beijing Guoan, many of the teams hover around the 15,000 mark.
The figures in League One are as you expect as a whole lower with exceptions with Shijiazhuang Ever Bright and Heilongjiang Lava Spring in Harbin pulling in 15,000.
Chinese football is in it’s infancy, so don’t expect the cities respective football clubs to speak for the city as the previous European clubs mentioned before do.
Shenzhen should be able to compete in football – it competes against Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in most walks of life, why not football? It seems strange that Shenzhen being by far the biggest city in League One and a tier one city, is so poorly supported.
On the verge of promotion
Is the city cable of achieving 15,000 if they are promoted? Well Shenzhen are currently in a battle with two other clubs for promotion. They sit just one point above second place for automatic promotion with three games remaining.
Is the problem simply not being in the CSL, or lacking superstars to engage the fans?
Shenzhen FC owners certainly have deep pockets, according to the Financial Times, Kaisa Group as of October this year recorded net profits of over 3.5 Billion Hong Kong Dollars.
A big signing if Shenzhen were to get promoted would raise the profile of the club and boost interest from all corners of the globe, maybe more than in the city itself.
This certainly happened before when Sven Goran Eriksson managed the club in his short tenure last year, and made International news when he was sacked with a poem. Due to the lacklustre feeling towards the club, it would seem a top player would be necessary, a player with the global statue as Oscar, Hulk or Paulinho.
This has become incredibly more difficult in recent times due to the 100% tax opposed by the government controlled football association of transfers over 45m RMB. Although Kaisa have proven to invest in managers, hiring Sven, Seedorf and with now current manager and former Real Madrid manager Juan Ramon Lopez Caro.
It’s unclear that even a super star signing could engage the fans, and the strategy of Kaisa makes sense – hiring top foreign manager talent to get them promoted, and stabilize in the top flight. Then perhaps the true clout of Kaisa’s wealth could be felt in the CSL.
CSL football and top talent visiting Shenzhen and also hopefully playing for the club should boost bums on seats,a realistic target for the club would be to average 10,000.
Shenzhen natives are the answer
Shenzhen can be a powerhouse in Chinese football, the club needs to find a way of resonating with the fans and creating a spirit of one city. There are people in the city who call this place home. Children of migrants only know the modern Shenzhen, the big sky scrapers, the modern architecture, and the world class infrastructure. They are proud of their city, and more importantly it is their city.
Shenzhen FC should slowly build up their fan base, go to schools and organise events, have match days were children can go for free. Set up affordable training camps in the city during holidays and weekends. Promotion and top class players would help, but it will not solve the unique problem this mega city faces of appearing over night.
Build for the long-term and Shenzhen could become a mammoth Chinese footballing city, in which it’s young fans can be proud of it’s football club as they are proud of their hometown now. Football could speak for the city, and be the symbol of this great, fast paced expanding modern destination.
A great small step towards this dream would be automatic promotion, Shenzhen entertain Dalian Transcendence at home. Three small points on Sunday could be the building blocks of something much bigger for the whole city.