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Chinese Super League

Lanmo Wudi

An utterly mental away trip. I haven’t been to Beijing since Feb 2005 when I first left on my grand trip from Dunfermline to Shanghai overland, but this visit involved a journey with a Shanghai Shenhua fans club (Blue Devils) who are, well, just like any other bunch of hardcore fans.

We took the sleeper train up on Friday night, and everyone got drunk. When it was time for lights out in the carriage, we retired to the restaurant car where we had a sing song with a group of Vietnamese guys who all spoke really good English.

Saturday spent the day touring Beijing and meeting up with some Beijing-based friends, a few drinks at night, still a bit hungover from the train journey.

Sunday, most of our 50-strong party opted to hang around in the the hotel – the game itself was on Sunday night 7.45pm. But the police wanted all the Shenhua fans there at 4.30 to make sure there would be no rumpus. So our bus trundled along to the stadium, a 33,000 capacity ground.

Huge police presence. At the ground, we rendevouzed with another 50 or Shanghai fans who had either made their own way up for the 1340-mile round trip, or were Shanghainese living and working or studying in Bejing. BTW Thats a trip of comparable distance, as the crow flies, from Edinburgh to Berlin.

The game itself lived up to the hype and was fitting with the rest of the weekend. The stadium was about, I’d say, 85% full, about 25,000 in there. Only 100 Shenhua fans, but in a country like China where people dont have all that much money its a respectable turnout considering the distance.

Beijingers really hate the Shanghainese. Beijing is the political and cultural captial of China, but Shanghai is the richest and flashest place. Shanghai also don’t like Beijingers, for a lot of reasons, including Beijing forcing mandarin upon everyone when the communists took over China in 1950. Shanghaiese don’t really use mandarin at home, only Shanghainese, which is different from Mandarin in the way that French and Spanish are different but related.

Anyway, Beijing got off to a great start – ahead after just 3 minutes. Cue tremendous noise from Beijing, and chants of “9-1, 9-1” a reference to Bejings record victory over Shenhua 10 years ago. Ther were several thousand placards bearing the same figures being waved in the crowd. The atmospehre was electric. Former Middlesborough man Hamilton Ricard had the ball in the net in the first half, but it was ruled out for offside. Halftime, 1-0 Beijing.

Second half Shenhua were shooting towards the goals we were all gathered behind. About 10 minutes into the half, Du Wei, that guy who was totally rubbish for Celtic a while back, equalized for Shenhua. Cue frenzied scenes in our end. Not long after, whilst the Shenhua fans were in the middle of chanting obsenities at the Beijing fans near our end, Shenhua went in front. Cue more mayhem in the Shenhua end, and the start of the dragon dance – a kind of version of the conga but with hands on the shoulders of the person infront and chanting a Chinese song, and everyone simulataneously turning 180 degress and going in the opposite direction when they reach the end of their isle.

Beijing equalized soon after with a dodgy penalty, sending the home crowd wild. However, Shenhua scored the winner with just 5 minutes remaining to make it 3-2. I can only say i never saw fans go more mental, or at least, this was equal to anything I saw back home.

The final whilst went, more merriment, then a bunch of Beijing fans tried to get in our end, but were shooed away by the police who had obviously been expecting trouble.

After the game, we were held behind for 30 minutes to let the home crowd disperse. Then, with 40 police forming a human barrier between us and our bus, we left the stadium and stepped onto the coach which was backed up close to the exit as possible. Police escorts all round
for our bus as it made our way through town.

Almost the entire 100-odd Shenhua fans made our way to a restaurant for a victory dinner. And what a celebration it was. A huge “Bei Fa” (attack the north) flag appeared from nowhere and was prompty hung on the wall of the restaurant (China has a north-south thing just like the UK but along slightly different lines).

Alcohol was poured like it was last orders on the Titanic, everyone got absolutely sh!tf4ced, numerious members of the party were honoured, including myself who was introduced as the “Scotland blue devil” (Blue Devils being the name of the Shenhua fans club). I had to stand on a chair and a full bottle of beer was thrust into my hand. Gan Bei! They all cried, this literally means “dry glass” its very rude to refuse to neck the whole bottle so i downed in it one.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was crazy. Poeple jumping on tables and chairs, shouting, singing, carrying on, people puking up in corners having drank too much, it was a total rumpus minus the violence. The restaurant staff looked a bit non-plussed, but amused, by it all, they had obviously not seen this level of shenangians before. They had even helped the fans put up the flag on one of the walls. The chanting climaxed with a thunderous “Lan Mo Wu Di” (literally, blue devil no enemy) which basically means we are untouchable. Defeating Beijing, their biggest rivals, on their own soil in this manner clearly meant everything to them.Afterwards, we all staggered back to the hotel and got on the train next morning for the 10-hour express trip back to Shanghai. We got back at 9pm-ish. Once we got off the train, we were met by half a dozen or so jubilant Shenhua fans who hadnt made the trip but were eager to give us a heroes welcome, banging on the windows of our carriage before the train even stopped. as we stepped off, they chanted “3-2, 3-2!!!”, and “Bei fa!!, Bei fa” as per the restaurant flag.

To cap it all off, about 20 of the group, including myself, went down a side street away from the main railway station in Shanghai. Two Beijing jerseys and scarves were produced, and arranged neatly on the ground, whilst younger ultras posed and had their pictures taken making rude gestures towards the Beijing paraphenailia.

Suddenly two of the lads cracked off distress flares in the middle of the street and used them to set fire to the Beijing gear, amid loud shrieks and hollering. Mental.

It was a fitting end to a weekend of football madness.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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