26/10/2014

Football In China

While I was in China, I really wanted to immerse myself in Chinese culture, and experience things which I may not otherwise experience.

Of course, one of the things I experienced was the football, which I can vouch is a completely different experience to anything I've seen in England.

My match day experience began by using a lift to reach the 14th floor of a completely random building, where we had to buy our tickets. There was no air conditioning, it was full of people and we queued for about 40 minutes before our tickets were purchased. My ticket cost £6.

Obviously this was followed by a much needed KFC, which was pretty to similar to English KFC however you could choose to have your chicken with rice. They also did not sell any boneless chicken, as in China, the chicken breast is actually the least valued piece of meat on the animal.

We took the metro to the 58,500 capacity Tianhe stadium and were about to watch Guangzhou Evergrande football club take on Hangzhou football club.

The first difference I noted, was that I was able to buy a copy of the club shirt for £2.50 outside the stadium, however was unable to find anyone selling programmes of any kind.

When we got to the stadium, it was surreal. There were popup activity centres everywhere, and it resembled a huge fanzone area outside the ground. Before entering the ground I had to have my ticket checked by three different people, had my bag searched and my lighter taken off me.

Inside the stadium were tables selling water and an array of snacks such as pot noodles, but you couldn't buy a burger, or a pie, or even a beer.

The only toilets available were squatting toilets, which I was quite used to by this point as it's the primary type of toilet used in China. However in a 58,000 capacity stadium, which probably had about 35,000 fans in it at the time, you can imagine that these toilets were not very pretty, even before the match had started.

I had a huge preconception about the football, as I had been told by numerous people in China that team sports aren't very popular. I thought that the stadium would be empty, and those that were there, would be fairly quiet.

I was completely wrong and as we walked to our seats, the noise of vuvuzelas rang around the stadium, and the crowd was a sea of red as the overwhelming majority of attendants were wearing the club shirt.

The actual football was very different too, Guangzhou dominated the match but even when they had scored two goals, they were completely frantic as a team. It was like watching a game of hot potato, as the players couldn't get rid of the ball quick enough, even if it meant kicking it to nobody in particular, or completely out of the lines.

The fans were wild though, and cheered every single pass of the ball, even when there was nothing to cheer. Mexican waves circled the stadium, and I was mesmerised by three blocks of ultra fans, who spent most of the match saluting the players in synchronisation before doing the Poznan for around 20 minutes.

Despite the alarming amount of noise produced in the stadium, I could not hear any specific chants, other than the ultra fans chanting Guangzhou over and over again. 

The pace of the football was completely different too, and I can't remember seeing a single dive, or a single foul either. I can't say why neither dive nor foul occurred, but it surprised me nonetheless. 

There were also only a handful of away fans, because the 30 that had come to the match either had to take a flight to the ground, or sit on a train for somewhere between 7 and 10 hours to get there. 

It was fascinating to hear these fans make noise for the entire 90 minutes, even when the actual football taking place was pretty atrocious. 

But that's what I love about football, that actually it means something completely different to every fan, and for these fans, it meant something more like unity and support rather than actual quality or skill taking place on the pitch.

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