Shanghai SIPG 0 Shandong Luneng 1 (20th Sept 2013)
The first leg of what was effectively a Shanghai “groundhop” saw me venture out to the 60,000 seat Shanghai Stadium for a home match of the Shanghai East Asia club, rather unromantically renamed Shanghai International Port Group, for sponsorship reasons.
I’d only arrived in Shanghai that afternoon. Enough time for a walk along The Bund, the old foreign trading district where the architecture is distinctly European, evoking images of a grander version of Liverpool’s waterfront. Opposite, and one of the most recognisable skylines in the world now, is Pudong. Twenty years ago there was nothing there but light industry, but now, with its multitude of skyscrapers thrusting upwards, it’s perhaps the most blatant example of China’s new found love of making money.
Kicking it all off was the building of the Oriental Pearl TV tower, where I headed via the slightly bizarre light-show which accompanies the ride though the tourist tunnel under the Huangpu River. Having deciding it wasn’t remotely worth paying an extra £10 to go right to the very highest viewing platform of the Oriental Pearl, I wondered if the owners decided to punish such skinflints. Owners of the cheaper tickets had a separate queue for the lifts, and ours was shambolic. It took us up to a middle stage where we’d need to get into another lift to go up to our viewing platform. Great planning meant people arrived at this corridor at a greater rate than they could be whisked upwards by the lift, resulting in a crush which left you almost intimate with your fellow queuees.
There was a similar pain to get back down, which meant I arrived at The Shanghai Stadium a little later than planned. Confidence in the number of touts I’d seen in Beijing made me feel the only problem in buying a ticket would be the language barrier. I’d barely got out of the Metro before trying my luck with one seller. He was keen to show me the tickets, seemingly to show just what a good seat I was being offered, or maybe just to prove to me the ticket was actually for this match – I couldn’t really tell. Realising neither of us spoke a word of each other’s languages, he just pulled out a 100 Yuan note. I was certain locals would haggle down for considerably less, but I couldn’t be dealing with the hassle, so £10 would do for me.
As for all three Shanghai grounds, this one had its own Metro stop, which made things much easier. More complicated was finding where I’d be sitting. Despite being essentially the same ticket design as for the game in Beijing, this one had no seating plan. A Masterly piece of deduction had me guessing that the 15 and 2 near some Chinese character has me in Section 15 on Level 2, mainly because I couldn’t think what else it could mean, and it’d be a heck of a tall stadium to have 15 levels.
As it was, it was quite a tall stadium anyway. The place holds 60,000 in a slightly asymmetric arrangement, with the main stand’s three tiers looming over the rest of the ground. I was in the opposite stand, which was quite tall enough anyway. I was originally in Row 13, but decided to move back a bit, as the guy in front of me had an annoyingly big head, and clearly this game wasn’t going to be a distant cousin of a sell-out either. Due to the unexpected time taken to get up and down the Oriental Pearl, I’d not had a chance to eat before venturing out. I kind of hoped there’d be stuff to buy at the stadium. The aren’t many times I miss English football ground cooking, but a good old fashioned overpriced hot-dog or burger would have been welcome. Instead I sat in my seat, tucking into to an evening meal of iced coffee and shrimp flavour crisps. I could have pushed the boat out and opted for a bag of salted popcorn for variety, but the crisp bag was big enough. It was huge in fact, and I wouldn’t finished it even if I’d kept it for the rest of my trip.
The stadium was certainly impressive, even if the oppressive early evening humidity had made trekking up the steps to my seat something of an ordeal. The backless floating roof, which undulated in step with the rise and fall of the curves of the stadium as it swept around the huge bowl, should have allowed a breeze through. Alas there was none. The bright floodlights picked out the bright white dots of the dragonflies that fluttered around them, and the garish multi-coloured seat blocks had been replaced with cool Allianz Arena style grey ones. No need to bring newspapers to sit on here, as these looked brand new, rather than coated in decades of dirt.
Opposite were the “ultra” groups of the two teams. Maybe 400 or so had made the 450 mile trip down from Jinan (a city of 4.5 million people, yet I’d never even heard of it) and were in good voice, as were the fans at the opposite end of the main stand, cheering for the home side. “Only faith in Taishan is to fight for Shandong” was the message on one banner for the away fans, with the home fans opting for the puzzling options of a large one saying “The Bat Rider” and another showing the radioactive symbol above a flaming number seven. Beyond them, there were perhaps only a few hundred spectators on the main stand side.
Both ends were completely empty, meaning the vast bulk of the apparent 10,528 fans at the game were on my side. I can only assume the lower tier was fairly full, as there can’t have been more than 3000 spread across the upper tier.
They were quite noisy though, so despite the 50,000 empty seats in the place, it didn’t feel awful like a 85% empty ground normally would. Just as well really, as it wasn’t the greatest game.
Shandong were 2nd in the league, as I found out later (nothing resembling a match programme could be seen at any game I went to) and always looked in control over their hosts. In a game of few clear chances (check out the 91 second youtube “highlights” here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwhwy2jSpiU for confirmation of that) the away side nicked it after the break from a set-piece.
It was deserved too, especially in light of some blatant gamesmanship from the home side when conceding a corner. A player went down claiming some random injury to try to slow things down, then managed to walk of the pitch in such a way, that he held up the game by walking off towards the corner rather than off the pitch, before cutting back onto the pitch just in front of the corner taker, just as he was about to take the corner.
If he was smiling about that little stunt, it didn’t last long. The corner was swung in to perfection, to be met by an unstoppable near post header, to the delight of the travelling fans.
I wouldn’t say I remember it as a bad game as such, but I did find myself noticing the ever-changing neon displays on the outside of a tall building opposite rather too frequently, which probably isn’t a good sign. Also not good was the realisation that I’d made no note of where the metro station was, and having walked round the concourse a fair degree trying to find the way up, as well as my actual section, meant I’d lost my bearings. I find it quite easily in the end. I just wish I’d been able to find a bar in the centre of Shanghai just as easily, and not had to end my evening on a slightly depressing note, venturing into the world’s slowest McDonalds on the East Nanjing Road. Still, at least they offered more than popcorn and crisps, but it wasn’t the most glamorous night out ever.