Shanghai Shenhua 2 Jiangsu Sainty 1 (21st Sept 2013)
I’ve seen football plans scuppered by a fair few postponements over the years. Waterlogged pitches. Frozen pitches. Fog. An air raid would be a first though.
On the Saturday morning, with a pretty dreadful 90 minute spell of heavy rain and strong winds having eased, I found myself walking from my hotel towards Shanghai’s old town district. The stroll was abruptly enlivened by the sound of a very loud siren, the downtown district resonating to the unmistakable wail of an air raid warning.
Now, to be honest, I didn’t think an air raid was coming. My hotel had China State TV’s English language news channel on, and however upbeat an image of China it may present, I think it might have just mentioned an impending thermonuclear war at some stage in its news bulletins.
However, I did know that “super typhoon” Usagi was in the South China sea, laying waste to Taiwan, and its course was being monitored. What if it had turned north rather than headed towards Hong Kong as expected? Would such a siren warn that a typhoon is coming? For the curious, here’s how it sounded (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eOP_HI9UGI).
Typhoons, nuclear strikes, or whatever, the locals didn’t seem to be panicking, so I didn’t either, and I continued my trip to the old town. With pauses in between, the sirens wailed a further couple of times before ceasing over the rest of the morning. While still curious, the very fact that not one shit was being given by the locals meant I didn’t worry too much either – in the end.
The Old Town was a delightful, if slightly kitsch and over-restored example of old-style Chinese shopping streets, all dark patterned wood, curvy roofs and black roof tiles, selling all manner of goods within the many tight lanes. The backstreets away from the crowd hinted at the rather less photogenic, but rather more realistic old China, and with the sirens eventually stopping, I was able to enjoy the place properly.
The only dent in this was the amount of shifty people coming up to me in the street, trying to sell me presumably fake watches. Combining that with the number of people who came up to me the previous evening on the East Nanjing Road asking me if needed a “massage”, and I can only conclude that most western tourists in Shanghai are not only after a hand-job, they want a damn accurate record of how long it lasts as well.
I’d arrived in Shanghai on a short one and a quarter hour trip from Nanjing, which was also the home of Shanghai Shenhua’s visitors Jiangsu Sainty – Jiangsu being the name of the district in which Nanjing resides, although I’ve not got an earthly what Sainty signifies. With the shortness of the journey, I’d taken this to be some kind of Chinese local derby. In fact I’d rather underestimated the impact of Chinese high-speed trains in shrinking the country, as the two cities are about 180 miles apart, making Nanjing as local as a “derby” between Arsenal and Leeds.
Nevertheless, a good 1000+ had made the trip to Shanghai, and they were really making themselves heard. Arriving at the stadium was almost like the old days in England (if you ignore the evening heat up into the 80s and the tropical humidity) remembering back to when opposing fans would spend the build up trying to out-sing each other, rather than drinking in the concourse until 5 minutes before kick-off. Either the Hongkou Stadium (which rhymes with Ibrahima Sonko rather than Ken Monkou) has excellent accoustics, or both teams have some pretty loud fans.
I’d bagged myself a prime upper tier seat, more or less on the halfway line, for a probably extortionate 100 Yuan (£10), not that I had a clue where the ticket was for when I bought it off the tout. The only downside was being sat next to quite an annoying child. He can’t have been that annoying in reality. I can’t even remember what he did that was annoying. I just recall thinking it would be satisfying to see a home win, with him being a Jiangsu Sainty fan.
After the over-sized Shanghai Stadium, a better crowd (a genuine 10,750 or so) in a venue about half the size of the previous one, gave this more of a feel of being at a proper match. It certainly had more than a passing similarity to the Shanghai Stadium, with two tiers curving up at the sides and dipping away at the ends. Here though, a middle tier of executive boxes became a double tier behind each goal. Both lower tiers at the ends were filled with the Shanghai Shenhua singing contingent, curiously separated, with the Jiangsu Sainty fans way up in the upper tier in one corner. A double row of police separated this block from the zero home fans who were anywhere near them, with an even more orderly block of 44 (I counted) sat neatly, if needlessly, in the tier below.
Also joining me in the top seats, were people who appeared to be officials from the visiting club, including one who looked like a coach, a westerner, who sat the with a clipboard ready to take notes on the action. That could be interesting reading, I thought.
Refreshed with a now customary iced coffee, and my sweat eased enough so I could sit down without fearing I’d rip the knees out of my trousers through the fabric sticking to me, I sat back hoping for a good game, and I certainly got my wish. It was a cracking match.
The visitors took the initiative, controlling the early play, but it was the home side who came close to scoring about 20 minutes in. An attacker went for a crossed ball with the goalkeeper and beat the keeper to it. Somehow though, from about a metre out in the centre of goal, he could only direct his header against the post. A grateful defender was able to get back and clear.
Shenhua were made to regret that miss after half an hour, when a free kick over twenty yards from goal was curled round the wall an inside the post to open the scoring. Cue excited squealing from the kid next to me, and a lot of noise from the thousand or so travelling fans opposite.
As the half wore on, I couldn’t help but notice the copious note-taking from the official in front of me. What tactic gems would I seen in his notes? What little details does a professional note, that might be they key to turning a game? All could be revealed as I zoomed my camera in to take a picture of these secret instructions. Ah, a flaw in the plan. I could see his notes clearly, and there were loads of them. It was just that they appeared to have been written in some Slavic language. They might as well have been in Chinese for all the use they were to me.
Whatever they were, they can’t have been a fantastic help. Even with Anelka and Drogba deciding they couldn’t be bothered to play for Shenhua any more, they looked a pretty decent team, and it looked only a matter of time before they pulled level. Cape Verde Islands striker Dady might not have the fame or ability of that illustrious want-away duo, but he was in the right place at the right time to head in a soft equaliser from a set-piece.
It wasn’t going for the away side now, with a shot looping over the home keeper and bouncing down onto the line and away. Shenhua’s luck looked in.
It got better for the home side with 18 minutes left. Another set-piece, and anything Jiangsu Sainty can do from free kicks, Shenhua can do better. A direct free kick from over 25 yards found itself curling inside the same post that the away side had taken the lead in, in the first half. It certainly shut the little bugger next to me up a treat as well.
From here it was a case of hanging on, as the away side came back strongly. First they thought they’d scored when a break into the box of the right saw a powerful low shot hit across the keeper. It looked to be going in off the post, but somehow it bounced back right along the goal line before hitting the keeper and going out for a corner.
Then, with about five minutes left, a deep cross was met powerfully in the centre of the area, and headed unstoppably past the Shenhua keeper for a dramatic equaliser. Or so everyone thought. The linesman on the near side, arm out, offside flag raised, thought differently.
That seemed to break Jiangsu Sainty’s spirit, and no more real chances came their way, allowing Shenhua to claim a hard-earned three points. The players saluted the fans at both ends of the ground, and the fans filtered away into the night. It was a good night, and even the shock of realising later I was paying £6.80 for a half-litre (not even a pint!) of beer in a bar off The Bund wouldn’t spoil the evening.
ps – as it turns out I did hear the air raid siren that morning. Apparently they test it on the third Saturday of each September. It would have been nice to know beforehand.