Shanghai Shenxin 1 Qingdao Jonoon 0 (22nd Sept 2013)
Last, and disappointingly least, my 4th Chinese game in just over a week saw me take in a clash between two teams who are struggling in the CSL, and did their best to show why.
I’d had high hopes for this game. It was being played in the smallest stadium, and with it being in Pudong, there was every chance of a backdrop of skyscrapers in the distance.
As the metro train approached the Yuanshen stadium stop, however, I couldn’t help but notice the distinct lack of other people who appeared to be going to the game. I acquired a ticket outside the metro station with minimum fuss – and it has to be said, minimum haggling ability. There were no Eric Idles here, demanding I haggle over the price and offering me a gourd into the bargain, but there didn’t seem to be a heck of a lot of other people about either. It wasn’t deserted enough to make me wonder if yesterday morning’s air-raid warning was about a strike for this evening, but I did check my ticket to make sure the time wasn’t wrong.
It wasn’t, and I walked into the stadium bowl to a scene as if the game was half a day rather than half an hour away. My seat was in Row 3 of a raised tier of seats, but a quick inspection showed that somehow the seat was wet with rain, despite it having been sunny all day as far as I could recall. I though of drying it off, but quickly realised it was going to be another “sit absolutely anywhere you like” day, with the odds of choosing a seat booked by someone else not that high. The crowd, more of a gathering really, did thicken out slightly as kick-off approached, but the released crowd figure of 7817 was more ambitious than Wayne Rooney applying to appear on Mastermind. If more than 1500 were there, I’d be amazed.
And that’s a shame, as the Yuanshen Stadium could probably be a good little ground with a decent crowd. It’s certainly a little unusual. It feels almost circular inside, with the blue seats in a single tier, and high walls of executive boxes at the sides make it feel a bit like being inside a giant child’s paddling pool. The seated tier was raised up, so the front row was a good three to four metres above pitch level. At the ends, at the front of this gap, a mural of (presumably) Shanghai Shenxin players on alternating blue and green backgrounds added a bit of colour. In the far corner, a scattered group of maybe 200 Shenxin ultras did their best to generate a bit of atmosphere, but it was a struggle.
Perhaps not surprisingly, with the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Preliminary round atmosphere, it wasn’t the most enthusiastic game in the world. If that wasn’t a surprise, the emergence of the two teams had been. With a ground decked out in blue, as were the home fans, the match kicked off between teams in yellow and orange respectively. It took a while to work out which one was the home side.
It was Shenxin, in yellow, who made the early running, and it was pleasing that a game that felt like a 0-0 banker, saw its opening goal just inside the first 20 minutes. There was a bit of good fortune about it. After breaking into the box and getting a right foot shot away from close range, the smothered block just fell into the path of the attackers left foot, and he tucked the ball in almost without having time to think about it.
Beyond that, the biggest excitement in the first half was exodus from the lower half of the stand, when a passing showing was enough to send people scurrying for the higher rows.
I won’t be too harsh on the second half, mainly because I can’t really remember it. Whether that says more about my memory than the game is another question, but I do recall the home side showing a frustrating lack of ambition after the break, barely even bothering to attack when they had the ball. They seemed to have decided that the men from Qingdao were utterly useless, and they could let them have the ball as much as they want without danger. To be fair, they did seem to have a point, but I did feel myself wanting that equaliser to punish such complacency.
It didn’t come, but the 41 away supporters to my left stood to cheer their team’s efforts as their team came over to applaud them. To be honest, until that moment, I hadn’t even realised they were away supporters, so little did they have to cheer. I only hope none of them had to make the 1300km trip home for work the following morning.
For me, the football part of my trip was over. Despite the low-key finish, I’d enjoyed it. I’d also hit the milestone of the Yuanshen being my 250th ground, and China my 24th country where’d I’d seen football. A figure somewhere between the two would be the number of dodgy massage offers I’d had on the East Nanjing Road since arriving in Shanghai, although the two people who offered to sell me roller-skates were at least different. It left me walking down the road to a cafe/bar and think about the games I’d been to, and think “where next?”