Wuhan made headlines a couple of months ago when the chengguan, “urban management” officers in charge of enforcing public order, simply surrounded and stared at an illegal street vendor until he was shamed into leaving. This was news because chengguan are typically expected to use more forceful methods to clear out the riffraff.
Now Wuhan’s chengguan are taking it a step further and deputizing a foreigner to put help save Wuhan from utter chaos by forcing shopkeepers to move boxes of bottled water off the sidewalk:
In the second half of the competition, head referee He Zhibiao gave three successive red cards to Tianjin players Liu Qing, Liang Jie and Ma Leilei, causing intense dissatisfaction and resentment amongst the Tianjin team, who felt that the referee’s decisions were unfair. Prior to the overtime, Tianjin goalkeeper Li Gen walked over to the stands for the Tianjin team and proposed that they refused to play any further. The team’s head coach refused, however, and the match continued. In the second minute of overtime, Tianjin player Geng Yin scored an own-goal, giving the Beijing team a 3:1 lead.
Once the whistle blew to signal the end of the match, Tianjin goal keeper Li Gen rushed over to head referee He Zhibiao and began to verbally abuse him…He Zhibiao attempted to avoid Li Gen, and walked towards the stadium exit. At this point, Tianjin team member, Hao Tanjiao, rushed over the rushed past security guards, and Tianjin players began to attack the head referee on the field. He Zhibiao, after falling to the ground, crawl up again and rushed towards the exit, while Tianjin players were prevented from pursuing him by security guards.
The inflammatory words and unruly behavior of football fans caused the spectator stands to fall into chaos, and after the match fans from both sides threw water bottles at each other. Three female fans from Tianjin in particular drew a great deal of attention. After Tianjin players were penalized with a red card, they became especially agitated, stood up, began waving their arms and shouting “fake foul”. Security guards repeatedly asked these three fans to leave the stands, but were ignored. After the conclusion of the game, just after the agitation in the stands had subsided, these female fans resumed their conflict with Beijing fans on the stands, and began throwing water bottles. The Tianjin female friends were escorted by security guards from the stadium.”
The cameras caught all 20 minutes of chaos; so far, “Beat Referee Incident” and “ViolenceGate” (video and pictures at both links) are the two most popular names for the event. Tianjin’s team has been banned from the upcoming National Games as a result.
All this excitement reminds me of several years ago, when ODB and I started going to soccer matches at Workers’ Stadium. I remember watching China beat Qatar in the 2004 Asian Cup, but missed Japan’s victory over China, when the Chinese fans were so famously gracious in defeat. Most of the time, though, we would just watch Beijing’s professional club, Beijing Guoan (sometimes Beijing Guo’an). Back then they were known as Beijing Xiandai. (Xiandai is Chinese for “modern”; in Korean the word is Hyundai, the team’s former sponsor), and the matches were always fun, though not always for the skill of play on the field:
Dirt-cheap tickets, as little as 10-20 RMB–far less than the hundreds of RMB charged for tickets when the international clubs come to town, even if it’s a relatively obscure side like Hull City (who beat Guoan in penalties last night).
Perhaps twenty thousand fans, all packed around the center of the pitch, would keep up a constant stream of “[so-and-so], shabi!” chants for most of the match. The obvious targets were the opposing players and refs, but occasionally non-soccer figures that were making the people mad would be cursed as well. Whenever they got too loud, white noise or the Guo’an fight song would blast from the speakers at full volume in an attempt to drown out the cursing for the TV audience.
Although police lined the edge of the field, fans were more or less allowed to throw whatever they wanted onto the field. Many brought toilet paper, and many others threw plastic water bottles–often full. The Gongti stadium has a track around the soccer pitch, so most of the missiles couldn’t reach the players. But anytime the opposing team lined up for a corner, objected rained down on the kicker.
Fans shouted insults and jokes about the refs and the other team, as if they were performing for the crowds around them. Many fans also brought signs with funny, offensive, and risque rhymes on them. Plenty of people got kicked out, but the police were never too rough, and no one seemed to mind getting kicked out.
Around 2006, Workers’ Stadium was closed for renovations before the Olympics, and we didn’t care the follow the team as they moved south to a stadium in Fengtai for the matches. But now it’s 2009, the Olympics are over, and Guoan is back in Gongti. We didn’t really have our act together for the spring matches, and they haven’t had a home match in the CSL, China’s top professional league, since July 2.
Last night I heard the familiar strains of Guoan’s fight song from my new office near Gongti:
喔噢…… 北京国安 我们永远支持你
噢…… 北京国安 我们永远热爱你
Oh-ohhh, Beijing Guoan, we will always support you!
Ohhh, Beijing Guoan, we will always love you!
Guoan plays six matches at home in August and September, and it will enter the second half of the season at the top of the CSL table. ODB and I will be there. And given that Sunday’s incident was between under-20 teams, we are confident that the next generation of football in China will bring the same spirit of friendship onto the field that today’s fans show in the stands.