Beijing’s soccer team, Beijing Guoan F.C., is playing this weekend for the Chinese Super League title, and tickets went on sale this morning. Thousands of people are currently in line outside the Workers’ Stadium and Workers’ Gymnasium. I thought about sending an employee to stand in line and buy me some tickets, but it looks like he’d have to wait for hours.
The typical Beijing Guo’an game fills about a quarter of the seats in Workers’ Stadium, though those who do show up are very vocal in their support. I would not be surprised if this match brings in a full house. Here’s a photo of the crowd from a match I attended back in 2005, when the team was known as Beijing Xiandai (the Chinese name for carmaker Hyundai):
In contrast, here’s a picture of the same stadium during China’s victory over Qatar in the 2004 Asian Cup:
Beijing currently is tied with Henan Siwu at the top of the table but is ahead due to a five point lead in goal difference; the title is thus Beijing’s to lose. Changchun Yatai (47 points) also has a reasonable chance to win, and Shandong Luneng (45 points) is mathematically still in the running.
Beijing’s opponent is Hangzhou Lücheng, currently second to last in the table and facing relegation if they lose, so it won’t be a walkover. Henan’s opponent is mid-table Shenzhen (ninth out of sixteen teams), and Henan will be playing away. The greater threat is probably from Changchun, which faces last-place Chongqing Lifan at home. Chongqing cannot avoid relegation and has little to play for besides pride, so Changchun has a good chance to win. This makes Saturday’s match-up a critical match for Beijing.
Even though Beijing’s team is consistently one of the best in the CSL, it’s rare to see much open support for them. The only hint I saw of this week’s excitement came a couple of months ago, when thousands of (mostly young) paraded down Gongti Bei Lu after a match, presumably toward the Dongsishitiao subway station.
Below is a picture I took before the 2005 home match again Dalian Shide, the strongest team in the CSL over the past 15 years and a major rival. There was no line; I just walked up and bought my tickets. Note the dirt-cheap prices, which ranged from 20 to 80 RMB. The “booth” consisted of a guy sitting behind the (locked) entrance gate–you can see his empty chair in the picture. I handed my money through the gate and he gave me my tickets.
Whether in response to aforementioned post-game march, which appeared to be spontaneous, or simply out of habit after the Olympics and recent National Day celebrations, the police are out in full force today. There are perhaps 500 to 1000 officers and dozens of vehicles surrounding the ticket buyers. To avoid even the chance of anything getting out of hand, the ticket line was not a line at all but rather bunches of a few hundred fans, each completely surrounded by dozens of police officers and at least 30 yards away from the next group.
Back in 2005, police were at the games but not down on the field for most of the match, as you can see from the pictures above. Standard procedure was to have them ringing the pitch until game time, at which point they would march up to their own section and enjoy the game.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s fans tended to get very rowdy, making up dirty cheers, hold up signs attacking the refs and others, and throwing anything available onto the pitch.
The most obvious rabble-rousers would be taken away during the game. From my observation, holding up a sign was far more likely to get you into trouble than thowing things at opposing players. (The authorities are well aware of the political dangers of letter fans holding up signs).
Only in the final minutes of the game would the police march back down to their positions around the pitch. Based on the security presence today, one can only imagine how many police they’ll have out for Saturday afternoon’s match.
UPDATE: Talked to a guy at the Subway sandwich shop across from the stadium at around 5pm today; he said tickets had sold out hours ago, and that many of the fans had been camping out for the last two nights. Probably some good business for Subway.