There was one stand which attracted my attention all the time. By the southeast corner of the Xi’an Stadium, a stand full of people dressed in red, had been chanting, singing, and waving their red scarves throughout the 90-minute match.
It was a cold and windy night in Xi’an, the capital city of Shanxi province. It is also the greatest capital city in China’s history – it was the capital of the old empires of a lot of dynasties. This stadium has a capacity of 46,000. At the end of the Asian Cup qualification match against the Indonesian national team, the stadium announcer proclaimed that the attendance of the day was 33,127.
It was definitely more than that. However, the stadium announcers will always proclaim a lesser number, because of security issues, and maybe this could also be another method of tax evasion.
I would say, the actual figure for this qualification match on November 15 was around 37,000. As all football stadiums in China are operating under a security policy that 20% seats must be kept empty, Xi’an almost had a full house.
And that was against Indonesia, who, with all respect, are still a minnow in the football sense.
Xi’an is desperate for football. Three days later, China played another Asian Cup qualification match against the already qualified Saudi Arabia at the same stadium, and the actual attendance was more than 40,000 — this is surely against the security regulation, but people in this city of ten million population, really love football.
The stand which drew my attention, was a stand long occupied by the Da Qin Legion. Da means big in Chinese, and Qin was a dynasty that unified China more than 2000 years ago. Xi’an was the capital of Qin, and Da Qin Legion, is a local football supporters organisation, non-governmental.
This is the first time that I have witnessed this famous supporters organisation in a stadium. It was a bit like the Geordies (Newcastle United’s famous Toon Army of supporters), warm, humorous, with a bit of a tough edge, giving all out for their supported team. However, today in Xi’an, there is no serious football club.
The clubs that played here, left for more preferential governmental support, or just dissolved among corruption and crimes. The football roots are here, but no more grass nor trees. Two years ago, Xi’an was home to the China Super League club Shanxi Renhe FC. They moved on to Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province, and renamed themselves as Guizhou Renhe. Sun Jihai still plays for Renhe FC, but not Shanxi nor Xi’an anymore.
Xi’an has long been the best football market in China, even when the former Xi’an club was playing in the second or third division, they could easily attract crowds of more than 40,000 – loads of attendance records set here – no matter whether the figure is correct or not.
But clubs come and go, or simply disappear, and nobody really cares about these loyal and thirsty supporters. CFA also has its so called ‘Fit and Proper’ check on football owners and investors, yet nobody has ever taken the regulations seriously.
There had been some local governmental support in Xi’an, yet it was not consistent, and the club owners invariably want more. A piece of free land, or some official tax evasion treaments, or some other preferential policies. With high attendances and the football frenzy here, they thought they could always negotiate with the government.
Some investors were sent into prison, as Mr. Wang Po, the former owner of Shanxi Guoli FC, a former CSL club, because of countless fixed games and embezzlements. Some just moved the club away, as Renhe did.
Supporters are the victims of all these nominal football investments, and Xi’an remains a football city without a proper club. Hence, a pallid match against Indonesia, would still be a high seller.
China only defeated Indonesia by one goal, and got a draw against Saudi Arabia, and so has not yet qualified for the Asian Cup in Australia 2015. The last game is away to Iraq, which will be played in Bahrain, and China only leads Iraq by two points. A draw would see China through, however, nobody is sure if that could be easily achieved.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1635404814iamg@16354048148002g1635404814naiqn1635404814ay1635404814, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5