September 30, 2010
Xingcheng, with its intact city wall that repelled Northern invaders about the time Columbus lost his way in the Caribbean, gave a small sense of how the Chinese built their society long ago. On the other side of the Yellow Sea in Dalian we see a reflection of how they intend to build it into the future.
In 1984, the government designated this city by the sea as one of its open trade zones. In the years since more than $1 billion of investment capital has found its way to a city once occupied in turns by the British, the Japanese and the Russians.
Nothing here is older than 30 years old, save some of the street vendors and the knickknacks they sell. Everything else, the mass transit system, the banks, and most of the population is shiny, almost pristine. It’s still China, meaning that the streets and shops overflow with a steady stream of humanity and shoving, but it’s a bit more comfortable.
The centerpieces of our trip here was a soccer match between the home side of Dalian Shide and visitors Nanchang Hengyuan. Shide once ruled the Chinese Super League and its predecessor Jia-A, winning eight titles from 1994-2005. The city is known as a hub for soccer, providing much of the talent for the national team and the league. There’s a giant hideous statue of a ball in the city’s central park:
Despite this profile, our best internet searching yielded only the basics about the game. We knew when it was (1p) and where it was (Jinzhou Stadium, about 1/2 hour North of the city), but what we couldn’t ascertain was how to get there and more importantly how to get tickets. The search yielded only an address in downtown Dalian for Shide FC. We assumed this would be a shop or at least a ticket office. I wanted to pick up a jersey before the match and maybe one for my nephew.
But when we arrived at the address, we found Shide FC was located inside an office tower on the 16th floor. We exited the elevator and instead of finding a public facing store, we found an unassuming door identified with by a plastic placard with the printed words, Dalian Shide FC . Linda knocked, a women in a pants suit answered. We had inadvertently discovered the team office.
The conversation that followed was confusing. We stood in a nearly empty office unadorned with any sign of the team. Linda asked if they sold tickets, they did not. Tickets could only be bought at the stadium. Linda asked how to get to the game. The only way to the game was to board a bus run by fans that departed from an intersection in Dalian an hour before the game. Linda asked about the jersey. The woman told Linda that the team no longer sold merchandise. She led us to a cabinet which held the remains of their team paraphernalia: three scarves wrapped in plastic. We bought two with cash and left.
The following day we took a city bus to the departure point for the supporter coach with just enough time to board. I expected a lot of people decked out in team gear gathering in the prescribed spot. We found nothing, no coach and no identifiable fans. Linda asked around a bit and was pointed to a bus on the other side of a vast construction site. Given how short time was we sprinted the several blocks to the other side of the site. The bus that we had been pointed to pulled away.
On the other side, though we found a chaotic queue of people. They were also waiting for the supporter bus. There would be many coaches coming and going and a bit more waiting, but we eventually boarded one and made our way along a highway dotted with cranes and an IKEA super-store to Jinzhou in time for kick-off.
Our tickets provide us entry to only one section of the stadium and only then after we had returned our metal water bottle to the bus. We were prevented from venturing into any other part of the stadium by rusting chain link fences both in the seating area and in the corridors behind them. The stadium offered no amenities or concessions. The seats are small plastic squares plastic seats. There is a 30ft net surrounding the field.
The spartan crowd was concentrated four sections down and the supporters club gathered behind the goal opposite our corner seats. We were led through our cheers by a shirtless man waving a blue flag with the club’s crest astride three rows of empty seats. With two goals from Linda’s countryman and 2002 World Cup hero, Ahn Jung-Hwan, Shide provided us with plenty to cheer about, but there was still no chance they’d win the league. The week’s away section of six Nanchang Hengyuan fans included a boisterous young woman who tried to climb the fence. Unlike Philadelphia, if you try to get on the field in Dalian, you don’t get tased, instead you are escorted passively out of the stadium by a small battalion of bored policemen. But, the fans will serenade you with a version of the “asshole” chant.