After being a season ticket holder at Aston Villa F.C. in England for the past fifteen years, one of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived in my new home city of Hangzhou was to go and watch the local football team – Hangzhou Greentown. Given Aston Villa’s recent form I was starting to wonder if I would ever get enjoyment again from going to a football match. I decided to take my chances when I found out that Hangzhou Greentown were playing at home to local rivals Jiangsu Suning F.C. the week after I had arrived.
Hangzhou Greentown are one of the twelve teams that participate in the top division of Chinese Football, known as the Chinese Super League. They play at the 51,000 seat capacity Yellow Dragon Sports Center which was opened in 2000. The club themselves were formed in 1998 and have had quite an interesting history. In 2001 they bought the entire team of Jilin Aodong and their league position only for the players to then be involved in match-fixing, deliberately losing matches which lost the club promotion in 2002. They finally achieved promotion in 2006 and have since languished in the lower reaches of the CSL. Given that Hangzhou were sitting 14th in the league with only 5 games left and 6 points clear of relegation, it seemed that the match against Jiangsu would be an important one with a lot to play for.
I didn’t know what to expect from my first match day experience in China. Getting to the stadium was not difficult from the centre of Hangzhou and walking towards the stadium it was difficult to tell that there was a match to be played that evening. The stadium certainly look impressive as I approached it.
Given the capacity of 51,000, I was fairly certain that tickets would be available when I arrived at the stadium. Walking around the perimeter I was stuggling to find the ticket office and so approached the security officers at a gate where they were checking tickets. They told me that they didn’t think tickets were sold on the day and that most people in attendance were corporate or on a company trip. It was hard to believe that in such a big stadium there would be no tickets for sale and sure enough, after walking around for a while longer I came across a ticket scalper and got managed to get a ticket for ¥75 (or about £9.00).
The seat was located near the corner flag and the view of the pitch wasn’t too bad. It was in the front row and certainly very close to the action although there was an athletics track surrounding the pitch. As I had expected there were a lot of empty seats with distinct sections filled with fans. The Jiangsu Suning fans had quite an impressive turnout and were squeezed into a section in the upper end of the stadium. The Hangzhou fans sparsely populated the stands parallel to the pitch.
There was one section in the opposite corner to my seat that was completely full with Greentown shirts. The fans there appeared to be the die hard supporters, all wearing the green shirt of Hangzhou and displaying banners and flags, perhaps the Chinese equivalent of ultras. Half of them were wearing exactly the same shirt and were lively and synchronised throughout the game, almost suspiciously so. The other half were also very lively but not as synchronised as the others in terms of dress code and flag waving. There was also one block on the other side of the stadium that was empty apart from twenty or so Hangzhou fans that again seemed very synchronised, almost like a cheer-leading section. All of the noise in the stadium came from either the Hangzhou ‘ultras’ section or the from the visiting supporters in the opposite corner.
The atmosphere during the match was good considering the attendance. To my surprise there was a short break after about 23 minutes which I assumed was because of the heat and after 33 minutes the atmosphere really picked up as Hangzhou took the lead through Anselmo Ramon. Ramon scored again just after halftime to put Greentown 2-0 up and it looked like Hangzhou were going to get the result they had hoped for. It was confirmed on 88 minutes when man of the match Ramon set up Cheng Mouyi to make it 3-0 to Hangzhou.
At this point myself and the supporters around me were all very cheerful. The ‘ultras section’ were going absolutely crazy and proceeded to do the Poznań, their backs turned to the action. The cheer leading section of 20 all had their shirts off and were jumping up and down. The cry from the stands was sarcastically ‘The legend of Jiangsu’ and when the final whistle blew it was smiles all round for those donning the green shirts of Hangzhou.
A glimpse of the atmosphete after Hangzhou went 2-0 up.
Walking back to town from the stadium I wondered what I made of it all. Overall it was a very different but also enjoyable experience.