Soccer Sundays: Beijing Guo'an
Founded in 1992 at the start of the professional-era in Chinese football, Guo’an (nickname: something absurdly vulgar, not to be printed on the blog of a family-friendly company, join us at a game and we will tell you!) are the biggest and most well-supported team in China’s Capital. Their home fortress is the 66,000 capacity Workers’ Stadium, conveniently located about 300m from the Koryo Tours office – ideal for a post-work match, and one reason some of us hold season tickets there.
Guo’an are one of those teams who always nearly do well, in the last few years 5th place has been a regular occurrence but in the magical year of 2009, just before the league was swamped with the spare cash of billionaire playboys, they did manage to lift their one and only title. (Oh 2009!) Playing in green & gold (a brave choice, not many teams pick these colours, also makes them hard to see against the grass sometimes) the brave and plucky Beijing team play to a crowd of up to 55,000 fans per match when it’s a major game, or when the team is doing well, otherwise could be as low as 22,000 - Beijing fans are very fickle. No alcohol is allowed in the stadium, but snacks and water can be found easily, and the stadium is right in the middle of the main bar and restaurant part of the city - also near several subway stations, with another being built right at the corner of the ground at the time of writing
Currently majority-owned by real estate giants Sinobo Group the team still suffers from a lack of the heavy investment that has characterized other clubs in recent years. While Shanghai SIPG boast South American giants Hulk and Oscar, Guangzhou Evergrande (who have won the league the last 6 years running and are owned by Taobao and Alibaba tycoon Jack Ma) have about half of the Chinese National team playing for them, as well as renowned manager ‘Big Phil’ Felipe Scolari, Guo’an have record signing (a mere 7 million Euros) and frustrating nearly-there type Burak Yilmaz from Turkey – who holds the honour of having played for all of the 4 main clubs in Turkey (similar to fighting for both sides in 2 parallel civil wars) as well as fan-fave and goal machine Spaniard Jonathan Soriano.
Best game to see – being the capital city’s main team Beijing have rivalries with almost everyone. The Guo’an vs Shanghai Shenhua (another faded giant) match is referred to as the ‘China Derby’ and this is the one everyone wants to see. So get to the Workers’ Stadium early to get a ticket for this one!
But how to get the ticket? Seasons tickets are available for foreigners too, but in a very narrow window inconveniently around Christmas time. They cost from just under 1000 RMB for the cheapest ones, great value for a whole season of usually-mediocre, sometimes-thrilling Chinese Super League Football! If you’re just in town for one game you could try to buy a ticket legitimately, but then rapidly recall where you are, and set off down to the group to buy one from one of the touts (Huang Niu, Yellow Cow – no idea why they are called this!) outside the ground. Depending on what match it is these days, tickets can be had for anything from 100-250 RMB. Next head to the lines of unofficial merchandise sold near the North Gate of the stadium – match shirts, polo shirts, raincoats, scarves, phone cases, stickers, all manner of Guo’an merch can be found here. And it is incredibly cheap indeed, among the cheapest clothes possible to find anywhere in central Beijing these days. You can dress like a superfan for just a few bucks here!
Into the ground, find your section and grab a seat – the staff usually insist that you go to the section on your ticket, but once inside everyone sits where they want. Take care not to accidentally take the seats of any of the regular firms (a term denoting groups of super-fans, not necessarily hooligans, but used for that too sometimes), although these are the most lively parts of the ground. The biggest firm, and the one that leads the singing is located in the middle section of the east stand, upper and lower tiers, the most hardcore fans are the north end (away fans at the South end). Koryo Tours’ season ticket holders take their place just behind the most inept firm, ‘Green Energe Speedy’ (not a typo) who seem to have no songs, but do all have the same shirt (with their firm name on the back) in the upper south east corner, in audible range of the opposition fans, should they dare to pipe up any songs;
Every team in China has its own songs and chants, however they tend to be the same as the songs and chants every other team has, which makes it a little less bantery than games elsewhere. “Guo’an, must win!” is one chant, “Together we will fight, until the end of our lives!” is another, there is also one to the tune of La Marseillaise which I don’t know the words to, but it’s the fun and atmosphere that counts. Be warned that the crowd at Beijing matches are famously profane, I mean even by the standards of China in general (a very profane place indeed), the language that is thrown at the opposition team, fans, ref, etc is colourful enough to make a sailor blush, so if you want to practice what we might call ‘street’ Chinese then go along, and remember whenever the opposition substitutes someone, that “Sha bi, huan Sha bi!” = Off comes a stupid ****, on comes a stupid ****. You’ll have the guess the redacted part there!
As for the match itself? It is sometimes thrilling, sometimes frustratingly inept, always worth the time! See you at the Workers’ Stadium! Guo’an! Must Win!
Burek Yilmaz - Guo'an's record signing - and some kind of sandwich shop - both frustratingly not as good as you would want them to be!
For match schedules and other info check out www.futbol24.com/team/China/Beijing-Guoan/ We will also blog on how to attend the matches of Beijing's other teams in coming weeks - for those who prefer the more proletarian League one to the shiny show-offs of the Chinese Super League!
'Sundays in Peking' introduces sights and activities in Beijing with even the slightest connection to Korea. Sometimes we just write about other stuff happening around Beijing.