Shenhua have just signed Didier Drogba and are gearing up to face Man United. Here's all you need to know about supporting the local team.
Photo by Tim Franco
Shanghai Shenhua, our city’s favorite sports team that no foreigner knows anything about, has made soccer headlines recently, signing striker Didier Drogba to join its other famous foreign player, Frenchman Nicolas Anelka. On top of that, the English Premier League’s richest club, Manchester United, is coming to town next Wednesday to play Shenhua
in a friendly at Shanghai Stadium
. Tickets are available here
. Exciting times indeed to be a Shanghai football fan. So, we decided it was a good time for a rundown on all things Shenhua-related.
The Chinese Super League starts in March and ends in November and each team plays 30 matches in all. Shanghai Shenhua has 13 left to play before the season ends on November 3. According to Scotsman Cameron Wilson, who runs the Chinese soccer blog Wild East Football
and writes about Chinese soccer for Agence France-Presse, Shenhua’s home matches, which are held at Hongkou Football Stadium
, are almost never filled to capacity, so even if you waltz up to the stadium an hour before the match starts you probably won’t have any problem finding tickets.
As with everything in China, there is an official way to get tickets, and then there's the way that everyone normally does it. The official way is to buy them at the ticket office at the stadium. It’s next to the KFC. Alternatively, you can order them online at mypiao.com
. The unofficial way is to buy them from scalpers outside the stadium. The scalpers are good for last minute entry into the games and you have the possibility of negotiating with them, so you might be able to get tickets a bit cheaper than from the box office. From what Wilson tells us, the scalpers are, generally speaking, quite honest with their pricing. You know... for illegal ticket sellers.
A ticket to a regular match will set you back around 80rmb for standard seat, but this is likely to increase next season. Most of the games take place on Saturday or Sunday evenings and kick off at 7:35pm or 8pm, with the odd afternoon match starting at 3:30pm. You can check the full match schedule and start times at Wild East Football’s fixtures page
If you buy a season ticket (about 800rmb and available only before the season starts) you’ll gain a host of benefits, like being able to sit in the North Terrace section where the local firm members, the Blue Devils, watch the match. The Blue Devils are famous around Asia for being the most dedicated and crazy fans of any soccer team on the continent. They are also known as “Ultras”. Cameron Wilson is better known to many by his DJ name, Shanghai Ultra (he hosts the monthly VOID parties at the Shelter, next one right here
). His DJ moniker is taken from his affiliation and love of Shenhua’s diehard football fans.
Shenhua’s biggest rival is Beijing Guo’an but Shenhua is also fiercely competitive with Hangzhou’s Lucheng (Greentown) club, due to the fact, says Wilson, that the fans can scream curses at each other in their local dialects and still be understood.
Unfortunately, this year Shanghai Shenhua is doing terribly. They are currently in 13th place (out of 16), so they don’t have a shot at winning the league, or even really coming in the top three. They could even be relegated if their losing streak continues. However, this is an unusually bad season. Since 2005 they’ve finished in the top three four times. According to Wilson, if they can turn things around with Drogba and start the slow progression back up the table, they stand a shot at winning the Chinese FA Cup, the final of which is held in November.
Wilson says the games get rowdy as hell. There's almost never any violence but, like any good football match, there’s a lot of drinking involved. You can bring drinks in from outside, but you have to set your bottles and cans in a designated area and go there to refill your cups. If you don’t feel like shouting and screaming for the whole match, there are plenty of sections where you can sit and relax. So, if you are bringing the kids, you’ll be able to find a quieter place and as long as those kids can’t understand some of the more creative Chinese expletives, then they’ll suffer no mental scarring.
Wilson says foreigners are very welcome at the games. To him, this is the best thing about being a Shenhua fan. Support the local team and you’ll be able to get a deeper connection with the Shanghainese fans. “Seeing Shenhua in action is a vehicle for local pride,” he says. “If you really want to get under the skin of Shanghai, it’s as good a place as any.” Foreign fans have been welcomed into the Blue Devils firm, including Wilson and several other Westerners and, famously, a Japanese supporter.
While we're at it, we should also mention Shanghai's other two teams, Shanghai Shenxin, who play near the beach down at Jinshan where the Zebra music festival
is going on this weekend, and Shanghai East Asia, who play at Shanghai Stadium. Shenxin just moved to Shanghai, having played in Nanchang last year. They play in the Chinese Super League, same as Shenhua. Their games are cheaper to get into but, who are we kidding, Jinshan's an hour away from downtown.
Shanghai East Asia play in the second division right now but look like they're moving up next year to the big leagues. They have a small but dedicated following, largely because they're run by Xu Genbao, who Wilson calls "the godfather of Shanghainese football" because he runs an academy on Chongming Island that's produced quality players like Cao Yunding, who currently plays for Shenhua.
But with Shenhua splashing out on world-class players and arranging matches against some of the best teams in the world, they're probably the team to follow. Football culture in Shanghai is only about 20 years old, but this looks like a turning point in the game and the perfect time to get in on game. Look at that bare-chested guy up there. Couple of weeks, that could be you...
You can check out Shanghai Shenhua’s official website in English here. Or Cameron Wilson’s blog about all things Shenhua here. For tickets to next Wednesday’s Man U match, go here. Or for tickets to regular fixtures, try mypiao.com or turn up and buy them before the game starts.