Well that didn’t take long, did it?
I mentioned a while ago that one of the few things I actually knew about Dalian before taking my job here was that the football team – Dalian Yifang – were absolutely loaded. Over the past few years they have, like the large majority of Chinese teams, made quite a splash with some eye-watering signings of the likes of Marek Hamsik, Yannick Carrasco and coach Rafa Benitez.
Unfortunately when I first arrived here it was the middle of the international break, so I had to wait until my fourth weekend before there was a home game! There is also a team called Dalian Chanjoy in the third tier of the Chinese football pyramid, but I’m saving them for a time when I’m really craving a footy fix!
As it’s a fairly up and coming city, Dalian is still developing. The metro has only been in operation for a few years and is still expanding and Yifang’s stadium – the very matter-of-factly named ‘Dalian Sports Center’ – isn’t actually on the train line yet! Getting there is a bit of a trek from my location on the other side of the city, but the first step was to take a 40 minute metro ride on line 1 until the penultimate stop: Dalian North Railway Station.
Here I met my mate Mike and we grabbed a quick bite to eat which could have gone one of two ways considering I was a little delicate from the previous night’s antics. New country, same old me.
Thankfully, it went the right way and it was swiftly decided that hair of the dog was the way to go so a few Tsingtao’s were ordered along with the food and we were on our way.
The next stage of the journey was to get from the station to the stadium. I’d been told to just follow the blue shirts and we’d end up in the right place to take a bus directly to the ground. Not too dissimilar to FC Tokyo’s Ajinamoto Stadium in that it was quite a pain in the arse to get to and the key was to not let the replica shirts out of your sight!
As it happened though, with taxis being incredibly cheap here we decided to shell out for one of those which set us back a cool 13RMB (£1.40) for the 10 minute journey. That said, had we taken one of the charlatans next to the official taxi rank (clearly hoping to exploit the stupid foreigners!) up on their offer of a ‘taxi’ I dread to think about much it might have cost!
Journey to the ground successfully navigated with minimal stress, the next step was actually getting a ticket. Due to the fact the stadium holds just over 60,000 people, my understanding is that there’s hardly ever any need to buy in advance and this was certainly the case today. If memory serves (and my basic Chinese is correct), the official attendance was announced as something just over 30,000.
In amongst the chancers selling all sorts of unofficial merchandise outside the ground, we also ran into numerous shifty looking guys flogging tickets for the game. We initially insisted on buying from the proper outlets, but after something of a wild goose chase looking for the ticket office we settled on the gentleman pictured below. He sold us two tickets right under the nose of a watching policeman for a very reasonable 60RMB (£6.60) each and perhaps even more shocking than the price was the fact that they were genuine!
Tickets in hand, the next priorities were beer and taking our seats.
Easier said than done.
The seats were fine, as expected for the price we were up in the gods in block A2-7, but as Mike said this time was all about sussing it out for the future. A trial run, shall we say?!
The beer, on the other hand was less easy to find; or shall I say, absolutely impossible. We tried numerous concessions (which really were tables where a few women sold pop and crisps) and our only options were water or Coke. Not the end of the world considering you can’t drink at the footy in England anyway, not to mention that water might have been better considering the night I’d had before, but once you’ve got your heart set on something the disappointment can be hard to stomach!
It was to be soft drinks and a bag of Lays (foreign Walkers) to get us through the game, which started off as an end-to-end contest with both teams having good chances. Dalian had more of the ball but Shenzhen looked more dangerous on the break.
Undoubtedly it was Dalian who had the pick of the teams with the aforementioned stars lining up with ex-Newcastle striker Salomon Rondon leading the line. In fact the only name I recognised on the Shenzhen teamsheet was that of their Italian manager Roberto Donadoni!
With all this said it came as something of a shock when Dalian did take the lead just before half time after Zheng Long got on the end of a cross and lofted a lovely header into the far corner. The shock being that not a single superstar was involved in the goal or the assist!
The half time entertainment took the form of a patriotic song celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China while a team of people formed the number 70 in the centre circle. I wasn’t too sure what to do with myself, but as always when in someone else’s country I decided to keep my mouth shut and simply join in with the clapping as and when required!
Not long after the second half began we were joined by a man whose name I cannot remember for the life of me and we held a very basic conversation about English football as he sat on the steps. My seat was pretty dusty so I dread to think what his arse looked like after this!
It was nice to get talking to someone who seemed happy that we’d gone along to watch the local football, even if his English didn’t let him say as much! It doesn’t seem like the J-League here where foreigners are a fairly common sight at places like Urawa and FC Tokyo, so it might have been something of a surprise to see us there for some!
Back to the footy and the second half saw Shenzhen take more of a foothold in the game but ultimately it was to no avail as Dalian added to their tally late on. Centre half Dong Yanfeng slotted away his first goal for the club and it finished 2-0 to Dalian. This result was greeted by a truly bizarre scene, as the fans started throwing their foamy cushions (bought outside!) towards the pitch in celebration. They must be cheap as anything.
The plan was to take the bus back to North station before heading into the city for a few drinks and seeing where the night took us. Unfortunately as we didn’t take the bus to the ground we didn’t have the slightest clue where to get it for the return journey either.
We unexpectedly found out how much the charlatan taxis cost, as our desperation/unwillingness to aimlessly wander around almost got the better of us. It started at 60RMB before we got him down to half of that, but as a matter of principle we decided to search for the bus which would be quite literally one-sixtieth of the original price.
Yes, buses cost 1RMB here. At the time of writing, that’s 11p!
Of course, the bus was on the complete opposite side of the stadium to where we were but the walk just bought us time while the queues died down. Or so we told ourselves.
I wish there was a more exciting end to this story, but the truth is that it was just an easy day out watching a decent game of football. Oh, and I got drunk again after. But that’s nothing to write home about, is it?