Written by Martin Kiss, Fall 2015 STL exchange student from Hungary
The first time I went to Shenzhen Football Stadium I was just a lonesome football fan who missed watching his favorite sport with the atmosphere of a stadium. I missed the uncomfortable seats, the long journey to the stadium, the chants of the fans, and the fact that you feel like you are part of the game.
To that first match I decided to go by myself, until I was joined last minute by a fellow exchange student. We managed to buy tickets right in front of the stadium for 30RMB for the both of us. Just let that sink in, because the experience I am going to describe is worth way more than that.
Upon entry to the stadium, we bought Shenzhen FC jerseys. We had the choice of two; one which the fans wear, and one which the players wear. We opted for the latter, and got a single jersey for 80 RMB.
Unfortunately the ticket is in Chinese, so we had no idea where our seats were, but managed to get a little guidance from the other fans. The result was that we ended up sitting in the same sector as the hardcore fans, which in Europe we call ‘ultras’. These are the guys usually who are part of the fan club, make all the chants, bring all the flags, and sometimes cause trouble. As we set down with our Shenzhen jerseys, more and more people started to come over to us and take photos with us, enjoying the fact that foreigners share the same support for their team.
Eventually we were invited over as the game began to sit with them, and that’s when the real experience began. We were encouraged to sing along with them, even though we really could only imitate the sounds, and follow all the chants. For 90 minutes two foreign students stood amongst 100+ Chinese fans screaming, singing, and jumping, inspiring our team to victory. Coming back from the half time break, sitting on the chair sipping our cold beverages (in the local stadium all you can get is Coca-Cola with ice for 5 RMB, but it’s all you need), we were even motivated by the leader of the group by the megaphone to get up to cheer for the next 45 minutes.
At the end of the night we got the WeChat of one the leaders, to stay up to date with the games. And that is exactly what we did…
I returned for a second game, the next home game on the schedule, with more people now. We went with a group of 6 people. We received the same welcome as before, and became the highlight of the night for many Chinese. (Since two of us didn’t have jerseys, they were even given free ones by the fan club as a gesture.) We eagerly cheered on the team, and were amongst the loudest and most cheerful fans that evening. No wonder that we had 100s of photos taken of us, selfies with almost every fan, and videos of us cheering; we even appeared in the fan club’s magazine, a photo taken by one of the photographers of Shenzhen FC. That night we inspired the team to a 3-0 victory, which could have been a much more embarrassing defeat for Beijing. Shenzhen cleared themselves from the relegation zone, and we felt like we were part of the reason.
I have to tell you, that I’ve never felt so welcome before at a football stadium. Perhaps it was because we were on our own, in a new city, and this welcome felt even more valuable than anything. The first game was on the 22nd of August, only a week into my time in China, thousands of kilometers from home, but I finally felt welcome, and at home in China. Football is truly a beautiful game, or ‘joga bonito’.