Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love

Comedy Prescription

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

I Think, You Stink! written and directed by comedian Nick Helm was surprising for many reasons. Not least the warning about strobe lighting and strong language (swearing) but the acting and singing. The dancing too. Amongst the initial audience participation of the B-movie spoof romp, it became clear we the watchers were in for a treat. The 10th anniversary of Helm’s earlier joyous show, was far from dead. The hypno-vision and giggles made the show in Assembly Roxy fly by. The special effects were underwhelmingly overwhelming. Beasts, beauty and great vocals drove the drive-in show far and wide, concluding with a standing ovation. Catchy melodies delivered by great comedy vocalists and teamwork for a simple stage show. Oluwatayo Adewole gave it a 5-star in his review purely because his writing captures the energy that the acting team throw at the performance. Rob Kemp, Jenny Bede, Katie Pritchard and the stunningly seductive Sooz Kempner all can lead a show wonderfully. This wasn’t just a Nick Helm show. This a was a Premier League of talents working together. If only they could be in Parliament – then the tiresome Brexit and poison chalices being banded about may be sorted by a proper organised outfit.

“Dark and twisted, but strangely sweet in the middle” – Mail on Sunday

A few weeks back I watched a Billy Connolly celebration. At first it seemed like a memorial show and I started to panic, thinking The Big Yin was dead. Luckily the 76-year old comedy star, folk rocker and actor has not left the mortal life. The show was simply a festivity of his works – with the feelings experienced by those watching over the years. Billy & Me was touching and sweet but one moment stood out to me. Narrated by Surrane Jones, one viewer said she had been suffering from depression and the doctor prescribed comedy. By watching The Big Yin, for an hour a day, her condition approved. Having not watched as much comedy during the last few years (accessibility and time issues, are my makeshift excuse), I agree. Comedy is a good prescription for a period of time with monsters lurking at the foot of the bed. Nick Helm’s how did just that trick. The world became a brighter place. On that note look up Danny Wallace’s book on rudeness, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude. On reading that you’ll start to think a bit more.

The importance of reading, comedy and thinking for yourself have been amongst civilisations since the dawn of civilization. Anyway, if it makes you think and smile, without making someone else sad, upset or offended, then why not? Our mental health is important. Go on, find a prescription now.

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

James (and the castles of Scotland)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / A’m gled tae meet ye,

During a recent whistlestop tour of Scotland, it was possible to admire many castles. The thing about some cities in Scotland, like Edinburgh – and Stirling, is that they have imposing castles on rocks high above the ground below.  Another such beauty of a castle is Scotland’s longest recorded stronghold, Dumbarton Castle.

For Stirling, James IV, the sequel James V and James VI built significant parts to the early 12th century rudimental castle. James III was born there, James II sheltered there – and James I gave it to his wife and mother of James II. James, the indie band from Manchester, to my knowledge haven’t played there. Sit down. The early Stewarts and Wars of Scottish Independence have significance at this location. The current commander is James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar – another bloody James. The castle that could easily be called James (after James from Thomas The Tank Engine?) sits on 350 million year old quartz-dolerite. William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even resided there briefly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Today it is mostly a Renaissance palace from around the times of 1490 to 1600, when the Royal Family pretty much moved to London, as real estate prices were reasonable back then. Since then, military digs, a museum featuring the legendary Balaclava Company and education have dominated the castle’s recent years.

Edinburgh Castle towers of Old Town. From Castle Rock, aged 350 million years, the 460’ elevation (140 m), the views from the former volcanic pipe are stunning. The only way into the castle from the east. The other directions have steep falls. Even water struggled to find a way in during the Lang Siege of 1573.

Edinburgh’s connection to a James comes with a siege to free James III of Scotland in 1482. Ten-year-old King James II watched two teenagers get executed in November 1440. James IV built the Great Hall. In fact, Edinburgh castle featured greatly in the great soap opera of Scottish royal history. The castle nowadays reflects a grander tourist feel with the superb Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place in a stadium-parade ground outside the main castle gates.

Dumbarton Castle strikes out from a 334 million year old volcanic basalt plug. Settlements have been noted as far back as Iron Age forts. The 557 steps up are a challenge for today’s visitors and a face of William Wallace’s supposed betrayer is carved: Sir John Menteith of Ruskie and Knapdale.

“Schyre Jhon of Menteith in tha days; Tuk in Glasgow William Walays; And sent hym until Ingland sune, There was he quartayrd and undone.” – Metrical Chronicle, Andrew of Wyntoun (1350-1425), Scottish poet
The castle can be seen looming over the town of Dumbarton and by the River Clyde. The landscape combined with the history makes for a wonderful daydreaming experience on a passing train.

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā / Bye for noo