‘Wooden trumpet’

Nihao/How do/Hello/S’mae,

Congratulations to Aberystwyth Town (founder members of the League of Wales in 1992) on avoiding the bottom two for 29 straight seasons. Alongside Newtown FC, both have remained ever present. Good luck to the Robins of Newtown as they chase a place in Europe. Further congratulations to Andy Morrison’s Connah’s Quay Nomads on retaining the Cymru Premier (previously Welsh Premier League/League of Wales) title. The Nomads ensured the title did not cross the border to England-based The New Saints.

To decide on something, as an individual is easy. To decide as a group, lesser so. As the world and its dog takes on China over various sensitive issues, I sit in relative freedom of Dongguan, thinking of the week ahead. I’m lucky. I’m working. Others around the world are not. Those last few sentences were written almost two months ago. They still apply now. They may still apply to some regions as variations of COVID-19 ravage and unravel around the globe. Good luck to all in the battle against the pesky persistence of coronavirus.

“This is how a democracy works. We talk to each other.” – quote from the dialogue of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

On April 11th 2020, Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump. He was drinking COVID juice based on Clorox bleach talking as Covfefe-19. It referred to Donald Trump’s former Twitter account and a message he posted on May 30th 2017 (‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’). Now the world has staircase-fearing Joe Biden. Since Trump departed (on his own free will, with graciousness of course), President of the U.S.A. Biden has given a new hope to growing East and West closer together whilst keeping Russia and the European Union sweet. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are also cosy with U.S.A. after distancing itself from floundering Trump’s administration and its death throes.

I was born in a member state of the E.U. Now, I am a national of an independent U.K. in a world that seems to be simultaneously getting closer yet fragmenting. Our shared fate may be staring at the abyss making predicted violent struggling motions showing great pains but it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of having a standing competition to see who can urinate higher than the other, Biden’s administration could have headed to Alaska to talk to China constructively. Instead, a confident Chinese delegation showed no weakness. Across the table from Team America World Police, angry signals could be seen from the world’s 3rd of 4th biggest country (surface area) – depending on your source. Anyway without Trump, the world, even during COVID-19 and arguments between countries seems a much more pleasant place. It’s made me long for the path of optimism. Pumped up on my first vaccination against the 2019 version of the plague, I think borders will re-open sooner or later, and Euro 2020 football will join the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 in 2021. With City claiming the EFL League Cup and the Premier League on their march to Istanbul Wembley Villa Park Porto in the UEFA Champions League final, why not have a cause of feeling positive? The Estádio do Dragão may be a stadium of dragons, but isn’t 2021 the year to banish beasts? And, I’ll be joining Shenzhen Blues at 3am one Saturday night-Sunday morning to hope that City banish their quest for Europe’s biggest title…

“Please take my hand. I give it to you as a gesture of friendship and love, and of faith freely given. I give you my hand and welcome you into my dream.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 167

Banishing beasts takes determination. Much like realising a dream. My dream of playing a musical instrument successfully is now. Now, I’ve paid for some classes, and I have two tools here. Terre World Instruments sent me my wind instrument. The didgeridoo (also known as a mandapul) can be found in plastic, redwood, yellow wood, bamboo and other wooden forms. Mine is made of Eucalyptus (a yellow wood). It’s tuned to D, I believe but can be tuned in other notes. It’s 180cm long and came in packaging longer than my body. The dense sound characteristics are fantastic. It booms from lineseed oil-finished wood, both inside and out. Luka, my teacher, also helped me get a wooden Didgebox .

“…don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 25

The spiritual instrument has always intrigued me. Stephen Boakes from The Levellers calls it a ‘wooden trumpet’. The former Klanger and the Soupdragons band member has featured over the years for folk rockers The Levellers yet not one mention of the lad can be found on their Wikipedia page (a reliable place of purity and facts). This is a travesty. Nor can the word didgeridoo be found. Boakes is a punky player of the norther Australian Aboriginal people. It’s been around roughly 1500 years and carries haunting spiritual sounds. The touring electrician from Brighton has fitted his take on the yiḏaki* wind instrument into the ethos of the band since at least 1993’s Levellers album. The mako* sounds at home on song, This Garden.

Djalu Gurruwiwi, Ondrej Smeykal (Czech), Ganga Giri, David Hudson, Mark Atkins and Shibaten may not be household names. Indeed to most, they’re just a list that I prepared for my journey into the spirit of the didgeridoo sound. Possibly one of the world’s oldest wind instruments doesn’t have a reed, finger holes or other hand-eye coordination pieces. The voice box is the key. Practice will be needed. I’m far, far away from kookaburra sounds or other Australian wildlife but David Hudson and Luka are explaining things and giving me techniques to help along the way. And it can also be a drum. I’m learning control before speed. Dubravko Lapaine has ample amounts of speed in his training instructions and technique tips but highlights the need for slow learning. That, and I need to get some beeswax to make a smooth rim. That will seal in the air better.

Sharp raspberries are needed for this instrument that has probably been around 1000-1500 years or so. Softly blowing the musical piece (with about 45 names) is needed. Twangs and wobbly tongues too. Every time you b low out, your nose must suck in air, which is not easy! And relax, that’s the advice. Each day means more practice and more air being pushed into the lungs and not just in the cheeks! It is hard! All the while, I am practising to inspirational combinations such as the Australian Youth Orchestra with William Barton (Spirit Gallery Didgeridoos).

Maybe in the future I’ll buy one of Charlie McMahon‘s didjeribones. These sliding version is closer to a trombone. He invented this instrument which has a modern twist on an ancient tool of sound. Early Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn featured a didgeridoo.

“I’m asking: Oh, when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?;
Now when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?” – Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn

With that, goodbye, zai jian and ta’ra! I’m off to confirm that the 2005 British Medical Journal study about playing the didgeridoo has health benefits or not.

Hwyl fawr!

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

Blues in Shanghai / Buzz of Yokohama

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

Back in July, I’d flew to Nanjing (南京市) from Shenzhen. The flight to Nanjing was simple enough and having paid for my train ticket to the city centre in cash, I checked in at the hotel early. The ticket machines being a rarity in that it didn’t take WeChat pay – it seemed the whole of that area uses Alipay only. On arriving in the city, I explored the impressive city walls, bumping into Peter from Valvoline there to watch the game in the sponsors’ area. After a gentle exploration I found an Irish bar, Finnegan’s Wake and had a natter to the owner Ian. After a hearty meal I returned to the hotel before having a good night’s sleep.

Nanjing could easily be one of my favourite cities in China. Despite having a population of just over 8.2 million it feels spacious. Trees line the roads and add natural feelings. Xuánwǔ hú (lake/玄武湖) stretches from the main railway station over a circumference of 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) – a strangely round number of 444 hectares. The city was once the capital of China from 1368–1420 then from 1928–1937 and also from 1945-1949. The Second World War and civil war in China have greatly affected this city. The city retains great swathes of culture and the museums throughout the area are well worth a wander.

On matchday Phil, having headed from Beijing, and I met up with many other travelling blues, enjoyed the pre-game event ran by the Nanjing OSC before heading over to the huge 61,443 seater Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre Stadium. On entering we passed market stall after market stall selling City’s new home shirts for around £4 a go (30RMB) and other tatty sporting event essentials (you know binoculars, raincoats and vuvuzelas). How new kit provider Puma and the Premier League allowed so many knock-off shirts to be sold nearby was beyond me?! The quality was near spot on with only a few visible faults on the club crest. Oh, and no sizes over UK medium didn’t help any foreigners to cash in…

On passing a body pat down, metal detectors and three separate ticket checks, we were in the stadium for the first fixture: Wolves versus Newcastle Utd. But, first to the bar. Oh. Lemon tea… and plum juice. Or water. Tepidly warm water. Or tiny little sweet sausages and crisps. No re-admission to the stadium. No drinks permitted at the gate either. Hmmm. Good job we had eaten earlier and drank some good coffee, and a few beers. Wolves dominated their game over Toon, who had just been taken over by Stevey Bruce the Elephant Man. Jota’s brace alongside goals from Gibbs-White and Allan of Toon made it four goals to nowt. A very one-sided affair. Martin Atkinson in the middle had little to do.

Nanjing has parks galore, and square dancing grannies (great for Wayne Rooney) – and people walking plastic bottles. It has character unlike some cities that are more copy and paste than commerical espionage at a car factory [NO NAMES… Land Wind?].

In a stand, east or west, I cannot recall, a large pocket of sky blue shirts filled block after block. Considering it was pre-season and a weekday (in a country where people work long hours and many days) it was quite impressive. Thomas Cook (before they went kaput in September) had made a mess and Etihad Airways had just managed to get City into China with very little time to spare before the game. The press was hounding City for time and events – and sponsorship commitments were hastily rearranged and fan meetings held, but with little information given out. As an expat living in China, I could not source when signing events and open training was being held. Others seemed in the know through media and channels unreadable to an English speaker.

A toothless West Ham display, so typical of pre-season games, started with the Hammers scoring a penalty against the run of play. Noble banged the ball in off the spot, after referee Craig Pawson had pointed to the spot. David Silva made the game level from a great solo volley before Pawson once again pointed to the spot. Up stepped Hamburg-born Lukas Nmecha to give the purple-tinted sky blues the lead. Sterling started a run of goals that would carry on into the season, finishing twice in that game. The atmosphere was subdued, relaxed but generally very nice.

Premier League Asia Trophy matches: Wednesday 17 July, Nanjing Olympic Sports Center
Newcastle 0-4 Wolves / Man City 4-1 West Ham

The day after the game, I checked out of my hotel. The train to Shanghai smoothly glided into the final destination. The last few kilometres gave me a panoramic view that revealed the city of Shanghai was far from small. My exhaustion from a late night’s drinking didn’t help me. Checking into the 24K something-or-other hotel near to the People’s Square was simple enough.

The game in the impressive Pringle-shaped curves of the Hongkou Stadium was policed by the central government’s Public Bureau of Security. Despite there being a notice saying that flags of 1m by 2m were allowed, a rough looking three-chevron official tried to snatch my simple Shenzhen Blues and Manchester City flag. I said no. He backed off. His 30cm height-disadvantage and my quick scrunch and pocketing of the flag did no harm. Piles of snatched flags and scarfs, eve posters lay on a table by the unwelcoming metal gates. The Newcastle supporters showing ‘Ashley Out’ printouts remained untouched. A Leeds flag hung at the halfway line. The atmosphere for the game was generally good despite City losing 3-2 on penalties, following a 0-0 draw. Wolves have always been a good side against City – and on this day deserved to lift the Premier League Asia Trophy. The only problem was the general over-policing, however, you could go outside at half-time for a pint, or varied soft drinks. Hóngkǒu Zúqiúchǎng (虹口足球场) was pretty much sold out – but some mentioned that the 33,060 was not allowed due to a license restriction. Would I attend any of City’s potential future games in China? No. The atmosphere is far from conducive for enjoyment at major sports events. I’m sorry to say football in a communist state is duller than a dull thing on a dull day in the village of Dull as the dull festival is commenced at dull o’clock.

Saturday 20 July, Hongkou Football Stadium, Shanghai
Newcastle 1-0 West Ham / Wolves 0-0 (3-2 pens) Man City

On the Sunday, Stephen and I from Shenzhen Blues joined the Manchester City Official Supporters Club Chinese branches in a meeting with club representatives. Many mentioned their OSC flags had been taken from them. The whole day seemed a little winy and the mood low. Stephen and I, with Greg from Hong Kong Blues spent much time explaining where the OSC money goes. An understanding of City’s fanbase domestically and an education of the meaning of the OSC works both ways.

Duting my time in Shanghai I caught up with my Aberystwyth University friend Kai, from Shanghai. We met over local food, a football’s kick from Puma’s flagship store and talked about old times, the present day and the future. I gave his son a small City gift and off we went. I hope we catch up again soon.


From Shanghai, back down to Shenzhen by flight, and up to Dongguan to do laundry and then outwards to Hong Kong’s Mong Kok area the next day after made for a tiring 24 hours. Watching open training, because Heather at City added me to the list, was relaxing and gave me a closer insight into how City operate on a coaching front. It was impressive.

The next day was game day and we headed to the Hong Kong Stadium despite an atmosphere of worry around the city and island of Hong Kong. Some protests had happened before our arrival and many were expecting more. Following a fantastic pre-game event organised by the Hong Kong Blues we headed into the football ground, famous for the HK Rugby Sevens.

I’d like to thank the tireless Martin Ng for his directions and Coco Kwok at HK Blues who had helped me store my bags before the training session. One thing that I enjoy about HK Blues, is that they are bloody friendly and very down to earth people. Every time I am in Hong Kong, I try to catch a game with them! Greg Knowles runs a tight ship over there, and they remain a credit to the Manchester City OSC.

City won the friendly with a less than friendly scoreline of 6-1. Protests concerning the ongoing political unrest in the area were present before, during and after the final whistle. The most bizarre thing, however, was the handing of flowers and substitution of veteran 37-year-old Kim Dong-jin. He’d played 11 games at Kitchee in 3 seasons, but he was given a huge hero’s applause. If he deserves it, fair play. Everyone loves a grafter and a spirit of the game protagonist. Following the win and a few drinks, it was bedtime and a flight the next day. Watch the YouTube match highlights and listen out for the phrase, “…and Wang is once again beaten again.” Oops.


I enjoyed the flight to Tokyo International Airport. Ray, blue Ray that is, was on the same flight. He’d opted to stay in Tokyo whereas I felt the time limit would give me just enough time to take in Yokohama’s sights. It was a cooler air than Shanghai and Nanjing but the game in Yokohama was toasty! Less humid, but bloomin’ hot! I didn’t envy anyone running in that heat. Yokohama F.-Marinos are a bloody good team. City found the net through from Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Lukas Nmecha (now on loan at Verein für Leibesübungen Wolfsburg e. V. – AKA Die Wölfe).

“It was an incredible test for us, incredibly demanding because of the conditions and the quality of the opponent.” – Pep Guardiola

City won the EuroJapan Cup with a 3-1 win – and shared a great style of play with the home team. Coach Ange Postecoglou has a vast career including spells at his native Australia national team. His Yokohama F. Marinos side currently sit 4 points off top-placed FC Tokyo and could secure an AFC Champions League play-off round place. If City ever visit Japan again, I’ll be booking my flights pronto.

Whilst Yokohama wasn’t cheap, the Minato Miraj 21 district has a great mix of architecture and history. The Nippon Maru ship was a museum boat and the skyline featuring the Yokohama Marine Tower made for a scenic city. Armed with a city map, coins for my subway and train rides I covered a great deal of ground and could even see Mount Fuji from afar – although the outbound flight from Tokyo Narita airport gave me a better view and scale of the beastly conical volcano. The Kirin beer factory and Cup Noodles Museum are located in Yokohama. Go on, have a try… and staying in a pod hotel can make the stay more affordable, as I found. The £11 pints will destroy your wallet.

Yokohama has a good toy museum, a cool model railway museum and the Nissan car centre isn’t a bad venue for a pre-match activity, as City did on the day of the game. The city is easy to navigate with plenty of railway and subway links – and they Nissan Yokohama Stadium is the pinnacle of their 4 city clubs. Holding 72,327 it is easy to see why hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup final and will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup final. It will also see football at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Just nearby is the outdoor Kagetsu-en Velodrome but sadly this closed in 2010 and I couldn’t gamble there.

 

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

Plastic or Fantastic #1 Jumping Ahead

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

Plastic fans or overseas fantastic fans?

When it first happened, we were a little jealous. No. In fact, we were bitterly jealous. As the likes of Liverpool, Manchester Utd and Arsenal gathered overseas fans, City had no hope in hell of travelling beyond Greater Manchester. Together with other so called big 4 club Chelsea, they often dominated the pathways into European football’s top competition and commercial cash card. Terms likes ‘plastic fans’ or phrases based on the geography of where a fan came from, ‘Kent reds’, ‘Singapore reds’, or ‘Here’s another ferry from Ireland’ could be heard. Ignorant fans labelled the new followers as glory seeking lightweight supporters in a heartbeat. I know, because I used to say it and still do from time to time.

Before the Premier League was formed, history served Man Utd well, they’d won it in ’68 – as the first English club to do so. Liverpool did better beating the rest of the pack in 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1984. Nottingham Forest were a founder club of the Premier League – and have the European Cup in 1979 and 1980. Of the 22 founder clubs that season, only 12 are in the 2019/20 season of the Premier League. Like Nottingham, the other 9 clubs have had a topsy-turvy recent history. Where are Wimbledon?

The Champions League followed the European Cup. For the former, Aston Villa won it in my birth year. However, only Chelsea, Man Utd (twice) and Liverpool (twice) have managed to win it in 25 years of the Premier League. Man Utd received global acclaim on how they rebuilt a club following the Munich air disaster and capitalised on a social liberation and liberalisation in the 1960s. They cashed in on the surrounding pop culture with “Fifth Beatle” George Best and so on. Football fans and even the neutral fan could join in or follow a team beyond their own turf. They wouldn’t be begrudged their second club from time to time. It was the norm.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have appeared in the Champions League since cavemen bashed clubs over dodos. They’re almost ever presents having qualified for seemingly every edition. Barca have managed 15 straight seasons of last-16 knock-out games. Their 16 domestic league titles since 1990 has featured just four finishing standing outside La Liga’s top three. Since 2008-09 they have finished twice, three times. They won the other seasons. Real Madrid last finished 4th in La Liga’s 2003-04 season and also clinched a Champions League Place. In 1996-97 they didn’t join the Champions League –  having qualified in the edition of the season before. The Champions League rebrand of the top European Cup started in 1992, at about the same time as the Premier League in England. The global branding of Spanish football has been clear – and one rarely unbroken for Real and Barca. They bucked the trend in terms of fans following top clubs from Asia. Neither team sported red, like the flags of Singapore, China or Hong Kong’s sponsors Sharp name. But, their following was few and far between until Ronaldo and Messi arrived. Then, they banked on superstars.

In the years leading up to the Premier League, floating on the stock exchange wasn’t a bad move. Man Utd did that. City just floated – with no direction. As branding clung to fashionable stars like Beckham and Giggs, football entered a new era for City too. Financial ruin caused by off the field mismanagement and on the field turmoil. Freefall entered the blue half of Manchester with little sign of abating as one club would march to a historic treble (that people seldom hear about these days). Even City signing Chinese player Sun Jihai in the early 2000s did little to stem the flow of international fanbases looking from the east towards somewhere west of Manchester.

Liverpool have won zero of the 27 Premier League titles on offer yet have fared well in Europe during the Champions League era. They like Man Utd, have been in Europe, to the FIFA World Club Championships and European Super Cups. The International Champions Cup has featured them plenty. Exposure beyond the Pennines, Irish Sea and the Lancashire boundary has been kind to them. Man Utd have been described as a global brand – long before City lifted a Premier League trophy. Overseas tours followed the money as City spewed out close to home European numbers like Hamburg’s HSV and Oldham Atheltic away. Even Stockport County and Sheffield Utd had a crack at China – although West Brom came first, long before the Eastlands was a term.

Manchester City’s first foray into the Champions League came from a third-placed league finish in 2010/11. City have featured 8 times in UEFA’s top competition since reaching the semi-final twice, hardly enough to make a dedicated Wikipedia page on City in the Champions League. Higher league places mean higher Premier League revenue and City gave won half of the Premier League titles on offer since their first on 2011/12. Since the takeover in 2008 they’ve shot from ‘marketable lovable team seeks caring partner’ to ‘dominatrix of the year’. Back to back titles, especially considering the strengthening and determination to dethrone City’s centurion of point getters has justified some clever marketing deals.

City and Utd having a derby in Beijing could have been a big thing. It was a farce and never happened. USA had that first privilege at a later preseason. As thousands of red shirts outside the Bird’s Nest Stadium cried, shouted and shown general anger, pockets and handfuls of City fans skipped around Beijing bars, experiencing the City fan culture. A few days later, similar happiness happened in Shenzhen and the culture of Manchester – and football spewed outwardly. Shenzhen Blues and Hong Kong Blues were soon joined by 11 more groups – recognised as official supporters clubs by Manchester City. The OSC formed in 1949 and now has around 250 clubs globally, with around 20,000 registered members. It provides a direct and sometimes challenging link to Manchester City. It is officially recognised and backed by the club but remains independent. Kevin Parker has been voted as General Secretary for 20 or so years running now. He does wonders for the club in a demanding voluntary role. Alan Potter, Howard Burr, Mike Young, Christine Wardle, Karen McCormack are names that help run this ever-expanding organisation, but I don’t know their exact roles. They get mentions in matchday programmes and online from time to time but maintain quite a modest presence.

The annual membership for Manchester City’s Official Supporters Club goes far. A percentage goes to City in the Community. Another amount is made available for charitable applications by the Official Supporters Club membership. Shenzhen Blues donated around £500 to a children’s charity, A Heart For China. The membership gives a card, often a gift and the chance to apply for tickets by each branch. There are many other benefits and event support is one. One thing that as a supporter travelling from nation to nation, or town to village in the UK, means that knowing where your nearest OSC is, you can say hello. So, if you’re in Addis Ababa or Newton Heath, you’ll not be far from one. When I first moved to Dongguan my closest branch was Hong Kong Blues. I met up with that lovely branch until Shenzhen Blues became mainland China’s first branch. From then, I have met so many mainland fans and expats here on work, or just visiting and that is exactly what an OSC should be for: to bring people together.

The Premier League Asia Trophy featured in Nanjing and Shanghai and we’re not really here… we never thought we’d see this many blue shirts or this level of enthusiasm overseas. To continue this writing, I will explain why fans of English clubs overseas are fantastic – and not just plastic unlike the Leeds fan who shouted, “Our fans are from Leeds, your fans are Chinese” at someone not even born in Asia… in Perth this week. Man Utd’s 4-0 win over their bitter Pennine rivals shouldn’t have come into his thinking. Anyone the video us out there.

To be continued.

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