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
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
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