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

The £80 season ticket.

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

 

“Mr John, what’s your favourite season?”, Billy asked. His tiny frame jiggled around with excitement as he happily danced the question from his chirpy mouth. He looked in anticipation of my answer. In his eyes, I think I sensed he wanted me to answer winter. He could see that I was sweating from the 35°C heat. I have been quite vocal about my dislike of summer and heat since around March when the mercury hit 30°C for the first time this year.

To his surprise, I could see it in his eyes, I did not reply spring, summer nor autumn. The expected word of winter did not disembark my mouth. “Billy, I like the football season best.”

The response was quite international, “Huh?!” One simple sound of confusion with calculators flashing in his young eyes. And smoke billowing from his ears. His thought processes however surprised me. He understood, “You like the start and end of football games in the year but not no games.” Spot on. Grab your A-stars now and go directly to university. How perceptive of you Billy.

Now, flash forwards a day to older-than-eight-year-olds. During a conversation, I was asked which season I like best. I gave the same reply. Nothing. Not a single question or notaion of understanding. The boy in grade 8/junior school 2 was flummoxed. Uterrly mystified and totally foxed. So, rather than let him avoid the subject, I asked if he understood. He replied, “of course.” Very confident. So, I said, “please explain.” I didn’t expect much more information to come. The body language of the boy shown he had been thrown, possibly flabbergasted and bewildered. There was a rabbit in the headlights. He opened his mouth, “In winter it snows, so there is no football. In summer, it is too hot, so there is no football. In spring, it is too wet, so there is no football. In autumn it is windy a dry, so this is when the football season is.” I liked his answer, it had a kind of mathematican’s logic to it. I explained the traditional football seasons of Europe run from August to May. There are variations of course. I said summer football is a huge outlier and probably because the weather is too hot, the fields (pitches) too firm. His reply was, “Well, why is the World Cup in summer?” I said it probably boils down to availability and less interruption to less leagues. I said the winter World Cup of 2022 in Qatar will be an outlier.

My years have never been measured by lunar calendars, Gregorian dates, academic planners or such. No, I opted for cards handed out with the Manchester Evening News’s The Pink years ago, and other wonderful football season date lists.  That first date tunnels utter anticipation until the close season becomes pre-season. Pre-season dates are foreplay to the full activity of the football season proper. Waiting for the football season is a time in itself. Here shirts are released, players exchanged, cold, bought and loaned in or out. Words of war are spoke and expectations set, high or low. The battle is far from underway. The Community Shield is looked at as a friendly, unless you’re in and then it is a trophy, unless you lose. There are contradictions in the making from supporters everywhere. Prices of season tickets, games, and all the accessories of the devout football fan are bickered over. “I won’t buy that” becomes an impulse buy. Quarells placed on pause since May (or June) slide to on. Fantasy football teams are prepped. Bookies collect their bets and forms.

TV subscriptions and schedules are juggled around bills and holiday plans. The ripple of every change is mirrored by the frantic actions of a football fan cancelling a wedding in Benidorm in favour of a weekend wedding at Bolton’s Travelodge. Well, Bolton host your team that weekend. Aberystwyth Town’s last season kit is folded away, and you’re pestering Steve Moore at the clubshop on a daily basis. You’re pinging off text message after twitter message after Whatsapp group query, “When is the new Aber Town top out?” You know that by the time your £80 season ticket is printed, you’ll have the famous black and green on your chest but can’t be sure you’ll be wearing it before Gresford Athletic or Llanidloes Town visit. You’ll dig out your oldest kit and call it retro those days. When is the Nathaniel MG Cup Round Two draw? You overlook the first batch of round dates. It matters not to you.

This pre-season I will travel further than before for City’s four preparation games. Taking in the Premier League Trophy in Nanjing and Shanghai,  a game at Hong Kong Stadium versus Kitchee SC and then the EuroJapan Cup game in Yokohama against F. Marinos. Taking in a trip to Japan excites me. Time to do some planning.

Former City Manager Manuel Pellegrini returns to China having coached Hebei Fortune. Former sky blue hero, Pablo Zabaleta could face City. I’ve paid 288RMB ticket for each game on mainland China. Not a tenner in the sterling world, but not too expensive considering the tickets can equate to the below:

£71/£122 via ManCity.com. Newcastle Utd or Wolves v Manchester City. Fri, 19 Jul 00:00. Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.

£43/£65. West Ham United v Manchester City. Tue, 16 Jul 00:00.Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre.

I’m told my ticket in Yokohama was for a similar price to the 288RMB, although I’ve seen some weird four-figure numbers banded about too. This all makes Aberystwyth Town’s £80 season ticket look good value.

 

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

Round Our Way

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


TOUR

Well, I’ve booked flights to return to Blighty on the 31st of July, with the return to China slotted in on the 15th of September. That follows four days in Yokohama (Japan) watching English Premier League Champions Manchester City, and a trip that takes in Nanjing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to see the City face West Ham Utd, Europa League-bound Wolves or Newcastle Utd and then Kitchee SC. It is expensive and beyond my bank balance, but you only live once, I think. Money isn’t all there is to life. If your nation is billions in debt and U.S.A. is trillions in debt, and you don’t fully agree with capitalism, then flip it, live for the moment and the future, at the expense of yesterday. We can always make more money, but we can’t make more days of living. Our species has had more warnings than we care fit. Godzilla: King of Monsters, even delivers this cheesy message. Just do thes best you can, and to quote Braveheart, every man dies, not every man really lives. Something like that.


IMG_5346.JPGI may die without offspring, and in debt but I’ll be damned if I will die unhappy. If I pass on a few smiles and some good advice along the way, then I am happy. Morbidly happy. I can’t wait to get back and enjoy summer with family and close friends. I miss so many good friends. I certainly miss my family. Homesickness seems to creep in as the football season ends, and my eyes firmly focus on a summer trip home. It has happened this way since 2015. This year my holiday is extended by a few weeks – and also, I will request Christmas off, to visit home. I need to see my family I owe it to them.


MANC AIRPORT ANNIVERSARY 2013 (25)Summer in the U.K. will probably see some football, London for the Community Shield, a few Premier League games, some Aberystwyth Town jaunts and whatever suits. I hope to see Bristol Balloon Festival when near our Ace’s. Chadderton Duck Race should be in there for Dr Kershaw’s Hospice. There has to be an airshow to visit. Perhaps some Tour of Britain cycling action, Vincent Kompany’s Testimonial game and a memorial tree planting. Everything is possible with your own powerful mind. Oh, and Doves near Acton town. That’s a must. Perhaps the Ramsbottom World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. Sadly, I fly back the week before Egremont Crabbing Fair & World Gurning Championships. Hopefully, I will find a way to see the great Lancaster Bomber fly, whether over Saddleworth, Southport or Blackpool, I don’t know!


I want to spend some of summer researching my family tree too. I know so little about my heritage.

gran and aunty sue

My Mother’s side:

Ivy Harrison was born on Densmore Street in Failsworth.  At the age of five Ivy attended Mathers Street Council School in 1930.  On April the 13th 1939 Ivy became a machinist making night clothes for Smith and Nephew (a Hollinwood based company).  In 1943 during the Second World War Avro Ltd. recruited Ivy to make munitions and aircraft pieces. Parachutes were also made. The war effort needed everything. In the wake of a recovering U.K. climate during 1949, Ivy married John Hitchin.  In May of that year, Carolyn Hitchin was born.  In 1955 John Hitchin died from a severe heart attack.  Ivy became a widow aged thirty.  And in 1956, Ivy’s mother died aged sixty-nine.

In late December 1956, Ivy remarried, to John Roberts.  John came from a long line of North-Wales’ Welsh men. Susan Ivy Roberts was born upon the 5th of October 1957. Soon after, Ivy’s third child Elaine June Roberts was born upon the 20th of June 1961. John Roberts died in my early years. My Gran remarried at the deathbed of her companion Ernest Freeman. She would pass away as a widow in February 2014 and leave behind family who miss her most dearly.

To be continued…

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

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