Chinese football making the headlines it craves – for all the wrong reasons after violent FA Cup brawl

Mindless episodes like that which unfolded at the end of the FA Cup match between Jiangsu Suning and Wuhan Hongxing continue to ensure Chinese football isn’t taken seriously beyond its own borders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2016, 4:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 9:12am

The free-spending Chinese Super League has done many things that you’d assume would warrant Chinese football dominating headlines around the world but nothing more so than an old-fashioned tear-up. That’s what happened at the end of the game between Jiangsu Suning and Wuhan Hongxing following their Chinese FA cup tie last week and various media outlets across the globe took notice.

The nature of the Chinese FA Cup, in following the world’s oldest cup competition in being open to everyone, presents a problem. And that problem is the mixture of Chinese professional teams with the country’s amateur

To put this in context, let’s start with the Chinese FA Cup. The knockout competition began in 1995 but was dropped after Shandong Luneng’s win in 2006, before it was reinstated for the 2011 season by the country’s governing body.

The nature of the Chinese FA Cup, in following the world’s oldest cup competition in being open to all teams, presents a problem. And that problem is the mixture of Chinese professional teams with the country’s amateurs.

While there are strong claims that the world game began in China – there is evidence that a game called “cuju” which saw human heads improvise for footballs was the precursor to the beautiful game – it’s a latecomer to organised football.

Fast forward a few thousand years and we’ve got the professional game’s roots. Right now we have the big-spending Chinese Super League which came out of the Jia-A league – the top flight until 1994 – but there was more to Chinese football than this.

Before all of that was the mid-century establishment of clubs such as Dalian Shipyards (later the all-conquering Dalian Shide) and the 1980s semi-professional scene. This was the foundation of the game that flowered in the 1990s and has blossomed since.

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However, there’s always been that naughty side. In the 1984 season, Jilin were thrown out of the top division after their players attacked a referee in one of their games.

And that’s a trait that the Chinese game has never quite shaken: there is a fight that never goes out.

WATCH: A mass brawl breaks out between players of Jiangsu Suning and Wuhan Hongxing

Take last week. Jiangsu Suning, the only unbeaten team in the CSL, were at amateur side Wuhan Hongxing in the Chinese FA Cup. Everything was fine between the Nanjing side and their hosts until an extra time winner from Jiansu Suning’s Ge Wei, then the final whistle changed everything.

That was the last straw for the Wuhan side and it resulted in a brawl for the ages.

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Where footballers normally extend to pushing and shoving, this was in the realms of Streetfighter 2 with flying kicks and a genuine desire to finish the game – even if it was before the final whistle.

The scrapping even took to the stands, where so-called supporters attempted to make sure that Wuhan came away with something. Punches and kicks rained in the stands and on the pitch, it was like 1970s England all over again.

Wuhan Hongxing later admitted they played some ringers. One of their players actually posted a comment while he should have been playing, on his Sina Weibo – the Chinese Twitter, as it’s always described.

Lu Lei was listed as a starter for the Wuhan side but posted during the game that “the match has lasted more than 100 minutes, our opponents have a number of national team players but we’re just an amateur side who have other jobs. We are so proud that we played more than 100 minutes.”

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That was since deleted but the indication was that all was not what it seemed on the pitch and the Wuhan side have admitted to playing unregistered players, including Jin Xin who used to play for League One's Wuhan Zall. It’s all under investigation by the Chinese FA now.

After the match, Jiangsu Suning’s Xie Pengfei and goalscorer Ge Wei showed their injuries on social media. Australian central defender Trent Sainsbury, who didn’t play, said that the Nanjing team’s cameraman had been attacked in the stands, before the team finally left the stadium safely under police guard.

This passion is something that spills over regularly in the Chinese amateur game.

After a decade in the Middle Kingdom, I can’t count the times that I have been involved in brawls in amateur football.

There are those who will say that brawls are part and parcel of football the world over, and they have a point, but in the Chinese game – especially at amateur level – these things tend towards actual violence rather than posturing, and usually escalate quickly.

Before this season’s mammoth CSL spending the last time anyone overseas took a real interest in the Chinese game was when the Olympic team took on QPR in a friendly in 2007 at the English side’s training ground, a game that ended in a 50-man brawl, involving players and coaches. That’s not to solely blame the Chinese.

WATCH: Highlights of Beijing Guoan’s impressive win over Shanghai SIPG

However misguided, this passion is not necessarily a bad thing. Take the fighting spirit that Beijing Guoan exhibited this week. The capital club showed a little of what they can do by overcoming Shanghai SIPG 2-1 on Friday night in the kind of fightback that might yet save Alberto Zaccheroni’s job.

It is too late for Beijing to stake a claim for the title – the win took them to 12th – but they’ll take delivering what might be the knockout blow to the second city side’s title ambitions.