Another raw deal for Chinese fans as Friday fixture farce sees both Shanghai sides play home games on same night
Supporter interests are yet again ignored as Champions League commitments leads to bizarre kick off time a week after playing mid-afternoon on a workday
Chinese football is often mystifying and this weekend was no exception – but instead of the head-scratching punishments of the FA’s disciplinary committee, it was the schedulers who frustrated fans this time.
Two teams in the same city playing on the same night never usually happens anywhere, not even in China, but that changed when both of the Chinese Super League’s Shanghai sides played at home on Friday night.
Well, Friday evening for Shanghai Shenhua fans, whose game against champions Guangzhou Evergrande kicked off at 6pm on a workday – seeing as most people leave the office around that time it was not exactly fan friendly.
Shanghai SIPG kicked off their game against Hebei China Fortune in the normal Friday slot of 7.35pm, and the scheduling was rumoured to have been geared that way so the supporters of the rival second city sides would not cross paths.
It could reasonably be argued that Shenhua, the city’s more established and better supported club among local Shanghainese, deserved the later kick off although SIPG’s larger stadium means that more people would have had to brave rush hour had they kicked off earlier.
The truth is that it needn’t have come to them playing on the same night anyway.
Shenhua had the rawest deal the previous weekend too. Sunday April 8 was a working day in China to make up for the Ching Ming festival days from the previous week, and Shenhua kicked off at 3.30pm away at Bejing Renhe. The crowd of just over 7,000 reflected that (as much as the nomadic Renhe are not supported in huge numbers anyway).
There were four matches that Sunday but at least the others – Evergrande v Shandong Luneng, Henan Jianye v SIPG and Guizhou Zhicheng v Tianjin Quanjian – kicked off at 7.35pm.
All of those games involved the four CSL teams in the AFC Champions League who had been in action on Tuesday and Wednesday the week before.
A little bird told me Police didn't want SIPG & Shenhua fans to "bump" into each other on Shanghai metro if their teams' matches kicked off at same time. Regardless, don't be surprised to see more security than usual, particularly on lines 1 and 8, during rush hour tonight
— Cameron Wilson 韦侃仑 (@CameronWEF) 13 April 2018
The same teams were in action this Friday night ahead of the final group game this week.
On the one hand, playing on Friday gives teams the most time to prepare and travel but weird kick-off times seem like a kick in the teeth for fans.
The schedule also doesn’t take into account that Quanjian and SIPG play Wednesday rather than Tuesday so could have easily coped with playing on Saturday rather than Friday.
Also both of those teams have already qualified from their groups.
Shenhua are already out so moving their game to Saturday afternoon would have had little bearing on what happens midweek and Evergrande only need a point from their home game against Cerezo Osaka.
Assuming there are three CSL teams in the knockouts there are other fixture headaches to come.
And that’s not to mention the working weekend in September to make up for October’s week off.
If football is not for the matchgoing fan then who is it for? Broadcasters and sponsors won’t want to see empty stadiums but it appears the powers that be don’t much care.
Matchweek Six observations
Friday’s other game between Quanjian and Jiangsu Suning saw the first goal of the weekend and arguably the best. Wang Yongpo let fly with a rocket. The game finished 1-1.
On the pitch it could not have gone any better for the league leaders. SIPG beat Hebei 2-0 following Ezequiel Lavezzi seeing his penalty saved after Gervinho was brought down. Hulk made sure from the spot at the other end and the points were wrapped up when Wu Lei scored again. Evergrande were held 2-2 at Hongkou and the gap at the top of the table is now five points after six games. Worryingly, Hulk, who probably should have had a hat-trick, is not even showing the form of last season.
Both Shanghai sides travelled to Australia for their final Champions League games and Shenhua were greeted like kings when they arrived in Sydney despite the game being a dead rubber. Keep an eye on the stands for some SIPG baiting if the side’s recent appearances down under are any indication of what the “Only Shenhua rep Shanghai” crew have planned.
Cedric Bakambu might never be worth the money that Beijing Guoan paid when you add the tax on but he looks a very good player. His goal to share the points in a six-goal thriller with Chongqing was particularly tidy, heading over the keeper after controlling on his chest.
Dalian lost at Shandong Luneng to stay bottom of the table and remain the only club without a win this season. It’s not been a great return to the CSL for Wanda Group and a rude awakening for the new recruits while Bernd Schuster’s new manager bounce seems over. The league’s lowest scorers are effectively a point further back due to their minus 15 goal difference.
Shanghai SIPG 2-0 Hebei CFFC; Shanghai Shenhua 2-2 Guangzhou Evergrande; Tianjin Quanjian 1-1 Jiangsu Suning; Tianjin Teda 2-1 Guangzhou R&F; Beijing Renhe 2-1 Guizhou Zhicheng; Shandong Luneng 2-0 Dalian Yifang; Changchun Yatai 3-0 Henan Jianye; Chongqing Lifan 3-3 Beijing Guoan