When Chinese Super League meant naked nights out, acupuncture and ‘terrible’ food – Derek Riordan talks to Open Goal
- Ex-Scotland striker Derek Riordan played under three managers in five months at Shaanxi Chanba
- Struggled with diet, state of pitches and acupuncture
“If I was gonna pick one guy not to go to China, it would be you,” Open Goal host Si Ferry tells former Scotland international Derek Riordan at the start of their interview on the new football website.
Based on the tales the ex-Hibernian and Celtic striker proceeded to spill, the host might be right.
Riordan revealed all about his brief stay in China in 2011 towards the end of an hour-long interview, starting with how he moved to Chinese Super League side Shaanxi Chanba, the team that has since become Beijing Renhe, in the country’s northwest.
Watch Derek Riordan’s full interview
Riordan reveals he was supposed to be signing for Brendan Rodgers at Swansea City but the deal fell through.
He eventually got a phone call from an agent asking if he wanted to go to China.
“The money was good”, although Riordan negotiated his own deal. “My agent never even done it, which I’m sort of raging about.”
This sets the tone for what follows, as Riordan looks visibly uncomfortable recounting his time with the Chinese club.
“It was terrible, anyway, to be honest, just everything about it. I was starving,” Riordan said. “The food was horrific, absolute scandalous food.
“I’ll be honest with you, my first bit of food was a chicken fried rice. That’s what I ordered. I swear to god when I got there it was like a big plate of chicken and a big plate of rice but the chicken was literally running about.”
His struggles with the food are still fresh in the memory.
“They took us for a team night out,” Riordan began, before being sidetracked. “I’m starving obviously because the food was no good. Me and the boy Fabio [Firmani], he was starving as well, did not like the food.
“We had to just basically eat plain pasta with a tomato sauce that he used to get ordered from his ma, with Parmesan cheese.”
It only got more bizarre for the Edinburgh-born player on a team night out.
“I’m starving, obviously,” he said. “So’s Fabio. So we’re in the swimming pool for a night out. We’re in the buff.
“Like, just guys with their tadger out. Know what I mean? I’m like ‘What the f***’s this?’ That was our team night out. And we didn’t even get anything to eat or that after it.”
Ferry asked whether there was any alcohol involved. “Nothing. Team night out was a swimming pool. In the buff.”
The football was as bad. “Terrible,” according to Riordan, “really terrible.”
He complained the grass was too long, gesturing about a foot long between his hands, and that problems came from it, including a fungal toenail from playing a league game in “massive puddles”.
The treatment was not what he was used to.
“Basically they’ve ripped my toenail off with about five jags [injections] because of all this water. Disgusting. No physios, just acupuncture. If you were injured you would just get acupuncture
Reality was very different to the positivity expressed by agent Jim McArthur when Riordan signed. “Derek has signed a two-year deal with Chanba,” McArthur told Sky Sports at the time.
“He was very impressed with the club when he saw the set-up and the facilities. He is looking forward to the experience of playing in China and it is an exciting time for him.”
Riordan bemoaned another difference from back in Britain, an inability to have a laugh with his teammates, while he also struggled with the managerial merry-go-round.
“We had three managers in five months. We were sitting second and the boy got sacked. Then we got a Serbian warlord or something. Oh my god. Horrific. He just used to scream at me.”
The Serbian manager, Slobodan Santrac, “got bombed out the road” Riordan said before being replaced by a Chinese manager. Riordan did not last that much longer.
“I ended up leaving after about five months. Just terrible. Really bad.”
Does he regret going to China? “Aye. It was rubbish, to be fair.”
He does accept the Chinese Super League has got better over the past seven years as they chased better players.
“They tried to sign [Frank] Lampard when he’d just left Chelsea then but obviously on scary money,” he said.
He mentions players such as Didier Drogba who played at Shanghai Shenhua with Nicolas Anelka in 2012. He also pointed to the CSL’s deal with Sky Sports as progress.
Other pioneering British footballers also struggled in the early days.
Paul Gascoigne was “so bored” when he moved to China in 2002 that he used “Chinese Jammie Dodgers” to go fishing in his hotel’s koi carp pool, he revealed in his autobiography Gazza My Story.
He also struggled with the food.
“At the end of 2002 I flew out to China. I hated it at first, especially the food. We had duck’s head, duck’s eyes, chicken feet, and a lot of bat,” the former England star said.
Things have improved but not for everyone.
Just last year Carlos Tevez struggled to adapt at Shanghai Shenhua, earning the Chinese nickname “Very Homesick Boy”.
Tevez also complained he hated the food, although that did not stop him being declared too fat to play for the club.