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Fans of ‘China derby’ rivals Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan are among those calling on the Chinese Football Association to drop the new neutral name rule. Photo: Xinhua

Rival Chinese football fans unite against ‘neutral’ name rule and loss of identity

  • Ultras groups from four Chinese Super League teams call on Chinese FA to allow historic corporate sponsors to remain part of their name
  • ‘Different clubs have different history, you have to listen to the fans. Let the fans make the decision,’ says Tianjin Teda ultra

Fans of four of the Chinese Super League’s oldest clubs have banded together to oppose the Chinese Football Association’s impending rule that clubs need to drop corporate sponsors from their names and change to “neutral” titles.

The rival fan groups, led by supporters who consider themselves to be ultras, have appealed to the CFA to let the teams who have carried the same corporate sponsors since the 1990s keep their names intact for next season.

These four Chinese Super League teams – Tianjin Teda, Henan Jianye and the “China derby” rivals of Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Shenhua – along with China League One side Zhejiang Greentown, have written an open letter to the CFA.

“Football is a culture and a football club is not a simple enterprise, it is a cultural symbol of a city or a region,” the fan group wrote. The letter was titled, “Abandoning tradition is tantamount to cutting off our spiritual lifeline”.

“Your team is an emotional thing for the fans who stand on the terraces all year round,” the letter continued. “The team name, logo and colour are all part of it.”

One member of the Tianjin Teda Ultras, who have led the cross-club union, told the Post of the feeling among the club’s support.

Chinese football making a name for itself again

“Most of the Teda fans are completely p***** because of this stupid policy,” they said on the condition of anonymity. “At the beginning we thought it’s not going to be influencing us. Pretty much all of the Teda fans around me are angry, it doesn’t make sense.

“Teda was one of the oldest teams. If you walk around the city you will see Teda everywhere, it is more than a football club.

“Teda [Tianjin Economic Development Area] is part of Tianjin, Teda means Tianjin, it’s been passed through generations. There’s no point to change it. Fans are really, really angry.”

The anger towards the CFA is not confined to the ultras group among Tianjin Teda fans, they said.

“Football fans in Tianjin can be categorised in three parts. First, those who like football but don’t support the local team. Second is the general fan, they root for Teda. Then us, the fanatics. I have seen people from all three categories be angry because of the change of name.”

Some supporters will stop going to the games if the team is forced to drop their name, the fan said.

Fan fury as Chinese Super League clubs told to change names

“There are going to be people who stop supporting the team. From what I have observed, those fans are in their 30s and 40s, when they grew up the team was at their peak. Those fans have clearly said that they will stop supporting the team.”

Those who do stay on to support the club will not note any change: “In the chants it is still going to be Teda,” they said.

While these rival fan groups have united, not everyone wants to see the name remain – notably fans of Teda’s rivals, the now disbanded Tianjin Tianhai (formerly Tianjin Quanjian).

“The Tianjin Quanjian fans would like to see us suffer, for sure. I saw them posting but most of the fans from this city are very traditional and do not want to get the name changed.”

Fans of clubs such as Shandong Luneng and Guangzhou Evergrande also support the policy as it will mean they revert to a club’s former name or one used by the fans.

The ultra noted that Changchun Yatai, another of China’s oldest teams and one that contains a corporate sponsor in its name, were not originally asked to join the cross-club opposition as they have no ultras group.

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But the dismay against the policy is widespread, the Teda ultra said, and fans cannot see it lasting, noting that teams were forced to change names from the ones used in the 1950s and 1960s when the league first professionalised in 1994.

“Most of the fans believe that this stupid policy will be erased after a few years. They believe it is a one-term policy and another president of the FA would change it back.

“Most of the fans are completely opposing this policy. We do agree that Chinese football needs to be professionalised. That’s something that we support but you can’t just ask us to ditch our name.

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“Different clubs have different history, you have to listen to the fans. Let the fans make the decision,” they said.

“Until it is implemented, everything is negotiable. The reason we started this was to get our voice heard.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese football fans unite against ‘neutral’ name rule