Nanning touts cut from a different cloth as leather-clad rascals replace unbending grandmas in China Cup ticket war
Buying a ticket from a scalper on the mainland is a unique experience that is only magnified in the country’s south-easternmost province
Buying a ticket for a football match from a tout in China is a uniquely China experience. Where in Western countries it is the preserve of some of society’s naughtier elements who talk of tickets in terms of “briefs” and “sheets” and other such slang that are swapped for “readies”, “monkeys” or a “pony”, that’s not usually the case outside Chinese football grounds.
Ordinarily, the local elderly population seems to be the conduit between the ticket office and the ticketless football fan, with grandmas driving a hard bargain at least until the game has kicked off.
The China Cup in Nanning was a slightly different experience, though, and about as different as you might get from the norm.
Perhaps that is to be expected from a city that is nearly 2,500km from Beijing and just 328km from Hanoi, tucked away in the south-easternmost of China’s provinces.
Here in Nanning, all of the city’s more rascal elements were out trying to tout their tickets, at least based on their dress – all leather jackets and jeans. A strong look on a day that reached 25 degrees Celsius.
While they fronted on the dress front, they also had the swagger of full-time touts – or they were at least postured that way.
China against Bale was a big deal for football fans and that translates to the possibility of a quick yuan. And plenty of ticketless fans were milling around looking to get inside.
Scores of newly ticketed touts were outside the ground, and looking to cash in. Although, one Englishman told me that he tried to buy a ticket and was given it, so not all of them knew the deal.
Those that did were keen. One tout was offering tickets for the upper tier at 80 yuan and those for the lower tier at 180 yuan. After showing us the stadium map on his phone by way of explanation we asked for the cheaper ones only to be told he did not have any.
Those that did have tickets were looking for 200 to 300 yuan each by now in the hour before kick-off. Three or four conversations with different touts continued this way – and one of them then led us to his friend, another tout.
The next tout, also ticketless at this point and looking to buy, walked us into the stadium’s outer cordon and introduced us to pair of absolute haircuts who claimed that, despite also not having any tickets either, they could get us into the ground through their “connections”.
Swiftly agreeing to a payment of 150 yuan for this task, phone calls were made and we were walked to the next outer gate. Another phone call was made and on to the next gate. And then the same again.
The two boys kept conferring – copying the hand behind mouth style so beloved by football players. They were also not at all keen on being photographed, so they were either genuine rascals or acting as such.
At the next gate they ushered us to the side of a rather large queue waiting for the police to let them inside the outer cordon and into the queue for security and the actual ticket check.
Despite the ticketless touts posturing, this was something that we could have done ourselves as the police had a rather laissez-faire attitude to their initial ticket check.
They proceeded to guide us to the front of the queue and kept looking worried. It was now apparent that while paying to sneak into Chinese football grounds works elsewhere in the country, these jokers had never done it before and were not going to be starting now.
The chattier of the pair, now waving a walkie-talkie as if to prove that he could definitely contact someone capable of letting us in the ground, was becoming more flustered. The other, the muscle in this fledgling financial enterprise, was impassive.
We were ushered to the other queue. It was clear that they had no idea what they were doing but were keen on making some money. Not today.
We cut our losses and headed back out through the police to find another tout. They were crestfallen and visibly angered that we preferred ending 20 minutes of not getting into the ground for another attempt at seeing the fast-approaching kick-off. Our failed friends followed.
They proceeded to tell the other touts not to do business with us as they were getting us in. Walkie-talkies were waved. Paces were quickened. Another tout was located.
This chap wanted 200 yuan for a ticket. It had the feel of something he had printed himself but the anthems approached. It was worth the risk. Money changed hands. As did tickets.
The nearest gate was located and another queue was pushed to the front of – proof our previous acquaintances had achieved nothing – as was the next one for the ticket check. Heart in mouth for a second, the QR code on the ticket scanned. Just in time for kick-off.