Over the years, I am yet to reach double figures for the number of Chongqing Dangdai Lifan games I have ever attended, but I still have some curious experiences and thoughts on my sporadic association with the team.
Lifan力帆 is the name of a famous Chongqing based motorbike manufacturer. As private cars become ubiquitous, the number of bikes on the ctiy’s roads has begun to dwindle, the company has developed into the automobile market.
The football team name has recently taken on the addition of the Wuhan based tech company called Dangdai当代, which now part of the official name.
So, Chongqing Dangdai Lifan Football Club has played most years in the Chinese Superleague without superceeding the mighty teams from an around Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou (Often shortened to Bei-shang-guang 北上广). I’ll offer you some basic information about the local team here, presented through a rendition of my personal experiences with them.
A personal account
In my first Chinese autumn, a university student invited me to attend a Chinese Superleague game with him. The game was Chongqing against Shanghai Shenhua上海申花, a relatively strong team back in 2003. At the time, they played at Datianwan Fitness Centre大田湾全民健身中心, an old grubby sports field perfectly adequate for amateur sports, but not so befitting a professional football club.
The journey from Shapingba District, where I first lived, to the football arena involved a half hour bus ride to Niujiaotuo牛角沱, and a 15 minute walk past the Hilton Hotel along the way. The pitch is still there today.
My Chinese friend had prepared a local newspaper for each of us, and the purpose was not to read it, but rather to cover our seats to keep us from getting dirty.
I don’t recall the exact score now, but I’m sure Shanghai won that game. What sticks out in my memory is the excitement of the fans around us, and even more so, the pantomime like characters who patrolled the front of the stand and orchestrated the chants and general atmosphere.
The funniest example was a middle aged man, dressed in felt shoes and red loose fitting bottoms, completely bare chested, carring a staff in one hand, and wearing a hat made from a football cut in half. During the match, he would walk along the front of the stand, stop to watch some action to express delight or dismay, and then stand whipping the spectators into a frenzy with crazy gestures and chants. The most typical chant in Chongqing dialect, and which will endear you to neighbouring fans is 雄起！(Xiong qi).
More pantomime ones are those who dress up like ‘Journey to the West’ characters. I don’t want to begin trying describe one, so I’ll leave a photo at the end.
This preliminary experience with Chongqing Lifan was very novel and enjoyable, but it was both the first and last game I attended that season.
The next year, I resolved to attend the first game of the new season, and invited my local girlfriend and future wife. Assuming the venue hadn’t changed, we made the trip to Niujiaotuo only to find the whole area deserted.
We asked a passerby what had happened to the team and football match, to which we were told Chongqing Lifan had relocated to Hongqihegou红旗河沟, to a larger venue called Yanghe Stadium洋河体育场.
Unable to find a vacant yellow taxi, we scrambled onto the back of an unlicensed motorbike driver 摩的(Mo di, or motorbike taxi) and swerved round kilometre after kilometre of deadlocked traffic until we alighted at Yanghe.
After searching in vain for a ticket office, we bought a pair of reasonably priced tickets from a tout, only to be informed at the gate they were for a future match in the season, the price was indeed too good to be true.
The rogue scalper had long since done a runner, so we bought yet another pair for the actual match that day, and resisted the enncouragements to flog the original pair. The match had already commenced by this point, and feeling a little miffed, I resolved to either watch that future game or just let it expire. Either of these two outcomes were preferable to being taken for another ride.
I don’t remember anything of the match that day, except that the newspapers were still needed to cover the seats. The sight that left a lasting impression were both teams re-emerging from the changing rooms still in their dirty sweaty kit, and heading onto the team bus to presumably shower at home or at the hotel.
Needless to say, that was also the first and last game I attended that season.
Another year, I took some new arrivals from the UK to watch a game. This time round, the team had moved into the Olympic Stadium 奥林匹克体育中心, finally a venue that was fitting of professional sports, but it still ended up as my single patronage of the team that season.
The last time I recall watching a league match here was three or four years back, when we watched them lose comprehensively to team called Shanghai SIPG 上海上港, a team then incidentally coached by Sven Goran Erikson, a former manager of my home team Leicester City. We stayed until the first half whistle, when we decided the weather was too hot to bear any further, and that the 3-0 deficit would take a miracle to overcome.
The Olympic Stadium
The venue is part of a larger sports complex open to the public. It’s situated in Yuanjiagang袁家岗, and can be reached on the metro system easily enough. As well as hosting Chongqing Dangdai Lifan, the latest name of the club, it is often used for pop concerts. On one occasion, I even attended a tour car event, where the pitch was covered with tarmac and souped up boy racers filled the air with smoke by spinning and burning the wheels at fantasic speeds.
There’s nothing wrong with the amount of covered seating, but for a football fan used to sitting right up to pitchside, it shares the fatal flaw of having an athletics track, along with the likes of Juventus and West Ham. When I sat on the upper tier last time, we were so far removed from the action we needed binoculars to make out the players. As for any atmosphere, even the pantomime characters can’t rouse a tidal wave of noise loud enough to keep everyone’s spirits going.
My fondest memory of the Olympic Stadium is actually the 2004 Asia Cup, shared between the venues of Bejing北京, Jinan济南, Chengdu成都 and Chongqing重庆. Our resident teams for group D were Japan, Iran, Thailand and Oman.
I attended most of these games, as well as some exotic later fixtures like Uzbekistan vs Turkmenistan. The final game of the Asia Cup held here was between Japan and Jordan, an entertaining game that finished 1-1, and was decided in favour of Japan thanks to a penalty shootout. Interestingly, Japan missed their first two kicks, and after complaining about the turf, they persuaded the referee to move the shootout right down to the other end. This turned out a master stroke, as Jordan went on to botch the rest of their kicks and crash out of the tournment, which Japan went on to defeat China in the final held in Beijing.
Of course, we never found an official tickets outlet other than the scalpers parked up outside. They had the terrible habit of demanding rediculous prices before the game, before selling them more reasonably once the match was already a few minutes in.
The newspapers were needed each game, too.
Visitors and foreign residents do still enjoy an afternoon or evening watch the city’s football team play. There are some more legitimate online platforms for buying tickets at face value now, such as Yongle永乐, and if you’re lucky enough to know the right locals, many companies and institutions in Chongqing are sent bundles of free tickets each round for them to disperse and hopefully bring in a bigger crowd.
As for the future, I expect Chongqing Lifan will vie mostly for league survival or mid-table, as it’s difficult to compete with the financial might and attraction of Guangzhou Evergrand Taobao, or teams from around Beijing and Shanghai.
Like the case of Leicester City a few years ago, you never know!