I went to a professional football game last night. As in much of the world, football in China is what we North Americans refer to as soccer. I’m not an avid sports fan but in years gone by Dalian’s claim to fame in China was its football team so I really wanted to see them in action. Apparently they haven’t done as well in recent years but they did manage to win last night’s match.

I went to the game with two of our fellow teachers and five of our students. Poor Richard, the real sports fan in the family, had a class to teach so he wasn’t able to join us.

Though the game itself was interesting to watch, being part of a local crowd cheering on their team was exciting. I found myself chanting along with the rest of them and when the one and only goal was scored, I was on my feet and hollering just like everyone else!

It was some of the peripherals that I found most fascinating, however. When we arrived at the stadium, well ahead of game time, the area surrounding it was a beehive of activity. Vendors had food booths and tables set up to serve the crowd and others had stacks of seat cushions to sell. The local custom is to buy a cushion and spend the game sitting on it then send it sailing through the air toward the field at the game’s end! Most of our boys bought the thin 0.5 yuan (about 8 or 9 cent) cushions but Vicky and I decided that our bony butts would prefer the plusher 1 yuan ones! Of course, after the stadium empties, the cushions are collected and resold before the next game.

As is standard at a sporting event, the national anthem was played before the game started. Though we Canadians tend to be rather apathetic when it comes to singing our anthem, I fully expected the Chinese to belt theirs out the way I’ve seen Americans do. I could hear Vicky singing quietly beside me but hers was the only voice I heard! I was quite astonished.

I was also surprised by the presence of soldiers! Though we’re surrounded by crowds of people wherever we go in China, this was the first time I’d been in a situation where a large crowd of people had assembled in one place for a specific purpose. Clearly that’s still something that the Communist government has concerns about. Why else would there be a line of soldiers around the field facing the crowd? They stood at attention until the game started and then sat unmoving on tiny stools always with their back to the action and their eyes on the crowd. They wore dress uniforms including white gloves and weren’t visibly armed but clearly no one was going to tangle with them.

I’ll probably be watching a lot more soccer over the next few years but I don’t expect there to be any soldiers present. I’m going to be watching this little guy, my oldest grandson, play! He’s even wearing Dalian colours and I thought of him when I saw #8 on the field last night.


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