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Foul Play: Why Chinese Football is Built on Shaky Ground

China's drive to reform the beautiful game is riddled with scandal, debt, and disregard for fans

After a four-hour train journey, three buses, and a five-kilometer ride on a rented bicycle, Hu Guofeng (pseudonym) had finally reached his destination. Deep in the Jiangsu countryside, flanked by mountains at the end of a dusty dirt road, a gleaming new sports stadium protruded from the earth like a metallic alien spacecraft in the dusty landscape.

Hu’s surprise at finding this state-of-the-art stadium in what seemed to be “the middle of nowhere” was only mirrored by the shock of the group of young players he’d come to see—the reserve team for Tianjin Teda Football Club, who had not expected this lone fan to show up in the vast stadium to see them play Shanghai Shenhua FC. “Back then, I was a one-man army,” he reminisces to TWOC.

A fan of the Tianjin team since 2010 and a member of the club’s “ultra fan” group association, Hu regularly traveled alone to support the players. “It felt like my team was down to earth, when you chanted the players could hear you and before the game the players could talk to you…I felt like I supported a team that really cared about its fans.”

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Foul Play: Why Chinese Football is Built on Shaky Ground is a story from our issue, “Call of the Wild.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the deputy managing editor at The World of Chinese. He writes mainly about society, sport, and culture, with his pieces touching on diverse topics from the future of China’s ski industry to efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

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