Fans of the Chinese football club Guangzhou Evergrande stoked heated debates two years ago by displaying a huge banner during a match in Hong Kong. “Annihilate British dogs; Extinguish Hong Kong independence poison,” the catchy slogan read, targeting the rise of separatism in the former British colony.
This sort of political message, of course, would never be seen at football matches back in the Chinese Super League (CSL), although the unfurling of huge banners during matches has become part of the country’s football culture.
Often fans use banners when they are unhappy with their team’s performance. Chris Coleman, the head coach of Hebei China Fortune, became the latest recipient of the “banner treatment” last week.
The Welshman famously took his country to the semi-finals of the Euro 2016 championship but after taking over from Manuel Pellegrini this season at China Fortune, multiple defeats have left the Hebei club only one place off the bottom of the CSL on goal difference.
“Hello Mr Coleman, please go home. You’re fired!” a 15-feet long banner said in English, as China Fortune fell to another home defeat. The Chinese version of the slogan was more profane incorporating an unprintable expletive. And the inevitable came after the match as China Fortune announced Coleman’s sacking. The former Sunderland boss became the first CSL coach to lose his job this season (which started in February).
The CSL’s banner culture is in a league of its own, local football pundits have noted, given that many of the banners are finely produced and supersized (presumably because of the lower cost of production).
The Chinese language’s character-based system also means that fans can cram more vitriol into the limited space, although often they need to produce an English translation for the convenience of the foreign coaches. Up to 12 of the 16 CSL teams are headed by foreign coaches, prompting the Xinhua news agency to suggest that China’s football league has become a “retirement cradle” for managers from abroad.
Fans often turn on poor referees with banners too and Sina Sports noted that many salty slogans over the years have targeted the so-called “black whistles” with abuse.
The Chinese Football Association has set out to improve the standard of CSL refereeing. Its solution: the import of foreign expertise. Mark Clattenburg, who refereed hundreds of English Premier League matches and the Euro 2016 final, has been hired to head a professional team of match officiators. Reportedly Clattenburg will make Rmb4 million ($569,000) a year. He may soon get the banner treatment as well…
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