Football leagues worldwide feverishly compete in what we can call “special matches”, better known as derbies, ones that generate big discussion among fans days before and after.
Supporters consider these as tournaments in themselves. Sometimes borne out of social, political or economical circumstance, others represent a fight to define the best teams of a city or country. China is not an exception; supporters of China clubs do not accept losing to rivals; thus pressure and expectation on players is high.
National Derby: Beijing Guoan vs Shanghai Shenhua
As the oldest competition on a professional level in China, this derby also has a socio-economical dimension, by in large due to the competitive power struggle between Beijing and Shanghai. Administratively, the importance of the matches between both clubs each season is important to note; club owners double bonuses for these matches in order to assure motivation to win.
One of the most memorable episodes of this derby (and Chinese football) was a 1997 match at the Workers Stadium in Beijing, an unforgettable game for supporters of both teams. Beijing won 9 – 1 against Shenhua, o date the most appalling loss in the Shanghai club’s history.
Shanghai Derby: Shanghai Shenhua vs Shanghai SIPG
With the first game played only four years ago, this derby is still relatively new. However, there is a story behind this new challenge. Back in 1995, coach Xu Genbao achieved the league title for Shenhua; the last big title win by the team (they also won the 2003 tittle, but it was taken away from them after the club was banned).
He managed the Shenhua club for two periods after being dismissed in 2002; he then he started his own football academy named Genbao Football Academy, where in 2005 he founded the Shanghai East Asia football club, debuting in League Two (3rd tier), nowadays named Shanghai SIPG.
To bring you up to date, in the last two seasons, The Red Eagles (SIPG) have had a better average attendance than their rivals, despite their competitors investing lots of money in bringing in one of the world’s highest paid players, Carlos Tevez, in an attempt to return fighting for the title, or at least the Champions League spot. Nevertheless, SPIG has also strengthened the team greatly by bringing in players such as Oscar (dos Santos Emboaba Júnior) and Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Sousa). It is common to see banners of The Blue Devils (Shenhua) supporters claiming that they are the only true city representatives, arguing that SIPG supporters do not even know Shanghai local dialect, with players not even from Shanghai; meanwhile the size of the SPIG following increases yearly.
Matches have turned into a full-size contest in recent seasons, generating increasing expectations among football fans.
Guangdong Derby: Guangzhou Evergrande vs Guangzhou R&F
Another young competition, but probably the fieriest in China. Guangzhou Evergrande did not have any city contestant until R&F was established in Guangzhou. R&F is a club that has had four different cities as their home ground during its history, but since being re-founded in 2011, they have been based in Guangdong. In fact, in the 2011 season Evergrande came back to play in the top flight, after a match-fixing scandal punishment that sent them down to League One the previous year. That event assisted in developing rivalry between the two clubs; the corruption causing substantial disappointment for many Evergrande supporters, who as a result moved in support of the R&F.
An important highlight that is truly a direct opposite to any traditional derby elsewhere in the world is the atmosphere at the Chinese stadiums. China boasts a very friendly atmosphere among fans and rivals while it is very unusual to find trouble between them; it is common to see fans wearing the blue R&F shirt or the red Evergrande one sitting intermixed, something of which one can assume China is quite proud.
With Guangdong being one of the most important economic cities in China, having these two clubs certainly helps advance the Chinese Football plan, as it generates great interest among football supporters and helps bring attention to the city itself.