Round 8 – Port Adelaide v Gold Coast: Shanghai from the stands

Day 1:

 

China Southern Airlines flight CZ 0664 is descending into rainy Guangzhou on a Thursday evening. Over the loudspeaker, the heavily-accented voice of the flight attendant updates us on our descent, the local time and the weather. She finishes with “thankyou for flying with China Southern Airlines… and best wishes to Port Adelaide team.” The plane erupts in cheers.

 

The cabin of the long-haul Boeing 777 is a row of Port Adelaide caps, beanies and teal club-branded neck pillows released especially for this trip. Almost everyone is dressed to the nines in club colours, those who aren’t probably have something teal in their luggage. Scarves hang from the headrests in business and economy class alike. The pomp and glamour of an intercontinental flight is mixed with the feel of an old fashioned cheer squad bus, although not so well catered: the beer ran out within hours, the wine soon followed. Just one of the many cultural differences we would encounter over the next few days, bringing our unique – and apparently attractive – Port Adelaide footy subculture to one of the world’s megacities. There are other planes in the air like this, connecting from Adelaide to Shanghai via Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong. There have been all week. Others are assembling from Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, and throughout Asia. It would take more than 20 of these jets to carry us all.

 

 

Day 2:

 

The foyer of the Charms Hotel is abuzz. There’s a couple of day tours leaving at 9, or somewhere thereabouts, and the buses haven’t arrived. Two harried employees of our tour company try in vain to contain the chaos and make themselves heard over some of the loudest voices the state of South Australia can muster. And the tour isn’t the biggest story on everyone’s lips.

 

“Have you heard? We’ve got 20 people stuck in Guangzhou.” “What happened?” “Flight cancelled.” “Damn.” “Sam told us last night! When we got here!” “I thought you were on that flight.” “Nah, most of us were on the earlier one. We were just stuck on the tarmac for two hours. We drank all the beer… Again…” “When did you get in?” “About 2am.” “We weren’t here til 1 anyway.” “Did the others stay in the airport overnight?” “Yep. Apparently they’ll be here this afternoon.” “Wow.” “But who isn’t here yet?” “I can’t see Ian and Dave… they’re at Charms right?”

 

“Shit. They’ve got all the flags…”

 

 

Day 3:

 

Today was meant to be open training but it got cancelled. Probably a good idea. The “Twenty” (they’re getting t-shirts) made it to Charms last night and we celebrated in the hotel bar, commandeering the VIP treehouse and warming up our voices.

 

We hit Nanjing Road – which we dub “Rundle Mall” for the amount of black, white and teal you can see, and the occasional call of “Carn the Pear” that cuts across the quiet business of the centre of a metropolis of over 20 million. We’re all staying in a series of hotels within a few blocks of each other. I can feel our colour-coded small town familiarity cutting a silhouette against the city. It’s exciting and scary. This place doesn’t work on familiarity. It’s more quiet and spacious than I expected, but drowningly anonymous. The Chinese don’t trust large gatherings anyway. We’ve been told not to sing in the streets.

 

We escape the hustle and bustle of the travelling contingent for a moment, heading for a bar on the 87th floor of the Shanghai Financial Centre. Drinking gin cocktails as the sun goes down and the city lights up, the enormity of what we are doing finally sinks in. This is the kind of bar James Bond would order a martini at. Who would have thought people like us could make it here?

 

Hundreds of Port fans meet up for a group photo on the Bund. The Crows lost by a big margin at home, and that’s the cherry on the cake, at least until tomorrow. The uncustomary brightly-coloured gathering is attracting attention from the locals. Someone calls out and the group break into instinctive song, which is swiftly hushed. We can’t help it. South Aussies love showing up just to show off.

 

 

Day 4:

 

Gameday begins with a walk down the mostly-deserted Rundle Mall to the train station – shops open late on Sundays. It’s strangely similar to a normal gameday. I like to go into the city very early, to the real Rundle Mall, before the crowds arrive. I get a bit of shopping done or meet up with anyone else in early. I like the sense of quiet expectation, waiting to break the silence.

 

From the moment we get to the ground, the theatre of the day is apparent. There’s no alcohol inside the ground, but we’re plied with free tastings in an outdoor marquee advertising Australian export beverages. We’re surrounded by more cameras than I’ve ever seen at a Port event. One of our party is chosen to demonstrate kicking a football, live on a local news channel. Above us looms the fairytale-esque western entrance of Jiangwan Stadium.

 

The ground is divided roughly into locals and Port supporters, with ticket sales having been half-and-half. Most of us are in a raised temporary stand right next to the boundary line. Opposite us are the mainly empty locals’ terraces, and a full-to-the-brim marquee into which many of them have disappeared to escape the heat. Right next to us is another tent. This one is for the dignitaries. We get a feeling of what it might be like to be an A-League active supporter, with police every few rows. The sense of being on show intensifies.

 

I think back to last year, our first game broadcast into China, to the pressure the club was under and the way the team played out of their skins. I think of all the other times they let us down. We’ve come a long way. I hope really damn hard they’re with us.

 

And then we sing.

 

We sing Never Tear Us Apart. We sing the national anthem – prefaced by a few bars of the Port song – with more gusto than I’ve ever seen it sung. There’s a highlight at quarter time, when Long Way To The Top starts playing and we sing it cos that’s us, and that’s this trip. Today we really understand it.

 

The chanting is more choreographed than usual. Rude witticisms are delivered in a kinder tone of voice, for the benefit of our guests. The locals start to enjoy it. Even the security start to enjoy it. In the fourth quarter we take a risk…

 

I watch the policewoman next to me as half the stand raise their arms in the air.

“3, 2, 1… Power!”

 

She flinches.

“3, 2, 1… Power!”

 

She looks.

“3, 2, 1… Power!”

 

She smiles.

About Cathryn McDonald

One-eyed Port Adelaide supporter, music geek and appreciator of the "match day experience".

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    Enjoyed reading this very much Cathryn – good to see a plane full of Port fans supporting the Crows’ club sponsor, too. The feeling of belonging is very strong in this work. Footy’s good this way.

  2. mickey randall says:

    Cathryn

    I enjoyed this immensely. My brother in law was there too. I’m keen to hear how he went. He and some friends were in a story Rucci did which featured a photo of the boys on the playing surface.

    Agree with you in that there’s still something surreal about the whole thing.

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