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Essay

Football Mad

Either way, and no matter the result of the game, you tend to lose. Work on your home life come off second best to the commitment to a football team half a word away that don’t reciprocate the love

By NewsChina Updated Jan.1

It’s oh so quiet,” sang Betty Hutton back in 1951, although you might have heard the more recent Bjork version of the song.  

“It’s oh so still,” they both continue. That’s what watching English Premier League football is now like in China.  

Paper-thin walls and not so nocturnal neighbors mean that the world game often has to be watched with the same noise-averse approach as the protagonists of the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place.  

Rather than aliens coming for you, you risk being alienated at your compound if you have the temerity to celebrate a goal - or worse still upset the equilibrium by cheering for an effort that has gone just wide.  

Nothing disintegrates your hard-accumulated social credit than waking the neighbors. 

Fans of European teams - and perhaps those unfortunate neighbors - are used to late nights, though. 

More accurately they might be used to early mornings, depending on how your circadian rhythms allow you to process the time difference.  

That time difference is an irritation, but it is not a constant. English Premier League fans will tell you that. Britain’s switch from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time (the emphasis is on mean) makes for a time difference of eight rather than seven hours between Beijing and London. 

It makes little difference to a lunchtime kick-off in England but plays havoc with midweek matches, where fans have to decide whether they stay up or get up to watch the game. Funnily enough, both options are easier when your team is winning but that privilege is afforded to very few fans. 

An extra hour might not seem like a lot but the difference between a 2:45am kick off and a 3:45am kick off is philosophical.  

Do you stay up and risk looking more tired at work than that teenage winger your team has been forced to use all season? 

Or do you eschew all social commitments on every midweek matchday and hit the sack as soon as your workday is done, setting an alarm for just before kick off? 

Either way, and no matter the result of the game, you tend to lose. Work or your home life come off second best to the commitment to a football team half a world away that don’t reciprocate the love.  

Take Manchester United, the team widely believed to be China’s most popular. The side have long claimed to have 108 million followers in the country, pointing to a decade-old market research report, and they put all of them through the emotional wringer.  

Assuming these fans have not jumped ship during the club’s tumultuous last seven years, they’ve had it worse in the last few years - with rival fans crowing it over them in the bars of China. One mark of how popular clubs are getting is that every season more Chinese fans know the English words to all the songs and sing them in the likes of bars like Paddy O’Shea’s in Beijing and The Camel in Shanghai. 

Say for example you’ve gone to one of the few Beijing bars to stay open late into the night and show the matches. You’re left with an existential crisis when the game is settled before your early morning pint of Guinness has.  

This is compounded when there are fans of the other team reveling in your misfortune. That gives you a lot to think on in the cab or bike ride home as the sun rises.  

There have been plenty of opportunities to ponder life choices for Manchester United fans. Between the start of last December and the end of January - pre-pandemic - Manchester United played 19 games.  

Most of them were the wrong side of midnight for Chinese fans - Burnley at home kicked off at a ludicrous 4:15am - and United were also on the wrong side of most of the results.  

In some ways, as bad as the football was, they feel like the glory days. 

Just as the coronavirus pandemic has kept fans out of stadiums in England, it has meant that meeting at the pub with like-minded losers to watch your team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a 4am kick-off is a thing of the past.  

Now fans are merely united in celebrating or commiserating in silence, trying not to wake the rest of the building. 

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