After years spent trying to foster its own football culture, China may have finally found the answer: punk music. COPA90 travelled to Beijing to explore the game’s unique relationship with punk, and how these two subcultures collide.
Beijing is a vibrant, bubbling metropolis that houses mouthwatering cuisine, fine art and a party scene to rival any city. It’s the most populous capital on the planet and holds a strong socioeconomic status. But what about the city’s football culture?
For years, China has threatened to break Europe’s hegemony when it comes to football dominance. All the tools are there: the financial clout to build an infrastructure, citizens with a deep passion for the game, and a president in Xi Jinping who is committed to turning that dream into a reality.
Football took on greater importance in China following its successful bid to host the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Suddenly, the nation’s sporting achievements were directly correlated to its global image. Success meant respect and power, two things China has wrestled to earn from Western society for years.
Since then, Jinping has looked to create an environment that is conducive to footballing development. The sport was added to the national curriculum and 20,000 football-specific schools were commissioned and built.
“For decades, Chinese interest in sports as a whole has not been about personal joy or pleasure but about politics,” Mr Xu, a historian at the University of Hong Kong, told The Independent in 2015. “It’s seen as a path to ruling legitimacy, geopolitical standing, projection of power.”
The only issue with manufacturing a football culture is that football culture cannot be manufactured. Stadiums can be built, superstars can be imported but, in order for football to truly thrive, it needs to be adopted by local communities who use the game as a platform upon which to express themselves.
Football, by its very essence, is a sense of identity which connects regions and cultures. It can’t be grown in a test tube, it needs to happen organically, and this is one of the reasons why football has struggled to take off in Beijing. Until now.
When punk band, Mi San Dao, initially released their smash hit song, 'Ultimate Victory', it was popularised by the Chinese military as a point of national pride. Now, though, the anthem has been adopted by football fans in Beijing and is sung on the concourses of stadia across the capital.
By combining local music and football, fans now have fertile ground for attaching authentic culture to their ultras scene and growing support. The only problem is that both punk music and football ultras are rebellious by their very nature, something that's extremely problematic in China.
And that’s what COPA90’s Creator Commission explores: how an ultras culture exists in such a politically regimented country, and how that culture has become aligned with Beijing’s punk scene.
Banners are taken into stadiums on match days as supporters group leaders carry megaphones to rally their followers, but there is still an element of censorship. Police checks are frequent and banners are confiscated at the gates if they are deemed too insightful.
It’s a constant battle between the government and fans but, ironically, it’s these fans who represent the strongest indication yet that China is well on its way to fulfilling their government’s footballing ambitions.