The Canton Derby – A Chinese Super League Story – 29th July 2017

An Asian adventure, as Michael Moss reports back from a goal fest and action packed Canton Derby, as Guangzhou Fuli host Guangzhou Evergrande from the Yuexuishan Stadium

The Blueprint

The Premier League is the footballing blueprint for aspiring leagues around the world. A wealth of riches from lucrative TV deals and sponsorship opportunities world wide, mean several teams have smashed their transfer records this summer.

As China’s economy continues to grow at an unfathomable rate, so too has its love for football. The Chinese Super League, now in its 14th season, is finally starting to mature after years of investment.

The home fans of Guangzhou Fuli prepare for the Canton Derby

The home fans of Guangzhou Fuli prepare for the Canton Derby

China’s financial clout has come not from lucrative marketing opportunities, but instead the proceeds of this economic spurt. Wealthy organisations and individuals are pumping the coffers with cash to pay wages, extortionate transfer fees and no doubt, agent fees. Copycat China, has its focus on the bright lights of the Premier League. The clubs are trying their hardest to bring in the best players from around the globe. However much it costs. The ability to engineer football teams, can not be stolen like those of car blueprints.

The Canton Derby

Guangzhou is just 80 miles up the Pearl River estuary from my base in Hong Kong. With one entry left on my Chinese Visa, I had been looking for a reason to go. Seeing the Canton Derby on the calendar ensured that date got the red circle treatment, and my visit was set.

Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, a city name I’d update with a deft ‘A’ at the end in school geography books, is a city with two Chinese Super League teams, Guangzhou Evergrande and Guangzhou Fuli, also known as R&F.

Evergrande Fans

The Evergrande fans ready for battle in the Canton Derby! A plane flies overhead.

The Canton Derby Teams

Guangzhou Evergrande is THE team in China. They have won the league every year since 2011. Have been twice crowned Asian Champions League winners. Evergrande have been coached by two former World Cup winning managers in Marcelo Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari, the latter running the show today. Their Tiahne Stadium is a whopping 55,000.

Guangzhou R&F are certainly the underdog. Smaller ground, smaller budget, smaller stars. However, their stock is rising under Champions League winner Dejan Stojkovic. From their four foreign stars, only recent signing Solvi Ottesen was familiar, and only due to football manager.

Hot and Humid

With no ticket, a language barrier and some casual inflation for the Gweilo (“western person” in Cantonese), the simplest of hand signals set the bar between 300-350 yuan (£30-£35). I managed to strike hot at 200 yuan.

Evergrande Fans

The Evergrande Fans in battle mode.

The early evening mercury was in the mid-thirties and the humidity at 100%. The pre-match atmosphere was hot and sticky. Outside the stadium, the whistles of the police trying to control the swaths of people and traffic rose above any pre match atmosphere. With a beer, I mingled amongst some ex-pats from the city, mostly supporting Guangzhou Fuli. The ethics and experience of Evergrande had deterred them, and Fuli fans were just better. Despite being away, there was a swarm of the deep red Evergrande shirts, but not an ex-pat amongst them. Case in point, maybe. The pre-match predictions amongst those I spoke to suggested Evergrande were favourites.

The Yuexuishan Stadium

Entry into the stadium, an abnormal bowl, was slightly chaotic. Once in, I could see the bowl was actually a U shape, which holds around 18,000. One of the ends behind the goal was replaced with a large hotel/apartment block construction. The two sections along the sideline were covered, whilst the other end behind the goal was uncovered and hosted a newly installed scoreboard. The floodlighting was installed on the covered roofing sections. For the Canton Derby, the Evergrande fans were pitched in a corner next to the Scoreboard. The configuration was mainly seating, but certain parts were free from seating to be standing sections, if one required.

With the pre-match national anthem done, the Canton Derby was underway. In hot and humid conditions, the play was slow. At half time, Fuli were 1-0 up, through an Eran Zahvi shot from distance, with a total of 5 bookings being issued. Despite the conditions, this had the rough feel of a derby.

The mercury fell, and the humidity wained. The result was more energy being exerted from the players. Evergrande equalised after 52 minutes, with a cleverly worked goal from Yu. But Fuli struck immediately after the restart. A scrappy build up finished well by Renatinho. Renatinho struck his brace, finishing a slick attacking move on 66 minutes.

The game was put beyond doubt on 86 minutes. Zahvi getting his brace for his 20th of the season, heading in a well worked corner routine to make it 4-1.

Evergrande reduced the deficit in injury time, Lin Gao heading in a cross from close range.

Yeuxaishan Stadium

The Yuexuishan Stadium.

The Underdogs take the meat

With the final whilstle, the Fuil fans celebrated their win against their city rivals in the Canton Derby. But credit to the Evergrande fans. They had been the more raucous and exuberant during the game, despite the result going against them. Their style had certainly borrowed from English culture, with several of the chants having a familiar audible tone. Of course, I had no idea what was said.

This isn’t to say the atmosphere from the Fuli fans was poor, au contraire! Their fans had been loud, with flags and organised chanting. Much like both teams progress on the football field, I believe the fan culture at Evergrande has had longer to foster and grow spirit, whilst Fuli are still finding their feet.


The game itself was sapped by the hot and humid conditions early on but was technically competent. The Canton Derby had the fight of a derby, with six bookings in total and a couple of close calls. However, several goals were a result of poor quality defending, in either positioning, decision making or awareness. The quality of the foreign players on display was clear, although the Evergrande marque players went missing for periods.

As an experience, it was definitely some of the better football I’ve witnessed in Asia. That should be expected given its serious wealth of talent and investment in the Chinese Super League. The fan culture is vibrant, although I can’t help but think it is trying too hard.

Last Words

Chinese football, however, is in the midst of a revolution. China’s national team has set ambitious goals to become a stronger force in global football, which means rule changes have been introduced to restrict the heavy spending on foreign imports. However, the key to a successful football team is indeed that word ‘team’. Manchester City and Chelsea both struggled to assert dominance despite heavy spending, whilst Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal have been consistent threats during the Arabic and Russian revolution. If China is to learn anything from the Premier League, it should be building a legacy takes time and careful planning, buying success can be short lived and unstable. However they go about this, it will take some time.

Match Highlight

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