BY GERALD GAO
I remember that scene, yet I don’t want to remember that scene. The scene was like an aerolite plunged down from the sky that broke millions of hearts; it was painful. While the midfielder of Syria scored a resentful free kick, all the Chinese fans were shocked into silence including me in front of the TV. The tragic moment was three years ago during a round of World Cup Asia qualifying match. Syria surprisingly tied with China with 2:2, which pushed the latter to an impasse. I believe many people asked the question they had asked many many times before, “Why is it always us? Why is the loser always us?” The familiar word from the commentator came to my ears again, “Theoretically, they still have the possibility to qualify, but the opportunity is extremely sparse.” Unfortunately, most long-time Chinese soccer fans had to become accustomed to this kind of disappointing result. The Chinese national soccer team has only qualified to the final round of the World Cup once in 2002.
Qualifying for the World Cup has become the goal and dream of Chinese soccer team and fans.
To accomplish the goal, the Chinese Soccer Association took several major measures, including naturalizing players from foreign countries, hiring world-renowned foreign coaches, and sending domestic players to play abroad. Although it was still far from meeting people’s expectations, they gave us hope for the future of Chinese soccer. One of the most important moments in qualifying to the World Cup final round happened on May 30, 2021, the game against Guam that was hosted in Suzhou, China. Some questioned, “Why do you watch teams like China? I would never go there even if they handed me a free ticket.” Others laughed, saying, “Such an enormous country with a large population of 1.5 billion people could not even select eleven good soccer players.” Nevertheless, as a fan of the Chinese team, we always stay with them until the end, even though we insult them very badly after each losing game. For this, there is no reason other than loving our own national team. That is, as many say, “They maltreat us thousands of times, but we still treat them as our first love.” This is our own team, why wouldn’t we love them? How could we not love them?
It was my plan to go to Suzhou on May 30th by myself to watch China vs Guam. The ecstatic feeling stayed in me starting from the moment I first purchased the ticket, and it remained with me on the trip to Suzhou. Despite the match starting at 7:30 pm, people paraded on the street at 3:00 pm. Wandering around, I did not see any color but red. People radiated their passion unreservedly. Some were FaceTiming their families and sharing their excitement, while blindly following the parade and enjoying the passionate atmosphere. There was a group of people chanting “Let’s go, China!” in unison. It was my first time watching the Chinese national team in a stadium, and it was also the first time they had played since the COVID-19 pandemic. The huge crowd with smiling faces and their shouts of slogan represent the unity and adamancy of Chinese people in the process of overcoming the pandemic. I could see that they were impatient and eager to watch the game through their voices and facial expressions. I could hear the chanting voices in the stadium from a million kilometers away. Their passion for the game made me even more excited to enter the stadium.
After passing the security check, I entered the stadium. “Eheu! This is not what I’ve seen on TV!” The dense crowd was like a massive tsunami, and they were grabbing the Chinese national flag and jumping up and down without order. I prudently walked down the stairs and gingerly found my seat. A strong hiss from the crowd surrounded me before I was even completely seated, and the Guam national team came out. Following this were cheering voices at the Chinese national team. People excitedly stood up and shouted the names of each player.
Given that the Guam team is usually considered as a “weak team” （most of the Guam players are unprofessional university students who study in America), China dominated the game over the half court line once the game started. People would leap up in anticipation every time the team crossed over to shoot, not to mention scoring goals. Chinese fans would joke that the Chinese team, selected from a population of 1.5 billion people, was so bad that they could only play against Guam, a country with less than 200,000 people. Nevertheless, the Chinese soccer team still deservedly scored seven goals.
Although Chinese soccer is not that great overall in the world, people in China still love soccer. We have no other choice but to support the China team, because it is our only home team. We are so obsessed with soccer to the extent that we stay happy for a month when the Chinese soccer team wins a game.
A single victory in soccer is even better than winning several Olympic gold medals. The extremes of human emotions are fully expressed and released either in watching or playing the game. What makes soccer different from many other sports is that there is no pause or break in the middle besides half time. Our lives act in the same way in that if we have difficulties, the days do not stop for us to deal with it, and we must go on no matter what. People often must face a new obstacle while they are solving the last one, and they also must face the next challenge while they are correcting their previous mistakes. That is the culture of the Chinese national soccer team, and also the culture of soccer.