Spartans Take Shanghai, Take One: Life in the fast lane at the Y

[With apologies in advance to Azurri, this report, since it’s intended for the Spartans website, might be a bit more pro-Spartan than warranted in that it fails to make any mention of any azurri contribution with the exception, of course, being Dimitri’s penalty miss ;-).]

Last weekend’s 7-a-side footie tournament in Shanghai saw a makeshift Spartans-Azurri (S&A for short) squad come together and put in a solid performance. Needing just a tie in the last match to advance to the semis of the Plate competition, the squad seem poised to qualify in a dull 0-0 affair before we ran into a bit of misfortune in the dying minute. A dubious foul call gave Athletico de Wanchai a free kick right outside the box which was taken in a rather unsportmanslike fashion before the ref’s whistle was blown and whilst our goalie still lay prone on the ground.

A simple square pass and tap-in into an open net gave AdW a 1-0, albeit tainted, victory. [As u can see, I’m not bitter ;-)] Still, we enjoyed our partnership with the Azurri on the field — nice bunch of blokes with surprisingly some decent skillz, unusual for continentals — which will make it all the sweeter when we thump their sorry azz twice in this upcoming Yauyee League season.

Here’s a brief recap of the trip and the tournie, with photos and some recommendations for those who plan on going to Shanghai and not pulling out at the very last moment with some lame excuse. [Hey F: the Manila tournie isn’t for another good 3 months. Scouting some prime spots for us were you?]

Day One: Booking in at the Y. Surprised by ammenities and great location — a block north of Xindianti (new-fangled entertainment zone), a block south of Nanjinglu pedestrian zone — an incredible value at RMB360 a nite. Not bad at all — the American delivers again. [What can u say.

Paul shows up at freshly-minted airport in Pudong expecting ATM machines to be full of cash. [This is China mate, wake up and smell the green tea.] Lo and behold, after a headless chicken rush, he finds out they’re all empty. Luckily he turns out his pockets and finds HK$200 which is enough, just barely, for a Maglev train ticket (highly recommend everyone take this journey — not often do you get the chance to travel at 450 km/hr through the lush Pudong countryside) and taxi ride. Somehow it all manages to end well.

Terry and Paul and friend stroll down Nanjinglu to the Bund to check out the impressive Shanghai skyline then grab a drink at M on the Bund (very chill’d out place — check out the local microbrew, DragonBeer — T opts for caution and goes with a dirty Martini), then off to Shanghainese restaurant situated in a huge Bavarian chalet next to the Portman Centre (good shrimp dish, staff makes u feel like you’re at a Japanese department store, all decked out in uniforms, constantly bowing, escorting you to elevator), then off to the Face Bar situated inside the Ruijin Hotel for some Hoegaarden (this is a great place, old mansion, very atmospheric, located on the manicured grounds of the Ruijin — u can sit outside under the canopy of stars or inside under an arabic tent, good Thai restaurant on 2nd floor), then out the back door for a stroll down Maominglu (sort of like Lockhart Rd, so F would have felt right at home) —

Paul was particularly impressed by the outward facade of a club called “Babyface”, before we decide to head over to Xintiandi and check out the goods. At X, we managed to get roped into some club called Rendezvous which had possibly the worst ever Philipino cover band imaginable (makes the bands at Dusk till Dawn and Insomnia seem like regular Placebos and Avril Lavignes) — 2 chicks, a guy, and a DJ doing lots of Latin-flavored tunes. Surprisingly the place is packed but we manage to make our grand escape off to the American hiphop (we love hiphop muzak) bar where the nite truly takes a strange turn into the twilight zone.

After stepping over the prone bodies of wasted exchange students, we make our way to a quiet corner of the bar to have what qualifies for cheap in Shanghai 20RMB beers…

Deep into a discussion of the Liverpudlian resurgence (this is before Sunday’s fiasco), Paul is interrupted by a Chinese lass who whispers something in his ear and gives him a crumpled note. Paul looks at it once, folds it up, and hands it over to me. “2 guys are bothering my friend and I. Meet me on dance floor and pretend to be my boyfriend…” The note is surprisingly grammatically correct and well written for someone who doesn’t speak a smidgen of English. That’s a high sign from the gods to call it a nite, and we head out the door, into the nite, once more stepping over prone bodies.

Day Two: Culture Shock. After breakfast at Mr. Donut, we head out to the Yu Yuan which is the old commercial district of Shanghai. It’s home to the famous 9-corner bridge and teahouse. It’s also got this great “Raise the Red Lantern” mansion where you can see an amazingly ornate traditional Chinese garden, full of wonderful stone sculptures, labyrinthian corridors, and gold fish ponds.

Teahouse at Yu Yuan

Then off to a modern art museum which is mostly replete with pornographic photos but done in a highly intriguing fashion with weird colors and developing. Paul wants to get an authentic Chinese 1st division football jersey and we head off in search for the official Shanghai Shenhua superstore, which we actually find 10 minutes after leaving the art museum.

We both end up buying the away kit for RMB120 which is a take off on the Chelsea (greatest football club in the world) kit. Then back to the Ruijin Hotel grounds to grab an early beer at Colours bar. Nice wooden deck in the back but the mosquitoes start coming out so we take refuge inside, reading “That’s Shanghai” magazine which details all places in Shanghai where you can do untold damage to your liver — so very useful indeed.

Later that night, we meet up with Simon over at Malone’s (a loud American bar where the tournie’s prelaunch takes place). Simon’s been working in Shanghai for the past 3 months on some software job, looks fit (as always) but hasn’t kicked the ball in a while.

Simon and Paul decamp to go drink while I go grab a bite to eat and head back to the Y to meet up with Lionel. In a preview of things to come, I get a text message from Lionel asking for the hotel’s phone number. Despite having a printout of the Y’s address in Chinese, Lionel still manages to pick up the one taxi driver who’s absolutely clueless and ends up being driven around Shanghai for a couple hours (with Giorgio in tow).

A bit later than planned, Lionel and I meet up with Simon and Paul at the Face Bar. By this time, Paul is well on his way to biergarden nirvana on an empty stomach, laid out on a couch and hitting on potted plants. We get a chance to meet some of the Azurri boys — Guillaume, Dimitri, and Nima — and head over to Park 97, a pretty cool complex run by HK’s California group.

Huge place, with 50RMB entrance fee and 50RMB corona’s. Another one of these grand old houses that has been remodeled into something altogether different… You keep heading back into these nooks and crannies and each one’s got its own bar, dj, folks smoking hash, and jungle music. Upstairs more of the same. Place is packed, everyone’s got the bling-bling out, playing the McDaddy. By now it’s running close to 4am and some of us keep vaguely mouthing the fact that we have a 10am footie match at some stadium in some godforsaken suburb of Shanghai. Party starts to break up and the S heads back to the Y, while Simon goes all the way back to Pudong.

Two hours later, head pounding, we all assemble in the lobby, thinking we’ll have a leisurely cab ride to the pitch, with plenty of time to sober up, wake up, and get ready for the 1st encounter of the day — no rolling off a bus, hung over, sleep deprived, onto a pitch to take on an incredibly fit French team from Singapore, as those who were in Bangkok can attest to. Little did we know then that was wishful thinking on our part, and history was about to repeat itself.

Day Three: The Tournie Kicks Off Without the Spartans
What good is a map? Even with one, we all managed to take the scenic route to the footie field, and passed through every single little dirt outpost between downtown Shanghai and the Tianma Country Club.

I was riding in one cab, Paul, Lionel, and Y in another. Haven’t had so many death-defying moments since I took a Cathay flight to San Francisco which I suspect was piloted by one Captain Kirk. I make it to the 2nd half of the 1st match against a team from Kuala Lumpur whom we beat in the penalty shootout in Bangkok for 3rd place. However this time the goalie isn’t wearing a skimpy bikini and the slightly in disarray Azurri less than 3 Spartans get thumped 4-0.

Finally P, L, and S show up, just in time for the kick off to the 2nd match against our old foes the German Bangkok All-Stars. What a difference having subs makes? We quickly dominate possession in the midfield, only to have Germans capitalize on one failed pass, get a 3-1 break, and score off a rebound, after our goalie Thorsten did a good job of saving the initial attempt. [Thorsten was recruited into the squad through Terry Ting’s efforts — he lives and plays in Shanghai — good character guy and a very good goalie.] With possession 99% in favor of the S&A and even a penalty kick (which we bungle up, Dimitri shooting slow and high, making it easy for goalie to palm the ball away).

we go down 1-0. Things are looking bleak, and that’s when Paul decides to go into “Paulo” mode. Our last game that day is against a Shanghai squad called Bravehearts who bleat the word “Freedom” before stepping on to the pitch.

Who’s the new #8 for the Italians, looking fit and trim in aquamarine?

Paulo puts on a showcase of clinical and astute finishing, and racks up 2 goals, while Dimitri collects one with a nice solo dribbling effort for us to end up 3-0 (should have been 30-0). That 3rd goal gives us an extra point which puts us into 3rd place and up against teams from Beijing (Forbidden City), Shanghai (The Diving Dutchmen), and AdW (HK).

Dimitri’s last action shot before the eyelash injury

All 3 games were played in brutal sunshine (while HK gets doused by a typhoon). We’re all red as lobsters, tired, and looking forward to a massage (at 55RMB a person for a one-hour full body massage, one of the better deals in Shanghai), and watching the Chelsea (did I say they were the greatest club team in the world?) match later that evening. For some strange reason, everyone’s low on energy and when Thierry Henry goes on a patented 30 meter dash past 5 Norwich players to lay it off to Reyes for the 1st goal we know it’s time to call it quits.

Day Four: The Grand Finale
This time we decide to catch the bus with the Azurri and not take our chances with a taxi. 1st game is a bit later so we have a chance to stretch out, kick the ball around. It’s against Forbidden City. We’ve decided to put Lionel up front as the lone striker in an experiment, perhaps borne out of desperation, but therein lies inspiration…

1st half counter, Lionel gets the ball at midfield, makes a darting run at the defender, everyone is expecting him to lay off the ball to a teammate but then lo and behold he shoots and the ball actually stays down and ends up in the corner of the net… a gorgeous goal. We’re together, stringing passes, making physical (but fair) tackles.

Midway through 2nd half, Terry gets ball in his own half, and with visions of a young Ronaldo (in his Barca heydays), makes a 40-yard run down the middle, with Lionel on his right and only one defender to beat… Does he do the sensible thing and pass it off (remember this is Lionel, and it would have been on his weaker right foot)? No he goes for glory and tries to glide past the defender who (this unbiased writer must say) does well to disposses the T-man. Terry ends up in a heap in front of goal without the ball while Forbidden City are on the counter and score the equalizer. Oh well, lesson learnt the hard way… Game ends 1-1 which is a fair result.

2nd game is against the Orange of Shanghai. Right at the beginning, the ball squirts loose and ends up on Lionel’s left foot with an open goal beckoning for the simplest of tap-ins. What does L do… Squeezes the ball an inch past the left post. We’re all in agony. U know then that something bad is going to happen and somehow the Orangemen manage to go up 1-0 with a well-taken goal. But we don’t hang our heads down. Simon tirelessly working down the left side harrases the goalie and passes the ball to Lionel for another open goal. This time L takes a deep breath does 2-3 touches to align the ball perfectly in the center and walks the ball in. 1-1 right before halftime.

In 2nd half Lionel scores his 3rd goal of the tournament surpassing Paul for the golden boot and we’re up 2-1. A spirited display of defense with yours truly doing just enough not to get sent off (the well-versed jersey tug, the timely step in front of the guy and chest bump) sees us through to what should be a comfortable 3rd game and the coming semis.

UhOh, the wrong side just scored…

Unfortunately we pay for taking our foot off the gas and not putting AdW away early. Sometimes the ball just rolls that way. Anyway I’m in danger of getting a bit long-winded and I must say Paul, Lionel, Simon, and I enjoyed the trip to Shanghai immensely, teaming up with the Azurri who had the right attitude mix of fun and competitiveness, and for a team full of central backs and holding midfielders (we could have used the presence of a certain striker up front) not a bad result.

Everyone’s now back in HK hobbling about and looking forward to the beginning of the Yauyee League.

That’s all folks.

Spartans, past and present — notice Johnny in typical pose

4 people, RMB200, the grub was good and plentiful in Shanghai

Ah those Azurri boys showing how a threesome should be done correctly…

Someone’s been playing with electricity sockets…