“Travelling is about stepping outside your comfort zone, immersing yourself in other cultures and really living in the moment.” Which is why it’s ironic that I’ve spent the past few days in Shanghai surrounded by Australians, watching the iconic Australian sport that I grew up with and know like the back of my hand. I’m not only in my comfort zone; I’m lazing on a king-size mattress of comfort, propped up by a pile of pillows and wrapped up in the finest quilts, with a mug of warm cocoa in my hand and an open fire crackling gently in the hearth. That’s how comfortable I am.
The reason that I, like so many other Aussies, was in Shanghai this weekend was to watch a low-standard AFL match between two teams that I objectively couldn’t give a toss about in a city where you can actually feel the air corroding your lungs, one breath at a time. It’s been bloody great.
In the lead-up to the first ever AFL match to be played in Shanghai, a lot of commentators predicted that the Shanghai Showdown would be a shambolic disaster. After the match, however, the AFL have claimed the experiment to be an unmitigated success. I’d like to use my diplomatic skills to find some middle ground and declare the event a “shambolic success”.
Let’s start with the positives, of which there were … well, not *many*, but definitely enough. The biggest tick goes to the general atmosphere around the stadium, which was overwhelmingly one of excitement and anticipation. It’s fair to say that all the Aussie fans who’d made the journey felt a certain sense of camaraderie at seeing our beloved sport displayed in such an exotic setting, and we were excited to share the passion with a new audience. For someone who describes themselves in the wankiest possible way as a ‘staunch anti-nationalist’ and a ‘citizen of the world’, I felt myself get oddly emotional as the Australian national anthem rang out across the ground.
This is a controversial opinion, but while we’re discussing positives, I actually think it was a good move to ban alcohol in the stadium. Think about it: Aussies have a reputation for getting belligerently drunk overseas, and the last thing we needed was to represent our nation accurately to the Chinese by getting wasted and attacking people who look different to us. That’s an aspect of the Aussie spirit we can leave at home, thank you very much! I should also point out that it was great to have Port Adelaide, an actual AFL team, participating in the match, and it would’ve been even better if they’d had some opposition.
The most obvious negative, of course, was the quality of the football itself, which stank more than the BO wafting from the oft-exposed pits of the overweight Port supporters around me. My only explanation for how bad the Suns were is that Rodney Eade left his ‘game plan’ notepad on the plane and had to make up a new ‘strategy’ on the fly. Once again, the Power showed that they’re absolutely unbeatable unless they play a team with the slightest touch of class, and Gold Coast proved that they’re still a disgrace to humanity and their city should be wiped from the face of the earth. Port didn’t play particularly well and they still won by 72 points.
I know they kind of have to build up the excitement, but it really bothered me that at half time the on-field announcers declared the match to be a “cracker”, despite the fact that Port was up by 42 points and the Suns had only kicked three goals. Come on. I guess they couldn’t really say “This match has been an utter shitshow with a few awesome highlights,” but at least they’d have got points for honesty …
Speaking of blatant disregard for the truth, the AFL’s assertion that this match was a ‘sell-out’ is laughable. I can guarantee you that only about one third of the seats in our area were occupied. I know this because we had cushions instead of proper seats, and I put together four cushions to create a sofa, on which I could recline in comfort and drift off when the game became especially unwatchable. The fact that the crowd was thin (and surely at least 80% Aussie, with only a very small local contingent) didn’t stop it from being a worthwhile event – I just wish they wouldn’t try so hard to spin something that doesn’t need to be spun.
Of course, the main reason there were so many empty seats at the ground is because Gold Coast has no supporters. I’m not kidding when I say that I saw nearly as many Hawthorn jerseys as Suns tops in the crowd yesterday. I would be surprised – and again this isn’t much of an exaggeration – if there were 100 Gold Coast fans at the game. My tip to the AFL: if you want to create an atmosphere next time, choose an opponent that actually has a fanbase.
On balance, and despite its obvious shortcomings, I enjoyed the AFL’s first Shanghai Showdown and I’m glad I factored it into my travel plans, even if the flights did end up costing several hundred dollars more than expected … Anyway, now that the weekend of footy is over I really have no idea what to do with myself here. I guess I’ll immerse myself in the culture by fighting some triad cronies in a Chinese restaurant, then relaxing with some nice smooth opium in a local den. That’s what you’re supposed to do in Shanghai, right?
Love, peace and joy,