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Fans' cup runneth over

China Daily by Yang Yang, June 13, 2014 Adjust font size:

That may work for Xue, but some other fans have taken far more radical measures to ensure they get their nightly soccer fix. Some hardline supporters have turned to the Internet, where fake sick notes have been on sale on portals such as Taobao, one of China's biggest online sales platforms.

One vendor, based in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, was even offering genuine sick leave certificates he claimed to have bought from a hospital, according to Chengdu Business Daily, which reported that a certificate covering the entirety of the monthlong tournament costs 300 yuan ($48).

"Soccer sickness" is nothing new, of course: In 2006, when the tournament was held in Germany, about 10,000 people in the Netherlands registered for a month's sick leave.

Xue fully understood why people would go to such extremes, but stressed that he wouldn't be buying a fake certificate: "It's too obvious, isn't it? Bosses will see through it easily."

For some soccer fanatics, the World Cup is a good excuse to quit their jobs. On June 7, a 27-year-old in Huangshan, in East China's Anhui province, told the press that he gave up his 100,000-yuan-a-year job in Shanghai so he could watch the tournament.

Fans' cup runneth over
Kindergarten children take part in a soccer event in Yantai, Shandong province. The competition was arranged to celebrate the world’s biggest soccer tournament. SHEN JIZHONG / FOR CHINA DAILY

'A real battle between countries'

By Yang Yang

It's something of a cliche to say that soccer is fun to watch or play, but it's true nonetheless. China Daily spoke to a number of fans to find out what soccer means to them.

When Chen Yikan, a 29-year-old editor at the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, was five years old, he read his first soccer magazine. He was intrigued by the stories and the articles and the names of the foreign players. Later, he studied English language and literature at college and became a translator and editor at one of China's largest publishing houses.

"I identify myself as a 'fake' soccer fan in that I won't sacrifice sleep for the World Cup. It's fun to watch the games, but I appreciate them more from an aesthetic angle," he said.

Yang Xinru, a 26-year-old who works as a marketing employee in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, sees many similarities between her twin loves: soccer and movies.

"Often, the games are like movies. During 90 minutes, you may see every possibility for the two teams. Players live their lives in the games, and you can even tell what will happen to them later. Sometimes the plot is so dramatic that it's extremely exciting to watch," she said.

"I also see the games as battles. In past centuries, countries fought each other, but not any more. When I watch a game, however, I feel as though I'm watching a real battle between two countries," she said.

Having moved away from home, Yang said she misses the times she spent watching the 2006 World Cup with her parents. "We watched all the games together. It's was so much fun, but this year, I think I will have to watch the competition on my own," she said.

Beijinger Zhang Leyang, 22, said soccer has an inexplicable, mysterious charm. The rules are simple, but globally the game attracts far more fans than sports such as basketball or volleyball.

Yang Yao, 28, from Suqian, Jiangsu province, thinks soccer is a way of displaying a country's strength. "I have many hobbies besides soccer, such as playing badminton, reading books and jogging, but soccer gives me something irreplaceable. It shakes you, ignites you, makes you really excited," he said.

Yang's interest began at college because his roommates were soccer fanatics. "We used to form our own teams to play during our free time, and we spent many hours discussing the Primera Division de Liga in Spain. For a while, I believed that soccer is life. But since I started working, I have had much less time to devote to soccer. I gradually began to realize that the saying 'soccer is life' is a kind of advertisement to help some coaches and teams attract a larger number of die-hard fans. I don't believe it anymore," he said.

"I've been working for several years, but I think something has been missing from my life. Life is not all about work, and so I've decided to take a break. Watching the World Cup relaxes me because it reminds me of my childhood when I played soccer with my pals," the young man, who used the alias Li Quan, told the Yangtze Evening Post. "I'll just have to find a new job after the competition," he said.

'Male model team'

For die-hard fans, the tournament is a matter of life and death, but for many people, it's simply entertainment, and a chance to indulge their wilder sides.

"I think I'm a 'real' soccer fan because all my family are. We have watched soccer together since I was little. But the fact is that I really fell in love with soccer when I saw David Beckham on TV," Zhang Leyang, 22, a government employee in Bejing, said with a chuckle. "Fine! I'm a female 'fake' soccer fan, and I love handsome men!"

Many of her peers seem to share that feeling. Photos of handsome soccer teams in their official World Cup suits have been spreading like a virus across the Internet. Netizens unanimously voted to replace Italy with Germany as the "male model team," that is, the most handsome collection of players in the tournament.

"My heart broke into little pieces when Germany's Marco Reus tore an ankle ligament and was ruled out of the World Cup," Zhang said.

To satisfy demand, a wealth of videos and other instructional material has been produced. Many have become wildly popular online, especially one site that identifies the most handsome players in the 32 teams, including the Spanish duo of Fernando Torres and Casillas Fernandez, Brazil's Oscar Dos Santos, Robin van Persie of the Netherlands, and Mats Julian Hummels and Philipp Lahm of Germany.

Other online material provides soccer illiterates with basic facts about the teams and star players, so women will be welcome to watch the games with their boyfriends and husbands, safe in the knowledge that they won't commit faux pas such as: "Why isn't David Beckham playing?", or - much worse! - "Where is the Chinese team?"

Since soccer is almost exclusively a male activity in China, the next four weeks could prove make or break time for many lovebirds, as the men stare at TV screens, forgetting to talk to, text, or even notice, their girlfriends and wives. The divorce rate statistics may make salutary reading when the tournament ends.

Humor and tolerance

In an attempt to stop the situation getting out of hand, some online material offers women advice along the lines of: "There is no need for girls to get angry. Try to understand soccer and watch the games together with your boyfriend, if you want. Try to be gentle and considerate, to buy snacks and beer for your boyfriends who will be staying up late, so they will be grateful for what you do."

While some may find these suggestions helpful, humor is likely to be a far more effective panacea. One of the most popular jokes doing the rounds on the Internet goes: "In the long history of the World Cup, only three teams have ever beaten China: Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica. Since the 2002 World Cup, China has maintained an unbeaten record, and among the winners of the tournament, only Brazil has claimed victory over China. We are very proud of our team!"

Chinese soccer fans are not only mean about their own team but also other countries: "England is nicknamed "The China of Europe" - the team loses a lot of games, but you never know how it will lose. Like China, England will never let you down as long as you are looking to be disappointed."

Another poster wrote: "You heard me: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant haven't gone to Brazil with the United States' soccer team. I don't know any other players."

During a recent appearance on China Central Television, Beckham was asked when China will enter the competition and win it. In response, the former England captain was diplomacy personified, saying that China will be among the 32 teams next time round and will win the tournament one day. The studio audience smiled and maintained an almost embarrassed silence, and one could see the same thought in everyone's eyes: Are you kidding us?

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