Eastern promises

The mob of Premiership clubs off on a Far East beano this summer has received unprecedented coverage in the newspapers. As ever, nobody really knows what to make of this kind of thing. Understandably enough, football hacks pitched into an utterly alien environment can sometimes find themselves a little out of their depth. The tone is usually pitched somewhere between eye-boggling visions of the wealth to be reaped from this parallel universe of crazed, barely coherent football junkies; and sex tourist-lite fascination with the sheer, naked, excitable strangeness of it all.

On July 22 the Sunday Times reporter in South Korea related an almost unbearably sensual encounter with a mob of “besotted” and “rapturous” teenagers (“A hundred or so red-clad Koreans, nearly all female, most of them teens”). “‘Ro-nal-do!’ she squeaked, fanning herself theatrically with a magazine. It seemed possible the very word might make her pass out,” read a breathless report on United’s friendly against FC Seoul.

There was definitely a sense of frenzy in the air, although on occasion it was hard to tell exactly where this was coming from. With its talk of “hysterical mobs… young Asians emerging from previously regimented societies, chasing fun… screeched exhortations”, the Sunday Times set a tone picked up in the Telegraph a day later, where the focus was on “the frenzied reception” and “Beatles-like adulation” afforded Cristiano Ronaldo in these “ripe and passionate regions”.

Altogether more worldly yet inured to the sexual frisson, the Mirror was content to keep its Premier League blinkers on even in frisky Seoul. 75,000,000 reasons why we’re bigger than Chelsea blared its headline on July 21, as Manchester United’s David Gill explained how “our army of fans make us the world’s top club”. Here the “hysterical crowds” of “football‑mad South Koreans” are all part of a vast Premier League dream of world domination.

In among all this sex and money, only the Guardian’s report on Liverpool’s trip to Hong Kong picked up the inadvertent comedy in football marketing itself globally: “‘You’ll never walk alone,’ a teenage girl screamed at the Liverpool players, giggling and turning to talk to her friends in Cantonese… ‘We want to give the message that we’re true supporters,’ said Freddy Fung, 25, who was born and raised in Hong Kong but sprinkles his talk with Liverpudlian slang. ‘Sometimes fans in the UK think fans in Asia are like tourists who don’t know about Scouse culture,’ Fung said. ‘We are real fans. As real as the Scousers who support Liverpool.’” Which almost makes the whole thing worthwhile on its own.

From WSC 247 September 2007