The Big Soccer Brawl - Part 1

So what happened?

Oriental Daily front page headline: "Chinese Olympic team young players lose face."
The Sun front page headline: "Chinese Olympic team embarrasses." 

(BBC)  China send seven home after brawl.  February 9, 2007.

Seven members of China's Olympic team have been sent home following a mass brawl that occurred during their friendly with QPR on Wednesday.  The game at Rangers' training ground was halted after a fight during which China's Zheng Tao was knocked out and suffered two cracks in his jaw.

QPR chairman Gianni Paladini has hinted that he could sack some of the players involved in the fight.  "When we find out what went wrong, I will come down very strong," he said.  The Football Association has confirmed it is also investigating the brawl, which is said to have included up to 30 people.  Paladini added: "We will conduct our own internal investigation into this matter. We will go to work 24 hours a day to find out what happened.  If people cannot control themselves they should not be there, in that position, because sooner or later something like that is going to happen again.  Therefore, it depends how much provocation was in it, and when we find out what went wrong, myself and [manager] John Gregory will act.  I am sick about the whole thing, completely fed up. I hope we can find something out by Saturday."

Meanwhile, China coach Ratomir Dujkovic admitted he missed the origins of the incident, but added: "Whether the local guys (QPR) or our guys began it is not important. It is unacceptable."  However, team manager Li Xiaoguang insists he will take full responsibility for the incident.  "I would like to make an official apology," he said. "Whatever the reasons for the incident, as the team manager, I will take the responsibility.  We have noticed some of the young players can not control themselves well. But, although the participants in this incident were the players, I will take all the blame.  The unexpected incident happened in any case and I will be conducting a serious inquiry into it. We have learnt a lesson from this incident."

(SCMP)  China split over brawl.  Meryl Chow.  February 9, 2007.

The Chinese Olympic team are divided over the latest negative incident on their visit to England, a vicious brawl that left two China players badly injured.  While members of the coaching staff made public apologies for the under-23 team's contribution to the kung fu-style ruck in their friendly match against Queens Park Rangers, the players remained defiant, blaming their QPR counterparts for provoking the violence.

Police were called after the game at Rangers' training ground in London was abandoned by ref Dermot Gallacher amid a free-for-all that involved almost the entire Olympic team. QPR were winning 2-1.  China's Zheng Tao was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital with a suspected broken jaw. Chinese reports said captain Chen Tao needed treatment for facial injuries.

Head coach Ratomir Dujkovic could barely hide his disappointment at the outbreak of indiscipline. "You China team are all football players, not boxers.  "We all know the opponents' ferocious playing style, that is English football but that is no excuse for violence," Dujkovic said. "I never expected to see this kind of thing. We came here to train, not to fight. I am very disappointed, very."

The violence broke out in the 77th minute, according to an eyewitness account, after Chinese striker Gao Lin, who scored China's sole goal, attempted to kick a QPR defender who hit back.  The scuffle escalated with substitutes from both sides storming the pitch to join the fight. The upheaval ended only after heavy casualties on the visitors' side.  "I just had enough of their dirty tricks throughout the match," fumed a defiant Gao, according to Titan Sports newspaper.  Gao's claim was substantiated by the paper's photographer who pictured Richard Hill, the manager of QPR's reserve team, punching a Chinese player in the face.

But China's team leader Li Xiaoguang dismissed the excuses as unacceptable.

(The Mirror)  The Great Brawl of China.  By Neil Mcleman.  February 9, 2007.

Chinese players last night claimed they feared for their lives during a 50-man brawl which caused a "friendly" against QPR to be abandoned.  Left-back Zheng Tao was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital with a suspected broken jaw during the second half of the game between China's Under 23 Olympic team and the Championship side.

The police, the FA and QPR have launched investigations and players from both sides could face assault charges.  And the Chinese team's game against Chelsea reserves earlier this week also descended into a chaos after another China player, Dai Lin, was sent off.

But yesterday Zheng Tao claimed he was the victim of a cowardly assault.  "I was surrounded by a group of players and kicked to the ground," he said.  "Because of the attack, I won't be able to play football for a long time."

Players from both sides exchanged blows and kicks before subs and spectators joined the fight at QPR's training ground near Heathrow.  One Chinese eyewitness added: "It was like the end of the world. The players thought they would be killed."

China striker Gao Lin has been sent home after he was shown exchanging punches with a Rangers player.  Coach Ratomir Dujkovic said his players had reacted badly to QPR's physical approach. "That's the style of English soccer," he admitted. "But it shouldn't be a reason for fighting."

The FA were last night awaiting a full report from referee Dermot Gallagher. "We are taking this very seriously," a spokesman said.  Rangers chairman Gianni Paladini said: "If any of our players are guilty of any wrongdoing then they will be dealt with accordingly."

The following is a blog post by a Chinese sport journalist who was present at the match.

(Ma Dexing's Blog) Were the Chinese Olympic team members in a fight or being attacked? -- the "fighting incident" that I personally witnessed.  February 8, 2007.

[in translation]

On the afternoon of February 7 (local United Kingdom time), the Chinese Olympic team played a match with the Queens Park Rangers reserves.  There was an unfortunate episode in this match.  Afterwards, there were strong reactions inside China.  As one of the Chinese reporters who witnessed the incident at the scene, I felt that the Chinese Olympic team were the victims in the incident.  If the Chinese Olympic team were really in a 'fight,' they would not have suffered so many casualties and Zheng Tao would not have been surrounded by five players and assaulted, even being kicked when he laid on the ground.  Even more appalling was the fact that the trainer of the QPR reserves charged into the soccer field to attack the Chinese Olympic team players!  I think that those who do not understand all that happened in the incident and make unsupported commentary are often wrong.

English soccer referees have different standards than Chinese soccer referees.  So it is normal that the Chinese players are not used to it.  If the referees show any favoritism, then it tends to be their lax enforcement which inevitably brings up many unnecessary conflicts.  For example, the Number 8 player on the other side was very "dirty" with lots of sneaky movies.  Due to his field position, he fouled Li Mei numerous times but the referee just ordered the match to continue.  The QPR reserves' trainer also applied pressure on the referee incessantly from the sideline whereas the Chinese Olympic team trainer said nothing.  This obviously caused the referee to favor the home team even more.

The QPR players were not only 'dirty' with their feet, but their mouths were even 'dirtier.'  Curses like 'f**k' kept coming out.  Apart from several Chinese reporters, there were not many spectators.  Therefore, the 'dirty' words rang around the soccer field, with some of them being directly aimed at the Chinese Olympic team players.  The Chinese players understood the dirty talk, and it became understandable that they were mad.  Especially when the Chinese players made successful intercepts, the other side spewed out streams of obscenities.

Soon after the second half began, Wang Xiaodong centered the ball from the left.  Gao Lin attempted to control the ball but only directed it to the feet of QPR's center back wearing Number 6.  But the center back from Congo failed to clear the ball and Gao Lin poked the ball into the net from behind him.  The score was now 1-1.  The center back was incensed.  From there on, he continued to retaliate against Gao Lin.  Therefore, it was not hard for us to understand why that Number 6 player eventually got into a fight with Gao Lin.  For this reason, Gao Lin even called out "If we keep playing like this, someone is going to die!"  But the referee did not understand him and ignored it.

At the 30th minute of the second half, Jiang Ning got the ball in midfield and faked past the QPR substitute right back wearing Number 14.  This obviously embarrassed the right back and he turned around to make a flying tackle to take down Jiang Ning, who fell down and made at least three tumbles.  This was an obvious "red card" offense.  The referee stopped the game so that the Chinese Olympic team doctor can enter to treat Jiang Ning.  But incredibly, the referee did not even show a yellow card.

One minute later, the Chinese Olympic team left back Zheng Tao made a forward pass to Gao Lin who was breaking through on the sideline.  This was a good ball, but the referee said that Gao Lin took the ball out of bounds.  This incorrect decision obviously affected Gao Lin's emotions a lot.  After the other side sent the ball forward, the Chinese Olympic team intercepted the ball in midfield and organized another attack  The QPR Number 6 got the ball and sent it back to the goalie.  But his pass was too weak and Chinese Olympic team's Jiang Ning sprinted forward.  If the goalie had not come out quickly and kicked the ball away, the Chinese Olympic team might have evened the score again.  After this mistake, the QPR reserves' trainer began cursing his team's Number 6 from the sideline  This obviously made Number 6 very angry.

Right after the QPR trainer finished cursing, the Chinese Olympic team once again lobbed the ball towards Gao Lin, who leapt up to contest the ball in the air with Number 6.  During the process, both Gao Lin and Number 6 made some moves.  This was quite normal.  But when they dropped to the ground, Number Six attempted to step on Gao Lin but miss.  So he was mumbling.  Meanwhile Gao Lin swung his arm and hit Number 6.  So the incident began with this small matter.  Next, Number 6 grabbed Gao Lin and the other QPR players charged up ...

If the referee had been able to control the match previously and he stopped all those fouls in a timely manner, things could not have become so severe.

Previously, in the match with the Chelsea reserves, the Chinese Olympic team players had two incidents with players from the other side.  Chinese fans were able to watch it over broadband television.  The "rough play" of the Chinese Olympic team players left an impression.  Now that there was another clash this time, those who did not see this whole incident will naturally remember the Chelsea match and decide that the Chinese Olympic team "will kick the person if they can't kick the ball."  But the facts were exactly the opposite.  In this incident, the Chinese Olympic team players were the victims.

Red circles on the left and right show Chinese players tugging at the clothing of the QPR people.
Red circle in the center show the fist that punched Chen Tao in the  eye.

After the match with the Chelsea reserves, the Chinese Olympic team trainer Dujkovic and the Chinese coaches "lectured" the players.  In the preparations for the match with the QPR reserves, team director Li Xiaoguang even issued an "death order": In today's match, "you will not talk back if cursed; you will not fight back if hit" and "whosoever cannot do this will be told to 'scram'!"  Due to his "death order," the players were very subdued on the field.  Even when the referee was obviously wrong, the players just bowed their heads and walked away.

If the Chinese Olympic team was prepared to fight, then the Chinese Olympic team might not suffered so many casualties: Zheng Tao was surrounded and beaten by five players from the other side and suffered a broken jaw; Chen Tao had a swollen eye; Wang Dalei was hit from behind and suffered bleeding in the ear ... this occurred precisely because the Chinese Olympic team players were not fighting; they were only going to stop a fight and were attacked.

Another detail that explained the issue is this: when the Chinese Olympic team players on the reserve bench charged into the field, they were not swinging punches.  Instead, they came to pull people away or push those QPR players away from hitting the Chinese players.  If they really wanted to fight, they would not be doing that.

Let us look at this photograph:

Actually, from this photograph, we can all see that the QPR reserves' trainer charged into the field not to mediate.  He swung his fist and floored Jiang Ning.  If the Chinese Olympic team really wanted to fight, would they put up no resistance like Jiang Ning?

After the intermission, trainer Dujkovic replaced Li Mei with Chen Tao because he noted the subtle duel between Li Mei and the Number 8 on the other side.  This was a signal and hint from the Chinese Olympic team.  But if you look at the actions of the QPR reserves' trainer, is that what the trainer for a professional team should be doing?

Not only did the QPR trainer not mediate.  After he hit the Chinese Olympic team players, he also told the players to leave the field quickly.  If the incident got even bigger, it will be very bad for them!  Over this season, the Queens Park Rangers has accumulated the largest numbers of red cards and fouls.  This team is listed with Luton Town as the "two dirtiest teams" in the English Football League.  In the face with these facts, are the fouls committed on the Chinese Olympic team during the match or how they were personally treated coincidental or inevitable?

So was the Chinese Olympic team fighting or being assaulted?