The new Chinese Super League season kicks off on Saturday after three years of Covid controls with tickets reportedly selling out in just five minutes for the biggest match of the opening weekend.
The remodelled Workers’ Stadium in the capital will stage the opening ceremony and a clash between hosts Beijing Guoan and Meizhou Hakka, one of four games on Saturday to get the campaign underway.
After restrictions placed on Chinese football since the Covid pandemic, including games in secure “bubbles” and limits on attendances, fans will be able to see their beloved teams home and away again.
The state-run Global Times reported there will be a capacity 68,000 crowd to watch title-contenders Beijing play Meizhou and said that tickets sold out in five minutes when they went on sale on Thursday.
The newspaper said it will be the first match since the stadium underwent a vast rebuild and called it “the perfect location for the start of a new era in Chinese soccer”.
The respected publication Soccer News said that there were also strong ticket sales for other games on the opening weekend.
Defending champions Wuhan Three Towns are also in action on Saturday when they host a Shanghai Port side containing the former Chelsea and Brazilian international Oscar.
A crowd of about 40,000 is expected, Soccer News said, hailing a return to a semblance of normality for Chinese football.
China once had a reputation for spending vast amounts of money on transfers and salaries for famous foreign players and coaches, but those days are long gone and Oscar is one of the few stars left.
President Xi Jinping wants his country to one day host and even win a World Cup, but the national men’s side languish in 81st in the FIFA rankings.
Chinese football is also in the grip of another major corruption scandal which has seen several leading administrators placed under investigation, including Chinese Football Association head Chen Xuyuan.
Former national coach and Premier League player Li Tie is also under investigation.
Numerous clubs have also folded in recent years, notably then-CSL champions Jiangsu Suning in 2021, as Chinese football went from boom to bust.
Despite all the issues confronting the game in the country and enduring disappointment with the national team, fans are relishing being back in stadiums again without any Covid restrictions.
“I haven’t watched a game live for three years and can’t hold back,” The Paper in Shanghai quoted one supporter as saying.
“Last season there were a few away games that sold tickets, but because it was inconvenient to get out of Beijing, I didn’t go anywhere.”
The CSL has 16 teams and concludes in November.