Harbin Yiteng: Fans are main reason for us staying

With confirmation that the club will stay in the city for the 2014 Chinese Super League season, Goal hears from general manager Cao Lei about why they decided to do so

by Peter Davis

The location of newly promoted Chinese Super League (CSL) side Harbin Yiteng has been in limbo since confirming promotion to the Chinese top tier. 

The city of Dalian was mentioned as a potential destination with the club having its academy there but following a huge petition by the club’s fans, the powers that be decided to stay.

“The fans are the main reason for staying in Harbin and playing for the city next season,” general manager Cao Lei explained. 

“The fans have done a lot to keep the club in Harbin; they collected thousands of signatures in heavy snow and it is very moving to see that.”

Australian midfielder Adam Hughes had also previously told Goal that it would have been “a huge loss to Harbin" if they had to relocate, during talks on the club’s proposed move. 

A huge replica club shirt was laid out in Harbin’s Saint Sophia Square during the petition, which fans signed to keep their club in the city. Currently, temperatures range from minus five to minus 20 degrees Celsius in the city, making the fans’ achievement far more commendable.

“Playing in the Chinese Super League re-writes history for our city because there is no top division club in this city before,” Cao continued. 

“We have been here for three years, from China League Two to League One and then promoted into CSL. All the achievements of this club are completed in Harbin so we could say Harbin is our lucky place and everyone hopes to stay here as long as possible.”

Yiteng don’t only have the weather to face though. They have tough Chinese and foreign opposition in 2014, from experienced tacticians like Marcello Lippi, Sven Goran-Eriksson and Gao Hongbo, to a whole new level of players such as Elkeson, Vagner Love, Wu Lei and Zhang Xizhe. 

Cao is fully aware of the task at hand as the club now prepare for next season.

“The 2014 CSL season is going to be a difficult year for Yiteng,” he admitted. 

“As a newcomer, we have prepared as well as we can for all kinds of hard situations. Our target is staying in the league and if we stay up in our first season that would be a good enough achievement.”

For now though, Cao focuses on a moving period for the club that saw the Chinese fans of Harbin Yiteng keep the club where it belongs.

“For those fans who really love us, we still decided to stay in the city [in the end] and [hopefully we will] stay as long as possible,” he said.

Beijing-based Peter Davis has followed Chinese football since 2008 and is a regular contributor to the popular Chinese football blog Wild East Football. Follow him on Twitter at @peteydavis