Who are the most famous supporters in the world? Many in Asia would give that honour to the Red Devils, the fanatical supporters who roared the Korea Republic to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. Yet you might see an even bigger, more spectacular set of supporters in action once the flagship event in women's football gets into full swing.
Hangzhou, a picturesque city famed for its historical landmarks and natural scenery, is gearing up to show its more dynamic and passionate side to the rest of the world. As one of the host cities of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, this beautiful city is already well on the way to mobilising a 20,000-strong supporters' group with the aim of cheering on the stars of the women's game during the seven matches taking place there. According to Zhou Ping, senior ticket sales executive and member of the Hangzhou branch of the FIFA Women's World Cup Local Organising Committee, the ultimate aim is to create the biggest supporters' group the world has seen.
Source of inspiration
Having been inspired by an article in which she read that the biggest supporters' group in the world had 12,000 members, Zhou decided to channel the enthusiam generated by the FIFA Women's World Cup to build an even more impressive army of organised supporters. In doing so, she hopes to create a lively atmosphere during matches and raise the profile of women's football in the process.
"People have limited knowledge about women's football," said Zhou. "This kind of activity will help drum up everyone's interest in the tournament, thereby helping to promote the women's game." There could certainly be no better occasion to organise such an activity than this FIFA Women's World Cup, the biggest sporting event that Hangzhou has ever helped to stage. Zhou's proposal to encourage the citizens of China's Garden City to lend their wholehearted and vociferous support to the tournament duly gained the approval of both her colleagues in Hangzhou and also the head of the LOC.
In her capacity as senior ticket sales executive for Hangzhou's Dragon Stadium, Zhou has seen at first hand how the decision to organise the supporters' group has sent local ticket sales soaring. She is convinced that, even without the attraction of the host team - who will be playing their group matches in Wuhan rather than Hangzhou - a target audience of 30,000 spectators per match is definitely within reach.
Support for one and all
Thanks to the sterling efforts of the Hangzhou LOC, spectators who sign up to the supporters' group will receive a special discount on their match ticket. Each member will also receive a T-shirt, a special match souvenir and some basic training. "By the time matchday comes around, the team will all be singing and moving together as one," said Zhou.
So far, the LOC is delighted with the involvement shown by the citizens of Zhejiang's provincial capital. One eager new recruit is pensioner Zhou Sen Xuan. Over 60 years old, he is a team leader in the Hangzhou Mountaineering Association and a big sports fan. He was one of the first to sign up and soon persuaded his rock-climbing pals to buy into the idea. As word got round, the ranks of the supporters' team began to swell in no time.
None of the group fixtures scheduled to take place at the Hangzhou Dragon Stadium will feature the host team, China PR. However, Zhou believes this will not dampen the spectators' enthusiasm to get involved. "Here in Hangzhou we'll be getting behind every one of the teams. As long as there's exciting action and spectacular goals to celebrate, the supporters' team will be applauding and cheering all the players on."
Bigger and better
Similar groups are already being formed in the other host cities. Three weeks before the Opening Match, Shanghai had formed a special female supporters' team called the 'White Magnolias', involving some 4,000 members of the Shanghai Mulan Boxing Association. While Shanghai might claim to have the most fearless set of spectators, Hangzhou's 10,000-strong cohort will arguably be the biggest in number.
Zhou's only regret is that because planning time has been so limited, it now looks unlikely that the Hangzhou group will reach its target of 20,000 members before the first match kicks off on Wednesday. Nevertheless, this total is only a final target and there will be plenty of time to bolster the ranks as the tournament goes on. And given that the city plans to organise even more major sporting events in the future, Hangzhou could yet become as famous for its sports fans as it already is for its beauty.