Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Historic Chinese club goes under

AFP, SHANGHAI

Fans of Yanbian Funde cheer for their team during their China League 1 soccer match with Beijing Beikong in Beijing on May 9 last year.

Photo: AFP / OSPORTS

A proud soccer club near China’s border with North Korea has folded days before the new season because of 240 million yuan (US$36 million) in unpaid taxes, angering their diehard fans and leaving players stranded.

The demise of second-tier Yanbian Funde, former national champions, underlines the precarious nature of Chinese soccer and the harsh financial realities that many teams face.

They are the second Chinese team in as many months to implode following Chinese Super League (CSL) side Tianjin Quanjian, who reformed as Tianjin Tianhai after a scandal engulfed their corporate owner.

Yanbian drew comparisons with 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City after they emerged from the doldrums of China’s second division to challenge the CSL elite.

That year, newly promoted Yanbian finished ninth in the CSL, despite striker Sun Jun calling them “the poorest soccer team in China.”

However, Yanbian were relegated in 2017 and were dissolved this week, when majority shareholder Funde Holding Group pulled the plug following disagreements over who should pay a soaring tax bill, Chinese media said.

Fans, powerless to save their club, were heartbroken and angry.

“I’m very disappointed and cannot calm down. I feel betrayed,” said Jin Bo, president of fan group YB Supporters, blaming a conflict between Funde and local sports authorities, who were a minority shareholder.

“Our fans’ association will be dissolved later, too, because we lost our reason to exist and we will not support other teams,” said the 30-year-old, whose group has 80 members.

Yanbian have a long history. They were formed in 1955, were champions of China a decade later and a founding member of the nation’s first professional soccer league in 1994.

The club has a special place in Chinese soccer because of its close links to the area’s large ethnic Korean population.

The club was their pride and joy — a way to express their minority identity — and the team traditionally drew on players from the area.

“Yanbian Funde is a team harmoniously combined between Koreans and other ethnic groups, and it is very important to football fans and local people,” Jin said.

Players and staff have likewise been left in limbo with League One, China’s second division, kicking off in the second week of next month.

Yanbian would not be in the competition and media reports yesterday said the squad were unable to pay the bill for their hotel in South Korea, where they were training for the new season.

Curiously, the club were signing players even as matters unraveled behind the scenes.

Lorin Burba, who represents Argentine striker Agustin Torassa and Albanian defender Albi Alla, plans to lodge a protest with FIFA over the club’s “reckless behavior” and called the treatment of Torassa “disturbing.”

“The player signed a precontract with Yanbian and afterward terminated the employment relationship with his former club,” Burba said. “Upon arriving in South Korea to sign the contract, Yanbian inexplicably retracted. My client has been left in the middle of the street for no apparent or just reason.”

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