Chapter 66: Xi Gong Stadium
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Mr. Zhang had gotten used to seeing Zhang Jun at the dining room table and almost finishing his breakfast on Saturdays.
Leaving his cup on the table, the boy prepared to leave.
“Going out for…?” Mr. Zhang asked, turning his head.
” A morning run.”
Then, the door closed.
“Morning run?” Mr. Zhang mused, holding up his piece of toast. “Since when did he start going on any morning runs?”
Taking a deep breath of the fresh morning air, Zhang Jun flexed his muscles and began his first ever morning jog. In truth, it was closer to a morning walk; there was little difference between what he did and a stroll.
“Damn it! I’ll never run after breakfast again! I can’t even utilize my strength!” Zhang Jun complained, “running” while holding on to his stomach.
Reaching Yang Pan’s place, he hesitated before he eventually decided to go up and take a look.
Yang Pan’s house was on the third floor. He climbed up and rang the doorbell, but nobody answered after a long while. He sighed and went back down the stairs and continued his “run”.
Still in her pajamas, Su Fei walked out to the balcony to breathe in the crisp breeze of dawn. She was halfway through a cozy stretch when she stopped.
With her hands still held high, she was surprised to find Zhang Jun running home from afar. Bizarrely, when he reached the floor below he kept running. He only stopped when he got to the next block. He looked up at the building beside him, and then he looked behind, finally turning back after slapping himself on the head.
Hands still up, Su Fei could not decide whether to laugh or cry. Still, she knew that the old Zhang Jun was back.
After lunch and some rest, Su Fei and Zhang Jun headed to school. There, they would gather with the rest of the team before taking the bus to Xigong Stadium.
On the other hand, the cheerleading team and the other students would get to the stadium on their own—they would gather by the entrance before entering as a single group to their specially allocated seats.
Since every match in Xigong Stadium was open to the public, the stadium would prepare separate booths for different fans. A huge amount of complementary tickets were set aside for schools that made it to the final four. This was so that the students, teachers and parents could watch. It was also one of the methods to raise its popularity.
Both Zhang Jun and Su Fei’s parents received those complementary tickets. Zhang Jun’s mom was not able to make it due to work, but she promised him that if he made it into the finals, she would throw away any task at hand and cheer him on then. Meanwhile, his dad was present. He would be running around capturing important moments with his camera for his photography work.
Su Fei’s parents had the free time to attend the match, but they were just really there to support their daughter.
Indeed, every player was given two or three extra tickets so that parents or guardians would come. It was the semi-final after all. There was the glamor, especially considering it was a live broadcast and it would be a shame if they were not there.
Shu Guang’s cheerleading team also poured blood and gold into the game. They made gigantic flags, slogan banners and one huge drum for their war cries; the school even rented out a truck to help them transport the stuff.
With the cheerleading squad’s preparation complete, the players’ performance was the only thing left. Whether they would be able to keep their supporters delighted by winning until the end was up to them.
Still, Zhang Jun did not catch a glimpse of Yang Pan.
He sighed. It looked like the captain was not going to make it that day. So, the interim captain turned his focus to the match ahead.
Filled with anticipation and jitters, the rest of the team talked about the afternoon’s game.
However, they appeared to have a lid on their emotions; their voices were not loud either. Yang Pan may not have been there, but Zhang Jun—his best friend—was. This got them to suppress their excitement as much as they could.
Yang Yong was feeling extremely jumpy. He did not say a thing and checked his equipment repeatedly; the jersey was right, the shin guards were ready and the match pass was not forgotten…
Zhang Jun went over to him and lightly clapped him on the shoulder. Despite the both of them being second-year students, Zhang had been a starter for two years, giving him an air of seniority when he stood alongside Yang Yong.
“There’s nothing to be worried about! Just bring the same mindset you have when you train.”
“But it’s the semi-final!”
“Semi-final? Hmph! I entered the Nationals in middle school and still made gold! There wasn’t more than one spectator too! But Yang Pan and I…”
Zhang Jun had wanted to raise Yang Yong’s spirits, but once he mentioned Yang Pan, he thought of the boy, who was attending his grandmother’s wake service. He immediately lost interest. So, he simply patted Yang Yong on the shoulder again before turning to leave, leaving the other quite confused.
Liang Ke looked at his watch. The time was near and he gestured for the players to get on the bus. He was the last to get on, and before he did, he kept glancing at the gates.
He hoped that he would catch a glimpse of Yang Pan’s shadow, but he was left disappointed. So, he got on to tell the driver, “Sir, let’s go.”
A multi-purpose sports center, Xigong Stadium was not far north of Luoyang’s busiest city center. It was a huge “sinkhole” beside Jiudou Road and road leading to the stadium itself.
A statue of a pair of men fighting for a ball stood outside, while the stadium had been refurbished in conjunction with the National Peony Festival. The concrete stands were now furnished with plastic seats, along with brand new grass carpets and plastic running tracks. The colorful seats, red race tracks, green carpets of grass as well as the huge silver screen gave it an ambience of a state-of-the-art arena.
Almost every high school soccer player dreamed of setting foot there!
According to the match schedules, the match between Dingding and Shu Guang would be played at 3.00pm on Saturday, while Zhongyuan would play Tongxing at the same hour the next day.
After that, the third-fourth placing match would be held on the following Saturday, a day before the most anticipated final match. The winning team would go the 15th National High School Soccer Championship and receive tickets to Shanghai, where the game was going to be held this time.
A huge crowd had already gathered outside the arena before two. Apart from the cheerleading team and student supporters from both sides, there were also fans of the sport from all walks of life; it was clear that the Luoyang community paid attention to high school soccer.
There were two trucks outside Door No. 3 of the stadium. One of them had a logo of the Luoyang TV Channel while the other was of the Henan TV Channel. They were both responsible for the live TV broadcast to their respective regions. The technicians were rushing to set up their antenna and various equipment were moved into the stadium from Door No. 3 .
Meanwhile, a sea of heads waited outside the main gates, which had yet to open. Grabbing the opportunity, hawkers and vendors weaved in and out of the throng, selling simple yet practical items such as trumpets, whistles, little colored flags and all sorts of air batons.
The Dingding cheerleaders were putting on a show even before the arrival of both teams. They were waving their “victory” flag around, drumming loudly as well as shouting their team slogans. They truly fired up the atmosphere. Plus, they were semi-final veterans who were clearly used to this.
Compared to them, the Shu Guang cheerleaders looked almost embarrassing in their Xigong debut. They had their equipment with them, but they were tidily placed by the side. Every member was lost in their curiosity towards their surroundings—apparently, they had forgotten about their task.
The entrances for the team buses were already surrounded with reporters, who were armed with cameras as well as video and voice recorders; they were basically just waiting for the arrival of both schools.
1.55pm. Two buses marked with the words “Luoyang Dingding High School” drove through the main gates amidst thunderous applause. Their cheerleaders began to raise their voice.
“Dingding! To Victory!”
“Go, Go! Dingding, go!”
“Champions! Champions! To the Nationals!”
The journalists mobbed the team’s coach as soon as they stopped. The door opened and two reserved members leaped out, parting the host of news correspondents to make way for the first team.
Fan Cunjie, captain of the Dingding soccer team, and the player dubbed the “Master Trickster” was first to alight. He smiled with aplomb into the camera lenses that flashed incessantly in his face, and started to squeeze his way out.
“Fan Cunjie, this year’s your final year, what’s your target?”
“To enter the Nationals.”
Three years; he had been repeating the same line in the same place thrice, but he only ever managed to get to the finals. So, what about this year?
“Shu Guang is a formidable team. How will your team beat them?”
“We’ll play according to our rhythm.”
“Will Dingding be the same next year?”
“I’m not clear on this matter, but I believe in my junior team. However, the most important thing at hand is to win today’s game, and then the finals to enter the National Championship!
It was the same answer for three years.
“Every year, Dingding talks about entering the Nationals, but the team has been unsuccessful thus far. Will they insist the same for this year too?”
Fan Cunjie stopped and turned in the direction of the voice.
It had been a young reporter.
“Of course. Dingding will not give up easily, especially this year! We, the players are confident that we can beat anyone!”
But, the other simply pressed on. “Does your side have what it takes to stop the Shu Guang offensive lineup?”
“Chen Huafeng, High School Soccer reporter.”
“Oh, the writer who publishes exclusives on Shu Guang.”
“Then, you’ll see. Teams that score don’t always win!”
At that, Fan Cunjie ignored every other question and forced his way away from the crowd.
Xia Bo was quickly encircled by the media too. As the goalkeeper who would soon face “Luoyang’s finest offense”, he was naturally the center of attention.
“Xia Bo, about Shu Guang’s offensive lineup—”
He was cut short by the goalie. “I don’t care about the lineup. I’ll catch all their shots!”
“Yang Pan’s drive is extremely powerful. Can you stop that?”
“There’s no need to worry about that. I’ve heard that he often hits the posts.”
Everyone else laughed.
“What about Zhang Jun? He’s scored consecutive hat-tricks in the last two games…”
“He won’t even score one against me!” Xiao Bo replied confidently.
His occasional eccentricities notwithstanding, the shot-stepper had done enough to back his own self-belief. He was generally acknowledged as Luoyang’s No.1 before Zhang Lintao made his appearance. Although he was not tall, his ability to jump above most was helped by his lightning reflexes and courageous charges. Naturally, he was very reliable in big games—apart from the occasional mistakes.
Five minutes after the Dingding team was interviewed, Shu Guang’s bus arrived too. Some of the journalists moved on to them, although most of them still stayed with Dingding—the more established team of the two. Ultimately, Shu Guang was merely making its debut in Xigong Stadium. It was not unusual that the focus would naturally be placed upon Dingding, the frequent guest.
Liang Ke got off first after the door opened. Su Fei followed, instantly shifting the limelight to Shu Guang with her mere appearance; lenses flashed at her like stars in a night sky and the geezers gasped audibly—many had seen her on magazine covers, but those photos did not do her beauty justice.
Needless to say, there was also every reason to suspect that some of the photographers were capturing images of the manager for personal use.
An Ke, who jumped off the bus after her was so overwhelmed by the flashes, he almost fell. When he finally came around and realized that the cameras were not aimed at him, he cursed quietly. “Bunch of old perverts!” He then made his way past the crowd towards the players’ entrance.
Kaka alighted to the shrill screams of fangirls. They may have lost out on the reporters’ attention, but the number of fangirls Shu Guang had would definitely make the Dingding players sweat their brows.
Ren Yu De, Wang Ning, Li Hao, Li Jieguang, Lin Xiaofang, Chen Bo, Xie Yu, and the substitutes alighted before Zhang Jun. The bus door closed after he got down and it drove off to the parking bay.
There was no Yang Pan!
Chen Huafeng was shocked at that discovery. Believing that he had made a mistake, he attempted a recount. But, he was left sighing in the face of the unyielding mob that swarmed his favorite team.
As the last to leave the car, Zhang Jun was paid apparent special attention. However, he answered every question put to him with “We will definitely win”, before leaving them behind and quickly stepping into the stadium.
Chen Huafeng had a feeling the striker was not his usual self that day. Perhaps it was the nerves; it was his first game in Xigong after all.
“What the heck? They’ve only won a few games, but they’re even cockier than Dingding!” Another member of the press spat beside him.
The main gates finally opened and the fans flashed their tickets to enter. Their appearance raised the temperature of the arena, lighting up the early winter afternoon.