Claire Elliott is a lifelong Wolves fanatic watching the team in China with her husband Greg. WolvesBite.com editor Tim Nash has known her for many years and once smuggled her into the press box at Millwall to give a fan’s eye view for the Express & Star. Here’s her thoughts on the historic trip.
So we’ve arrived a little bit late into Beijing airport and we manage to hook up to wifi. The wifi didn’t work on the flight, disappointingly. This is the first time we get to test our vpn. I’ve set it up on Greg’s phone as well – he’s a bit of a technophobe and this means I’ll get a little bit of peace! Phew! Success – email, Facebook and Twitter. But what is this coming through my newsfeed – Laurie gone?! Greg and I can’t believe it. Reading the official explanation he’s on gardening leave and sacked – it doesn’t make sense to me for both to apply at the same time.
We ponder what’s gone on as he has always been so approachable. In my opinion he really improved relations between the fans and the Wolves board (relations having been very strained by the previous board) and we were planning to meet up with him in China. We met him at the Player of the Year awards; I’ve corresponded with him via email a few times and he has been a consummate professional, whilst being friendly.
Certainly it’s a shock to us, coming after three years as managing director, during which time the club has gone from being promoted from the Championship to qualifying for the Europa League and cementing our position in the Premier League. A strange one. I know he won’t be reading this, but thanks for all you’ve done at the club, Laurie, and for uniting the club and fans to a level I’ve never witnessed before. The dark days of Moxey, Morgan and ‘Mad Mick’ seem so long ago.
We make our way to exit the airport through security – we get in the politically incorrect ‘foreigners’ queue. We have to go back and scan our fingerprints again! Then we are back to the foreigners queue again and through, with no hint of a smile, and my pigeon Mandarin hello ‘Nee-how’ is not very well received. So to find our bags – it’s a transit train just to discover this information, giving me an insight into how very huge this country is. Beijing houses 21 million people officially but it’s alleged that there is nearer 31 million living in this city.
So we are out of the airport and need to get to our hotel. Research has shown that a taxi should cost about 150-200 RMB or £15-£20. It’s our first experience at being ripped off as we agree to pay 350 RMB to get out of the heat and to our hotel. As for the taxi ride – well, if you ever went in a cab from New Street in the 1990s and remember terrifying journeys where you slid over the seats at high speeds, then this will come as no shock to you! It seems organised chaos – lanes merging, horns beeping and the screeching sound of brakes being applied while swerving pedestrians, cyclists, mopeds and ebikes. Eyes shut and hold on!
We look at the scenery we are flying past and see we are approaching Tiananmen Square. We can see a huge queue and people with parasols everywhere. The heat is already searing. The roads are all like the M25 – jammed, 10 lanes and very little signage is in English. Our driver speaks no English, so it’s good that we have our hotel written down in Mandarin. This is something that would stand us in good stead throughout our trip!
So we arrive at our hotel. Another lesson learned. Although I have paid in full for the hotel we have to pay an equivalent amount in a deposit and the same amount again for ‘incidentals.’ This is because the card was originally only used to guarantee the room and we’re told that Chinese hotels don’t like using foreign credit cards as we’re, well, a little bit dodgy!
We check the news while waiting to go to our room and see that the reason given for Laurie’s departure is alleged clashes with the board. The board are tight-lipped. We opine that maybe Laurie has been used for his knowhow to establish Wolves in the Premier League and that now the board think they can do it all themselves and save some costs in the interim. We don’t know, and no-one seems to know the real reasons. That’s one thing you can say about this board – they appear to be watertight.
So the room’s ready and it’s up to the executive level for a few hours’ sleep. Refreshed, we decide to take a walk to the shopping mall about 10 minutes away. It’s hard going. The heat is absolutely searing, humidity is the highest I’ve ever known. I’m used to heat – just three days ago I was in Cyprus and it was 37 degrees C, but this heat is something else. These games will clearly be testing for the players.
We look for things to do on TripAdvisor as today really is a day to acclimatise to heat and the time zone. We are seven hours ahead of the UK. I try to get the downloaded Didi (an Uber-like taxi app) to work, but it’s not having any of it. On foot it is!
To cross the road in two different places is an absolute art form. Dodging cars, cycles, buses, taxis, mopeds ebikes and other pedestrians, we get across to the mall. It’s only a 10-minute walk but it’s exhausting. The smog is also quite stifling – many people are wearing masks and some have almost full length what can only be described as masks with an apron attached.
So into the mall. Air conditioning! What a relief, we are already hot and bothered. The mall is much like ‘Merry Hell’, but there really is very little written in English here. There’s about 10 floors and we work out that one is all food, from the pictures. Some of the prices are quite good – for Clinique and the like – but a lot really aren’t much different to prices at home.
I think we are both shocked by how little English is spoken here. I speak several languages and Greg can ask for a beer in French! Google translate is coming in very handy and it’s good that I took out a prepaid sim and vpn. Google is banned in China so without the vpn we would be really stuck.
We have a light snack and horrors – my meal has meat on it! Vegetables garnished with pork. I’m horrified as a very strict veggie, but it’s a lesson learned. It’s back to the hotel and an evening meal which shows that despite booking a Western hotel there is much lost in translation.
A scan of the news shows no more updates from Molineux. I have a glance over wolves-news and it’s an early night. We have to be up at 4.30am to go and visit the Great Wall of China.