The future is orange as Fan turns Dundee into Chinatown

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The Independent Football

Jam was once the product which carried Dundee's name around the world. Now it is football, but the flavour of the month is no longer tangerine, it's mandarin.

The City of Discovery is split down the middle over allegiance to Dundee FC and Dundee United, but it was the latter's achievements in reaching a Uefa Cup final and the European Cup semi-final in the 1980s which put the place on the map.

The Tangerines, though, are very much a local delicacy. In contrast, the Dark Blues appeal to global tastes, as Dundee's Scottish Cup encounter today with Falkirk will illustrate.

Minutes after the third-round tie is over, the club's website will post two match reports: one in English, the other in Chinese. The presence of Dens Park's new hero, Fan Zhiyi, who will be leading China into the World Cup finals this summer as captain, has opened a window to the world.

When Zhiyi made his debut for Dundee in November after signing from Crystal Palace, appropriately in a derby with United, there were 34,000 hits on the website. That was double the number Claudio Caniggia attracted when he arrived last season.

When Caniggia returned to Dens Park last month with Rangers – who paid £1 million to buy the charismatic Argentinian – it was Zhiyi's presence which ensured the match was also screened live back in China, where a cable network offers a potential audience in Beijing and Shanghai of 16 million for Dundee.

"When Fan played for Crystal Palace, that was the club we supported," reported Zang Qin, a Chinese journalist. "Now Dundee will be our team, because Fan plays for them. But they do not understand there are two teams in this city. They think Dundee and United are the same thing."

Unravelling Dundee's football web to the world at large has been a regular task since Ivano Bonetti took over 20 months ago. Appropriately, for a city named in honour of the ship used on Captain James Scott's voyage to Antarctic, the manager has been a football pioneer.

Dundee's dressing room resembles the Tower of Babel on match days. There is the former Newcastle midfielder Temuri Ketsbaia, one of three Georgians. There are six Argentines, four Italians and now "Mr China".

Zhiyi's popularity at home was sealed by the free-kick he scored in October to seal China's 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan which secured a place in the World Cup finals while an audience of 500 million watched on television.

Peter Marr, Dundee's chief executive, has already been to Shanghai to prepare the groundwork, with a post-season tour of China mooted as well as a club shop in Shanghai.

"The man [Zhiyi] is massive in China and the club is looking to capitalise on that," said their commercial manager Ian Reilly. "We are trying to move as quickly as we can and hopefully there will be commercial opportunities and the chance to further the name of Dundee FC worldwide."

Dundee, of course, have already had a trial run at exporting their name. Caniggia's presence saw their games broadcast on ESPN, the cable sports network, to South America. "Fan will create interest like Caniggia did," Marr said recently. "We won't lose money on him".

"Fan is a big, big player," added Bonetti, "and already we have new fans because of him. That has to be a good thing for the club."

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