A few days ago I went to the Coach and Horses ground in Dronfield, Derbyshire to watch Sheffield FC, the world's oldest soccer club, host Chengdu Blades, a Chinese Super League club owned by Sheffield United (the Blades). They won 4-1.
Chengdu is a huge city (about 10 million),capital of Sichuan Province in South-West China and due to the Olympic Games the season was in fact divided into three parts and the club team took the chance to train at United's facility at Shirecliffe, and to play 4 friendly matches in the Yorkshire/Derbyshire area. You should read a unique, recently published book 'Bamboo Goalposts' by Rowan Simons, who graduated from the excellent Leeds University Chinese studies department and then went to study in Beijing. It tells the tale of how he and fellow students had to battle authorities to have an amateur fun team(restricted gatherings for more than 10) when the FA of China is only interested in the pro league and the national team programme, and quick solutions. He has lived there for 22 years.
Rowan, whose Chinese name is Lua Win, was in Tiananmen Square during the crushed student demonstrations. Since that time Rowan has become and esteemed Chinese television personality and has his own media company and a web site promoting amateur, youth and soccer. www.wanguoqunxing.com. and www.clubfootball.com.cn
The Blades are in their first season in the Super League after coming 2nd last season in the lower league where they played against teams including Tibet Huitog. The Super League is not so well known overseas with teams such as Beijing Guoan, Dalian Haichang, Shenzhen Shangqingyin..... hardly household names with international soccer fans. Foreigners such as Emmanuel Olisadeku of Poland is top scorer after 13 matches for Henan Jianyei,with other foreigners such as Brazilian Eber Luis of Tianjin Taida, Honduran Luis Alfano Ramirez of Guangzhou Yiyao and Cameroonian Aboubakar Oumasan of Changsha Jinde. The league has had major sponsor such as Pepsi-Cola and Siemens get out quick after poor attendances, lack of TV interest and reports of scandals involving some clubs and a number of referees. Famous clubs have come and gone after one or more matches in recent years such as Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid with no lasting legacy.
We have witnessed the early elimination of both the men's and women's Chinese Olympic teams in the current Olympic soccer tournament, and with TWO YEARS to go until FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa, the men's national team is ALREADY eliminated, by new boys in the Asian Confederation, the Qantas Socceroos of Australia. In fact they only won one match, 1-0 at Stadium Australia in Sydney on June 22nd, after The Aussies had already won the group and the Chinese were eliminated, scoring only 3 goals in six matches. It was Australia's first home World Cup defeat in 27 years. 'The China Daily' says their national team are like 'Eunochs in a brothel.'
The national team, GUOZO (national foot) in Chinese has many players in European leagues but has had little success even in Asian, never mind world competitions. 2002 was their only FIFA World Cup appearance, coached by Bora Milutinovic, and they lost all three first round matches.