Kindness of strangers helps make a dream come true
As the ball hit the back of the net, for the first time in his life, Tursun Kurban jumped up from his seat in the stands and waved and cheered along with the soccer fans around him.
Li Jing, who sat next to him, snapped the happy moment and sent the picture to the 60 members of a chat group who had held a whip-round to help the 70-year-old realize his dream of watching a soccer game in a real stadium.
Tursun is from Atux city in the far western region of Xinjiang, one of China’s most underdeveloped areas.
But this poor city is rich in other ways; and its long history of soccer is one of them.
As early as 1872, a rich family sent local boys to boarding schools in Turkey and Germany and they returned with a love of football. In 1885, locals made their first football using two leather hats, stitched together and stuffed with cotton.
Local people still take immense pride from their two victories in 1927 — over the UK Kashgar Consulate and Swedish Missionaries.
Today, random street games always draw a crowd. If it happens to be a “big” game, motorcades from nearby villages inundate the temporary pitch.
Compared with his childhood memories of playing football on a barren sand pitch with bare feet, things are different today. Tursun’s feet are comfortable inside a pair of new sneakers, and he can go to one of the many green pitches in the city whenever he feels like kicking a ball. He can also watch games alongside his grandson that are being played on the other side of the world, thanks to his smartphone.
But the old man harbored one dream; to watch Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard, the autonomous region’s first professional team.
The ticket price was not a problem, at just 30 yuan (less than $5), it was affordable. The biggest obstacle was the distance — Atux is 1,500 km away from the regional capital of Urumqi.
Tursun’s wish was shared on a photographer’s WeChat account, alongside pictures of local kids playing football, and it caught the attention of Li, a sports reporter.
After a rough calculation of the traveling and hotel expenses, Li started crowdfunding. His aim was to raise 5,000 yuan to help the old man realize what Li called “an unbelievably tiny dream”.
The target was hit in just 15 days, thanks to the 60 donors.
Among those who chipped in was Yerjet, a Xinjiang Kazak soccer player who is a member of the Portuguese football club, Gondomar.
“I saw people doing the right thing and I felt inspired to follow suit,” Yerjet said.
After landing in Urumqi, Tursun said to Li: “I have been helped by people I know countless times in life, but it is my first time I have been helped by the kindness of so many strangers.”
Li said he was thrilled to have made such a difference.
“I have received a warm welcome and gracious hospitality from my Uygur friends in Xinjiang for many years, and I wanted to fulfill Tursun’s dream as a way to repay them,” Li said.
Tursun said he now wants to give back to the people who helped make his dream come true.
“I would like to invite these dear donors to my home, so they can taste the fruit I grow,” Tursun said. “Even if they cannot make it to Atux, they can still feel our hospitality, all across Xinjiang.”
Left: Tursun Kurban shows his football skill to children in his home village in Atux in the far western region of Xinjiang. Atux has a long history of playing soccer dating back to the late 19th century. Right: Tursun Kurban receives a pair of uniform of Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard, the autonomous region’s first professional team, as he arrives at Urumqi to watch the team live.