Ti­bet’s club coach hop­ing for a re­turn of good old days

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XU WEI in Lhasa xuwei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

From be­ing goal­keeper of the Ti­bet men’s soc­cer team to the coach of the au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s only soc­cer club, Tang Zesh­eng has wit­nessed the ups and downs of the sport’s de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion.

Tang, who is coach of Lhasa Pure­land Foot­ball Club, said the re­gional soc­cer team had a pe­riod of suc­cess in the 1980s when it twice won an in­vi­ta­tional tour­na­ment con­sist­ing of six teams from the six au­ton­o­mous re­gions or pre­fec­tures na­tion­wide.

“Those were the good old days,” Tang said of the era, adding that the team, which con­sisted of both Han Chi­nese and Ti­betan play­ers, also took part in an in­ter­na­tional in­vi­ta­tional tour­na­ment in Kath­mandu, cap­i­tal of Nepal, where they fin­ished as run­ners-up.

Tang, who is half-Chi­nese and half-Ti­betan, said the in­clu­sion of Han Chi­nese play­ers was an im­por­tant fac­tor in the team’s suc­cess at that time.

How­ever, since the China Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion be­gan al­low­ing en­ter­prises to pur­chase and man­age soc­cer clubs in the 1990s, the de­cline of Ti­betan soc­cer has been all too ev­i­dent.

The re­gion’s soc­cer team, which was spon­sored by the re­gional sport depart­ment, was dis­banded in 1995.

Tang said the lack of soc­cer play­ers and the re­gion’s poor soc­cer in­fra­struc­ture also ac­counted for the de­cline of the sport.

“We were training in in­land pro­vin­cial ar­eas, be­cause there wasn’t a stan­dard soc­cer pitch in Lhasa. There was lit­tle grass, and the balls were eas­ily punc­tured,” he re­called.

“We had a se­vere short­age of tal­ent, so when play­ers got in­jured, we had no backup. Thus, we were forced to dis­band the team,” he said.

The re­gion’s poor eco­nomic sta­tus at that time was the ma­jor rea­son for the sport’s de­cline. “Fam­i­lies could not even af­ford to buy a pair of soc­cer boots for their chil­dren,” he said.

Tang, who retired in 1987, later be­came a goal­keep­ing coach with the re­gion’s youth soc­cer team.

He then took a training course at Bei­jing Sports Univer­sity and later be­came coach of the re­gional sports school’s soc­cer team.

In the early 2000s, Tang be­came coach of Huitong Luhua Foot­ball Club, Ti­bet’s first pro­fes­sional soc­cer club.

The club, which was play­ing in China League Two, the na­tion’s third tier, was forced to play “home” games in Bei­jing, as the China Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion deemed the high al­ti­tude in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of Ti­bet, un­fit for as­so­ci­a­tion soc­cer.

The club went bank­rupt in 2007, and Tang waited for more than eight years be­fore land­ing a coach­ing job at Pure­land.

“Now we have 20 play­ers, in­clud­ing school teach­ers, sol­diers and civil ser­vants. Some­times, we can­not field 11 play­ers, and we have to find other peo­ple to play for us, as long as they have not pre­vi­ously fea­tured for other teams,” he said.

The play­ers, from coun­ties or dis­tricts across Lhasa, are aged be­tween 20 and 38.

He said soc­cer tal­ent in Ti­bet is grow­ing, but there is still not a pro­fes­sional team in the re­gion.

“In the past, we had a small soc­cer-play­ing pop­u­la­tion, but a good team. Now, it is the ex­act op­po­site,” he said, adding more in­vest­ment is needed.

Tang Zesh­eng

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