Gen­der, age or na­tion­al­ity can’t break the bonds of ex­pat foot­ball play­ers in Bei­jing

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Li Jieyi

The end of sum­mer in Bei­jing is now known as foot­ball sea­son. On Septem­ber 16, 2018, the World International Fe­male Foot­ball League, the first ever am­a­teur fe­male soccer league in Bei­jing, was es­tab­lished.

One month ago, International Friend­ship Foot­ball Club (IFFC),

an ex­pat foot­ball league in Bei­jing run­ning since 1994, started its new sea­son. The mo­ment you put on your cleats and shorts, gen­der, na­tion­al­ity and age are no longer la­bels. On the pitch, there is only one name for you – soccer player.

Ar­rang­ing their hair into a knot or pony­tail and pulling on shin guards, the girls can­not wait to kick the ball and pass it to their team­mates. They are mem­bers of a fe­male am­a­teur soccer team, “The Blacks” for hav­ing black uni­forms, which be­longs to China Club Foot­ball (CCF) in Bei­jing.

Two weeks ago, the first match of the league kicked off. Jackie Ross from Canada has wit­nessed many changes in women’s am­a­teur soccer in Bei­jing. The 29-year old came here five years ago, and said that pre­vi­ously, there was no women’s soccer team in Bei­jing, and she had to play in a men’s team.

“Those times were so hard, and the men play­ers pushed me a lot,” Ross told Metropoli­tan.

Through the joint ef­forts of Lola Ogun­bote, the Blacks’ coach, Ross and some other girls, a fe­male team was cre­ated on March 8, 2018. Valentina De Vico, 28, is one of them. Shar­ing a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with Ross, De Vico said that “the match usu­ally won’t get that tough be­cause the men don’t want to hurt you.”

To­day they can en­joy more balanced games with other girls.

“We are in the same level. Some­times the match be­comes more un­pre­dictable, so you can have a lot of fun,” De Vico added. “The league al­lows me to meet more peo­ple out­side in dif­fer­ent ways and be a com­mu­nity with my team­mates. Now we are re­ally good friends,” said Ross.

The league may also have other posi- tive in­flu­ences. Alex Arnold, a coach who works at CCF, came to watch the train­ing.

“I feel proud of them. They might be­come many young girls’ role mod­els,” he said. From his own ex­pe­ri­ence coach­ing in Bei­jing, there are still many Chi­nese and for­eign par­ents who see soccer as a pre­dom­i­nately boy’s game. But the new league might in­spire a great deal of pos­i­tiv­ity in women’s soccer in Bei­jing.

“If this league can en­cour­age more young girls to love and play foot­ball, that will be an ideal sit­u­a­tion,” Arnold said while a group of sweaty and laugh­ing fe­male play­ers nearby prac­tic­ing their at­tack for­ma­tion.

Guys, as­sem­ble

It was a Sun­day night in Septem­ber as 13 young for­eign and Chi­nese men shared or­dered dishes and drank beer out of bot­tles at a long ta­ble in a Bei­jing bar. The mem­bers of this de­fend­ingcham­pion team got to­gether for an af­ter-match din­ner. That af­ter­noon, they won a IFFC Pre­mier League match 14-2.

For ev­ery match, each mem­ber

writes down two men’s names, one for best player, an­other for worst, and give rea­sons ac­cord­ing to their per­for­mance on the pitch. Jorge Reza, 28, from the US ex­plained the rules of this game: ev­ery­one should vote anony­mously and the Men and Don­keys will be an­nounced in pub­lic.

“You have to write down your ‘man of match’ (MOM) and ‘don­key’,” Charles Whar­ton said, pass­ing the re­porter a pen and a piece of pa­per. Whar­ton is the man­ager of For­bid­den City Foot­ball Club (FCFC), a Bei­jing­based soccer club es­tab­lished in 2004.

En­joy the game

Four days be­fore the match, 22 team mem­bers of FCFC from nine coun­tries got to­gether at Side Park in Chaoyang district at 8 pm for their train­ing. Whar­ton said they have 34 team mem­bers, and no mat­ter what they do and how busy they are, most of them go there and play foot­ball ev­ery Wed­nes­day night.

“We know each other and care about each other. That’s why we can win the cup three times in a row,” said Edu, one of the team mem­bers from France.

At the end of their din­ner, Reza ex­plained that the aim of the “MOM” game was not to find out the best or worst play­ers.

“It’s just a re­la­tion­ship-promotion game. It is OK for you to write down some in­ter­est­ing or stupid things about a mem­ber. Just get­ting to know each other and re­lax­ing,” he said.

For each sea­son, there is a Pre­mier League, a First Di­vi­sion League and a big knock-out cup tro­phy called the Thomas Marechal Cup. The FCFC has al­ready won the Thomas Marechal Cup three times in a row.

They are also the de­fend­ing cham­pion of the Pre­mier League. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial IFFC web­site, 22 teams in to­tal par­tic­i­pated in matches this sea­son. The mem­bers have dif­fer­ent mother tongues and dif­fer­ent jobs. They team up for foot­ball, a univer­sal lan­guage.

In The Soccer Tribe, a book pub­lished in 1981, au­thor Des­mond Mor­ris sees each foot­ball club as a tribe with a shar­ing cul­ture among its mem­bers. The mem­bers of a team fight for the same tar­get: Get­ting the ball in the goal. Soccer is soccer; gen­der, na­tion­al­ity and age do not mat­ter. If you are moved by it, just get on the pitch, pass the ball to your team­mates and en­joy the game.

Photo: VCG

Soccer is seen as a univer­sal lan­guage. If you are re­ally moved by it, just get on the pitch, pass the ball to your team­mates and en­joy it.

Photos: Cour­tesy of the For­bid­den City Foot­ball Club and the Blacks; VCG

From left to right: The team mem­bers of the For­bid­den City Foot­ball Club; Af­ter a friendly match, the team mem­bers of the Blacks take a group photo.

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