Amateur team aims for great heights

Updated: 2014-07-29 06:51

By Luo Wangshu, Tan Yingzi and Ji Jin in Chongqing (China Daily)

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American football lovers turn into enthusiastic 'professionals' on field

Wu Peixuan fell in love with American football when he attended college in the United States.

"In the US, football is an awesome sport. Everybody played it at school. So did I," the 32-year-old said.

 Amateur team aims for great heights

Top: The Chongqing Dockers (left) take part in an American Football League of China match in Chongqing last year. Below: Dockers' acting coach Eric Hall (center) and his team look on during a game against the Shanghai Titans in Chongqing this year. Provided to China Daily

After a decade in the US and Canada, the Chongqing native returned home in 2011. He played other sports, including basketball and soccer. But none held the same attraction as American football did for him.

"This is a sport involving friendship, blood and trust," he said.

Wu was lucky enough to find a football team in his southwest inland hometown.

He joined the amateur football team in Chongqing in 2012 and has been fully devoted to the sport since.

The team, called the Chong-qing Dockers and established in 2012, has about 40 members, including players, coaches and managers. About 10 of them are foreigners.

Members of the team work in different industries. Their professions include university lecturers, enterprise interpreters and businesspeople. Most are members of the post-1980 generation.

All of them turn into enthusiastic football "professionals" on the field.

Wu heads a family-owned international trade and financial business and wears suits and ties most of the time.

But when he dons his football helmet, matching shoulder pads and the orange Dockers jersey, the businessman is "ready to burn" on the field.

One of Dockers managers Chen Chen said the team was initiated by a college student on QQ, a Chinese online instant messaging service.

A group of football fans got together in the summer of 2012. Most of them were inspired to join through movies or comic books that featured football.

In 2013, the Dockers won the championship of the American Football League of China, an amateur league organized by football lovers nationwide. The team's "hilarious and heartbreaking" season landed on the cover of the New Republic, a biweekly American magazine.

Sony Pictures Entertainment also expressed interest in the story and announced plans for a related film in April.

Peng Maorong, its leading scorer in the 2013 season, joined the team in August. His previous involvement in the sport was only through watching TV.

But he became interested in the sport shortly after a friend invited him to watch a game. He learned the rules and tactics from scratch during the Dockers' intensive training.

"We have two training sessions every week, and one more tactics session during the season," Peng said.

He memorizes the football terms and tactics, going through them mentally in and out of the field.

"I love the concentration and passion needed for football. It provides happiness you can never get from other activities," he said.

"We use more than 10 tactics in a game. It requires teamwork and intelligence," Peng said.

But the 25-year-old, who works in the wine industry, said he had to work hard to buy uniforms and equipment.

"Entry-level equipment costs 2,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan ($320 to $480), and the better gear costs more," player Wu Peixuan said, adding that he bought his uniform and equipment overseas for nearly 9,000 yuan.

"Some players quit because of the expense," he said.

Players attributed the success of the team to their American coach, Chris McLaurin, a former football player at the University of Michigan.

"Foreigners are very serious during training. They don't see the game as just a game, but a kind of career that really matters," Peng said.

The coaching team, including McLaurin, lays out the plans and tactics for the Dockers.

"Once the plan is done, players have to follow it strictly. They don't need our impromptu 'tactics' on the field," Peng said, adding that the systematic methodology brought the team "close to professionalism".

Wu said the foreign coaches also brought cultural understanding to the team.

"Many people see football as a dangerous game. They are afraid of hurting people or being hurt. In fact, injuries can be avoided by appropriate training. Football is not a game about violence but intelligence," Wu said.

When McLaurin returned to the US, Eric Hall became the acting coach. The 24-year-old Iowa native has played football since he was 8.

"The first time I came to watch the team, it was exciting. The game is fun, and I can make friends here," Hall said.

Hall, who lectures in a university in the city, joined the team in August.

"The players are strong and athletic guys. They are quick learners," he said.

"But they are also beginners, and I need to tell them basic rules and fundamental stuff," he said.

The difference in the sport between the US and China is that many US schools have a team and Americans start playing football from childhood, he said.

But the Dockers are unfazed. They start the new season of the amateur league this summer, and they are aiming to win the championship again.

Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.

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