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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 Amateur team aims for great heights

The Chongqing Dockers (left) take part in an American Football League of China match in Chongqing last year. Provided to China Daily

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.

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.

Games gain ground in China

As the most popular and commercially successful professional sport in North America, American football is also making strides in China but still trails in grassroots popularity and public recognition.

Since first appearing in China in the early 2000s, the sport has enjoyed loyal support from its 3 million fans in the country.

But a lack of understanding of its complicated rules, as well as expensive outfits and equipment, has hampered its progress in China.

Without a nationwide professional league, the amateur American Football League of China became the sport's top-level competition in the country when its first official season kicked off in July 2013.

The league boasts eight teams from major cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing.

A less physical version of the game, flag football, in which defenders are not allowed to stop offenders by tackles or clashes, was introduced to Chinese colleges in 2003.

It has been played at more than 80 Chinese universities.

Still, the game remains in its infancy in China without being included in the country's State-run sports administration system.

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.

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