URUMQI China (Xinhua) --
By day they work as a vegetable vendor in the
bazaar, a herder on horseback, or even a dance director in a
theater in the remote town of Tacheng. But every day when the
clock strikes 8pm, this motley crew exchange their work clothes
for their blue football outfits, and head to the pitch.
In the eyes of many
people in this undeveloped border town in northwest China’s
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Tacheng United FC is as
famous as Manchester United.
bellies, amateur skills, and the fact that they are going
nowhere near the 2018 World Cup, the little team is dreaming big
- of founding a football club as great as Manchester United.
Team captain Bao
Yin, 37, works as a mail clerk in a local hospital. To him,
football is more than a hobby. It saved him from the darkest
time of his life.
Bao was orphaned in
1993 when his parents succumbed to disease, so the 12-year-old
boy had to move out of town to live with his uncle in the
In his new home he
was sad and weak, so his uncle suggested he start playing
football. Once on the field, Bao made new friends and soon
became happy again.
Next year was his
first experience of watching a FIFA World Cup, and he looked on
with awe and disappointment when Italian football star Roberto
Baggio missed the decisive penalty in the final shoot-out
passion, around 50 keen footballers were drawn to form a team.
While Tacheng United is yet to win any accolades in their
five-year history, they are well-known in the town for their
charity work. They play the beautiful game, but they also want
to make their community beautiful.
They help create
playing fields for local students and organize exhibition games
for disabled children. Notably, in an exhibition game this
month, some hearing-impaired children used sign language to
cheer for them.
community is always important to the team,” Bao said.
Diao Jiankai, a
teacher from a local special education school, was quick to
praise the team’s community outreach efforts. “On the field they
are not as good as Manchester United, but off the field they
have contributed to their neighborhood no less than the Red
Devils. They have become the pride of the town.”
But the team aims
much higher than that. They want to develop this local amateur
team into a professional football club so as to help promote the
development of the sport in Xinjiang.
considerable popularity in Xinjiang. Local authorities estimate
that about 100,000 youngsters in the region play football on a
regular basis. Many of them are happy to play in the alleys or
on the dusty ground with dustbins for goalposts, a similar scene
to street football in Brazil.
of the sport in the region is impeded by the underdeveloped
local economy. Most top Chinese football clubs are based in the
developed coastal provinces in east and south China. Many
talented players in Xinjiang lack professional training and a
platform to prove themselves.
Bao said that their
planned football club will provide local young footballers with
professional training facilities. “Local children have enough
passion for the sport. All they need is some proper coaching.”
To form a club, the
team will select the best players. Some are said to be preparing
for coaching and refereeing qualifications.
They are ambitious,
but they must cope with many challenges. Deep-pocketed sponsors
are in short supply in this underdeveloped town, and finding
enough professional personnel to manage the different
departments of the club is also proving difficult.
The local government
has called for support for local teams in the fields of
scheduling, administration and groundskeeping.
“If we don’t try, we
will never win,” said Guo Jiehua, a founding member of the team.
Bao is keen to
emphasize that some of today’s illustrious names came from
rather more humble beginnings.
“140 years ago, a
group of British railway workers founded a team called Newton
Heath LYR Football Club. At that time, who would have thought
that it would become the famous Manchester United? We sow the
seeds of hope here. Maybe the next Chinese football star will
come from Tacheng United.”
The team is the
epitome of the town, according to Bao. With a population of
170,000, Tacheng is a melting pot of 25 ethnic groups.
“The starting 11 are
from six ethnic groups—Han, Uyghur, Kazakh, Daur, Mongolian and
Hui,” said Bao, who is a Daur, “This is true Tacheng style.”
On the field,
players may shout tactics in Kazakh, while off the field they
usually speak Chinese.
“Football is our
common language,” said Bao.
Before forming this
team, Bao loved playing matches with local amateur teams at
weekends. But he was quite concerned by the fact that every team
was comprised of players almost from the same ethnic group.
What bothered Bao
most was that sometimes a victory would be regarded as proof of
one ethnic group being superior to another. “A game is a game,
it has nothing to do with ethnicity.”
“This is not Tacheng
style,” Bao said, “I grew up playing football with kids from
different ethnic groups. I think Tacheng should have a football
team like that.”
So it was that he
founded a new team along with 16 football fans in 2013. They
called it “Tacheng Multi-ethnic Youth United”, or “Tacheng
With an average age
of 30, the players come from all walks of life, with the team
containing doctors, police officers, porters, civil servants,
herders, teachers, and market vendors.
Bringing all these
people together is never easy. Different educational
backgrounds, work experiences and folk customs have always given
rise to misunderstandings or even conflicts. Unlike professional
players who usually settle their disputes in the locker room,
Tacheng’s differences usually spill over onto the pitch.
striker Bayan Dagla used to argue with other players so much
that Bao had thought about dismissing him.
“I used to be a
professional player so I know better how to play. So I was too
impatient with others,” Bayan admitted.
In the end, it was
the recipient of Bayan’s ire who convinced Bao to let the
Mongolian stay. Bayan also learned to moderate his temper.
In the process of
learning to get along with each other they have created
chemistry out of conflicts. “Some players have improved a lot.
Now we have a more stable squad,” said Bao.
Off the field, the
diversified team is like a family. It has become a tradition to
go to teammates’ homes to enjoy various ethnic specialties after
playing a game. They hold parties to celebrate the Spring
Festival, Obo Festival, Corban Festival and other important
ethnic festivals and holidays.
team is like a dream come true for me,” said Bao, “We have
devoted all we had gained from the sport to our team—love,
teamwork, endeavor, tolerance and sharing.”