Bamboo Goalposts

One Man’s Quest to Teach the People’s Republic of China to Love Football

Rowan Simons, 2009, Pan Macmillan

Rowan Simons is a jack of all media trades who spend most of his life in China working at the Beijing TV station to bring news from the Western world to China as well as consulting Western companies with their media investments in the country with the biggest population in the world. His enthusiasm for soccer and the lack of infrastructure for the game in the fast growing communist society send him on a journey to bring soccer to China which finally ended with writing this book.
The jacket text promised a book from the man who teached soccer to China, so I was very excited when I got the book, because I thought, I would find it cover the state of soccer in one of the countries which is usually not in the headlines of soccer magazines, except next to Dubai, Katar or the US when ageing stars from Europe want to earn some easy money before the end of their career. Unfortunately the book couldn’t keep up with the high expectations.
What you get to read is a biography of Rowan Simons, who is a big soccer fan and lives in China. That means more than the first half of the book is hardly talking about soccer at all but his time as an exchange student in China. It is interesting to read, to understand better how Chinese people think or act and what challenges westerners have to adapt to the culture but it is not interesting from a soccer standpoint. When soccer slowly sneaks into the story, it comes as part of his TV job, when he is starting to report about European soccer games in Chinese TV and because he tries to establish a business around leasing soccer fields for amateur games. And trying is all that happens. The attempt to get the Chinese people interested in amateur soccer similar to traditional European countries fails and despite all efforts there seems to be no  change of policy of the sports officials to give the game more attention in the Communist Party’s plans for the future. It even seems that despite Rowan speaks the language and should have the best possible insights, for a westerner, how China as a society works, he never really gets any insights, why soccer is not given more attention from the people in charge. His explanations stay stereotypical and his contacts seem either not to tell him any details or don’t have them themselves. Maybe it has to do with the fact that he himself doesn’t offer any strong arguments why the Chinese would need to copy that sport infrastructure from the West, what benefits they could get from it. Furthermore hardly any Chinese people can express their view on soccer in the book itself. He has help from some people to make his dream come true but it is always his dream or of his and some other foreigners. That China might have other sports or activities to educate children or get them exercise, does not really occur to him. So it seems that the typical “because we have it in the west and therefore you must have it, too” happens here all over again, ignoring the cultural traditions of the East, which is often the issue in the communication with people from Asia.
Therefore the book is a pretty hard and tiresome to read. Yes, somewhere in between there is a short overview of soccer history in China, there is some short notes about the current league system and why all the investment of western companies failed but none of the information are exclusive or result of thorough research. Most of it you could probably find in newspaper articles all over the world, as well.
Therefore the book is a missed opportunity and I would not recommend to read the book, except you are interested in the “life of a western journalist and soccer fanatic in China” story in general.

Biography: 3/3
History: 1/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3


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