As World Cup fever reaches its pitch and the sound of vuvuzelas still rings in our ears, it’s easy to see that the love of soccer has grown at an international level. This love of soccer led Englishman Rowan Simons to develop an amateur soccer league in a country where it is illegal for more than 11 people to congregate for the purposes of a recreational sporting activity. Quite the challenge!
Simons quest is documented in the book Bamboo Goalposts (what else would you use to make the goalposts in China?). He moved to China in the late 80s as a university student and worked his way into a television/media position that would allow him to stay in the country. Using his contacts within sports promotion and media and thanks to his advanced Chinese language skills, Simons was uniquely posed to advocate for a soccer club in China. The country was rapidly growing, advancing in the world market and was beginning to open up, albeit cautiously, to outsiders and new ideas.
Simons believes whole-heartedly in the social and health benefits of amateur soccer and managed to build a playing field, clubhouses and developed a league, Club Football, which he currently manages. While all the ingredients for success are there (large sports infrastructure and a huge talent pool), there are still many logistical, financial and beauracratic challenges. Simons deftly and with humor leads his readers through the journey while shining insight on Chinese culture. And in a brave move, Simons puts the majority of the blame for the struggling development on the central government of China. Because the Chinese sports model has always been a top-down approach with government officials seeking to identify elite and directing all necessary resources to those elites. By never developing any type of “grassroots” club system or allowing the public space necessary to develop one, the government has severely handicapped the spread of the game.
The book wraps up around the time of the 2008 Olympics which Simons exploits to his fullest to influence the development of the game within China. All in all, the book offers an intriguing and unique view of Chinese society as Simons works to develop the team sport in a country where there the focus is usually on the I and not the Team.
For anyone wanting to engage in some World Cup fun, host your own pick-up game in your backyard. Feel free to build your own bamboo goalposts and take advantage of the incredible wicking properties of bamboo. Invest in bamboo socks to keep your feet fresh on the field and stock up on bamboo t shirts to beat the heat for your outdoor games!