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GAME 12: Shamian Island, Guangzhou, China


I was exploring Guangzhou’s unique and tranquil Shamian Island when the peace was shattered by a magical explosion of colour and noise. Around a hundred red, white and blue shiny happy jumping beans from Shamian Island Primary School poured into the leafy squares, tossing diablos in the air and skipping about to tunes that only their ears could hear.

I spotted one of the teaching assistants and introduced myself. His name was Mr. Xiu and it just so happened he was football daft! He took me over to where some of the boys were playing and we quickly set up a 5 v 5 game in a tiny space. Within seconds, despite all the children wearing identical uniforms, everyone seemed to know which side they were on. Mr. Xiu joined in, as much for crowd control as anything else. Goal areas were chalked onto the pavings and the boys went at it full-throttle!

Both keepers had a presence about them, with players backing off and scattering when they seized the ball. Typical of their age group, all the boys just followed the ball around at a frantic pace. I tried to join in the odd time , but the second I touched the ball these little pyranas attacked me from all angles! Its difficult to say what score it was in the end as every goal was hotly disputed. I reckon it was 1-1 on clear goals scored, though those 10 super charged kids might disagree!

This game took me back to playing in the yard at my old primary school; a swarm of would-be heroes, scrapping for every ball and every pocket of space, trying to win at all costs. The absolute roots from which the love of the game grows. Marvellous! Mr. Xiu was a perfect gentleman. He told me his favourite team were AC Milan, his favourite player was Kaka and that it was God that had decided the 2005 Champions League Final, not Liverpool! Mr Xiu’s father had taught him the game and he’d been playing since he was 6 years old. It was his mission, he said, to get as many kids interested in football as possible during his time at the school. Good man. Great game!

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