Wed, 30 Sep 2020

By sportswriters Yao Youming and Li Yibo

XI'AN, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- In the central primary school of Wuguanyi, a small town of Liuba county in Shaanxi Province, 48 boys and girls play football together for almost a month during the summer vacation.

The young footballers have two training sessions and an evening training match every day. They want to enroll at universities on football scholarships, and some are even aiming to be selected at national team level, just like fellow Liuba alumni Shi Xiaomin and Zou Mengyao.

DREAMING OF BECOMING AN INTERNATIONAL

In the third-place match of the 2019 AFC U16 women's Championship, Shi and Zou both scored as China beat Australia 2-1, throwing their hometown into a frenzy.

"Shi once told me that she would score a goal in the championship, in order to give her teachers and relatives in Liuba something in return. She delivered on her promise," said Zhang Suyang, deputy headteacher of Liuba Middle School and one of the two potential internationals' first coaches.

In the 1990s, Zhang tried out for Shaanxi's youth team, but ultimately did not pursue a professional career in the sport. When Zhang graduated from college, he chose to become a teacher at Jiangwozi Middle School in Liuba.

When the town of Liuba was asked to boost its women's football squad by Shaanxi's sports bureau in 2008, Zhang, by now teaching at Liuba Middle School, decided to establish a women's football team in his school.

He sought sponsors in the small county with a population of just 40,000, and cooperated with his elder brother Zhang Suchun's Huoshaodian Town Primary School.

Under this environment, Shi and Zou took their first steps on their journey to realize their dreams.

A NEW WINDOW OF LIFE

Tang Xuesi, a coach in Wuguanyi town's central primary school, will enter China's Northwest University in September on a football scholarship.

"Compared with China's coastal counties in the east and the south, Liuba is less developed. But with the school football program, it is much easier for our teenagers to pass the college entrance exam and reach a top-level university," deputy director of Liuba's sports and education bureau Chen Jun told Xinhua.

In order to unify the teenagers' daily schedules, Liuba Middle School has placed all its footballing elites into one class. Every "football class" has around 30 players, representing male and female teams.

Tang became a student in the football class six years ago, bringing Liuba many trophies and ultimately receiving his offer from Northwest University.

As Chen explains, Liuba's strategy of developing footballers was dubbed the "1352 mode".

"One means we will continue our football classes across different grades in Liuba Middle School. Three stands for looking for some talented youngsters across our three primary schools."

"Five means that the PE teachers spend 50 percent of extracurricular activities teaching the students to play football. Finally, we host football activities in two Liuba kindergartens, in order to grow the children's interest in football."

FORTUNE FAVORS FOOTBALL FOCUS

Yingpan village was one of the poorest villages in Liuba county 10 years ago. A villager named Luo Caiqin told Xinhua that 50 of 350 around villagers worked elsewhere, while her family only earned around 20,000 yuan (2,800 U.S dollars) in a year by growing traditional Chinese medicinal materials.

In 2017, a football youth training base was constructed in Yingpan. In the deep Qinling mountain, four professional football pitches now stand among the mountains, and an apartment block can house nearly 900 people.

This facility hosted the 2020 Shaanxi youth football tournament, with thousands of players and spectators wandering the streets of Yingpan.

After considering the young players' suggestions, Luo adjusted the structure of the commodities in her store. "It's unbelievable. The most popular goods in my store are Oreos!" Luo smiled.

"I knew of one family in my village who earned 130,000 yuan (18,700 U.S dollars) in just two months last year," Luo added.

Through hosting football competitions, Liuba had an income of almost 10 million yuan (1.44 million U.S dollars) from June to September 2019.

Chen said that the income from the football industry would promote the county's school football career.

The Yingpan base will have four more football pitches in 2021, meaning it can meet the training requirements of many competitive teams.

"We'd like to make the Yingpan base a training center in west China for footballers, skiers and so on," Chen said.

"Football will become Liuba's eye-catching business card in future," the 52-year-old added.

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