All Roads Lead To Shanghai

It all came down to this – one week left to define the season for the teams, and one week left to show the world what we can all achieve here.

The tour had reached its final stop, in metropolitan Shanghai. After witnessing the ancient culture of Beijing, the coastal harmony of Dalian and Qingdao, and the southern vibrancy in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, it was now time for the players, coaches, staff & media team to experience the city that I have been calling home for the past year and a half, and perhaps China’s most cosmopolitan location (not to mention the world’s largest city at 25 million residents).

Film crews worked as hard as teams

While the teams continued their routines of training, film review and meetings, our media team also continued with their routine of developing last weekend’s highlights & preparing content for the upcoming week, but with the added push of preparing some special content for the National Championship game. After my (somewhat restless) rest period, it was time for me to enter the game again and re-join the team for the week, but being in the midst of moving into our new house I also had to add on 90 minutes of travel each time each way to meet the guys at their hotel. This time, however, I was also able to play the role of tour guide as we went to visit some of the key spots in the city to develop our weekly city tour piece:

And it wasn’t only the media team that got the Shanghai experience as we followed members of the Beijing and Shanghai teams to meet the league’s apparel sponsor, Legend Sportswear, and all of their workers at the factory which produced all the player’s uniforms, the staff’s clothing & the fan’s memorabilia:

During the run up to the final weekend, we had been running an international vote to select our All-Pro teams – one team for the North (Beijing, Dalian, Qingdao) and one for the South (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai). On Friday, and after more than 500,000 online votes cast, it was time to reveal the list to the players during a special dinner presentation and award them with their new jerseys (red for North team, yellow for South team). The full list is on www.caflfootball.com

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For the games, my role shifted back towards the sidelines as I was tasked with taking photos & capturing moments of the weekend from the crowds. Moving from the furthest away from the pitch to stepping out of the way of oncoming players at the wall, it was nice to be back down in the action.

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Fist bumping players during the game

Four teams gave their farewells to us on Saturday, as league table positions #6-#3 were defined, with a 46-30 victory for Shenzhen against Dalian, and a victory for the home team; Shanghai 57-52 Guangzhou.

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Shenzhen QB Dak Britt celebrates his rushing TD

Shenzhen vs. Dalian highlights

Shanghai vs. Guangzhou highlights

The championship match had all the markings of a memorable title game – slow start, back and forth, some huge plays and game-changing moments, finished off with a last-second field goal for a come from behind victory for the Beijing Lions; winning their 6th game 35-34 and lifting the China Bowl trophy

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Beijing Lions head coach Clint Dolziel lifts China Bowl Trophy

Highlights from the game:

As per tradition, from the moment the final whistle blew (and the trophy lowered) the wheels started turning on the whole production to wrap up for the week, but this time was different – this time was for the last time, and this time the Monday morning flights were only for the US league members who had 1 night left to say goodbye to team mates, colleagues and newly found friends before heading back to their other lives. For me, the departure happened on Sunday night, as I said my goodbyes and headed home across town to prepare for Monday morning in my full-time job – as if Monday mornings weren’t hard enough, try doing it with 2 months of relentless travelling & 13-hour days stored up….sitting at that desk and chair all day on Monday never felt so satisfying.

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Final Thoughts

The final memories from the league will vary hugely depending on who you ask – whether it’s a Chinese player describing the feeling of scoring a touchdown in front of their screaming home audience, a US coach explaining their venture into the unknown with new Chinese food, or anything else in between.

For me, it will be two-fold; the first is the experience of combining the things I love (football & media production) full time while travelling around a country I hadn’t yet fully experienced – despite the tiredness and other hurdles I hit along the way, it’s always worth it to take any opportunities to do what you love.

Secondly, it will be the maintaining spirit of the whole group – when you consider 6 teams of footballers + staffs all living together and competing against each other, you would naturally expect tension and division at some point, but right up until the final day it was great to see members of different teams be supportive of each other and cheering each other on in their respective games.

No doubt that there are many new friendships that will last well beyond the jetlag, and is a testament to the group of people selected for this unique opportunity and their character in facing so many different challenges, as everyone pursued the next steps of their playing/coaching/production/management timelines.

And so concludes my last diary entry for the tour and the book closes on the season and goes back on the shelf next to the photos and the souvenirs, just waiting until the next chapter of my Chinese football journey is ready to begin…

Allan Price
Allan was the Presenter and Co-Producer of Gridiron TV for 4 years, and also spent 10 years playing football in the UK, both at university & adult level, with 107 combined games in his career (on offense, defense and special teams). Allan is now based in Shanghai and reporting on local & national football development
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