Summer round up for China as new season looms

After a busy offseason, the 2021 summer is fast coming to an end and it’s almost time for the official leagues in China to begin.

Chinese National Football League

After an eventful 2020 that saw the Chinese National Football League, CNFL shrink to a single division for the ten teams willing to play last season, this year the CNFL is back to a 4 division format for its 9th season with a number of teams coming back after taking a one-year hiatus and a few newcomers as well.

The Nanchang Gun Cavalry and Wuhan Griffins officially switched from the collapsing City Bowl (where they were powerhouses) to the CNFL, and are joined by newcomers Shenyang Spartans, Shanghai Aurora, and Shijiazhuang Flames.  In addition, the Chongqing Dockers, the first-ever CNFL champions in 2013 and folded after 2016, have been reborn and are rejoining the league. On the downside, Covid-related travel restrictions mean that for the second consecutive year, the Taipei Predators and the trio of Hong Kong teams (the Warhawks, Cobras, and Combat Orcas) will not be playing, which means for the first time since 2016, there will be a new South Division Champion with the absence of the Warhawks, the strongest team in the South.

For the first time in 2021, the CNFL held official games during the offseason, culminating in the inaugural CNFL Spring Championship, where the Chengdu Pandaman defeated the Shenyang Spartans in the championship game 40-16. Most teams, including the Pandaman, preferred to use the competition as a way to figuratively blood their new players and it was a good chance for the new and old CNFL teams to introduce themselves the best way possible: by smashing each other for 60 minutes and then going out for hotpot after.

The 2021 CNFL Divisions are as follows:

East Division:

  • Hangzhou Smilodons
  • Shanghai Titans
  • Shanghai Street Cats
  • Shanghai Aurora

North Division:

  • Shenyang King Kong
  • Shenyang Spartans
  • Qingdao Conquerors
  • Tianjin Pirates
  • Taiyuan Troops
  • Shijiazhuang Flames

West Division:

  • Chengdu Pandaman
  • Chongqing Dockers
  • Mountain City Fury
  • Zhengzhou Steamer

South Division:

  • Foshan Tigers
  • Guangzhou Apaches
  • Nanchang Gun Cavalry
  • Wuhan Griffins

Z League readies for year 2.

Last year, a new league sprung up when the Shanghai Warriors, Shanghai Nighthawks, and the Wuhan Berserkers, three powerhouse teams with a collection of championships, formed the Z League and were joined by the newly-formed Shanghai Storm, who under the guidance of veteran coach JW Kenton, went undefeated and beat the Warriors 70-0 in the Z League’s first championship game.

This year a 5th team has been added, the Beijing Barbarians, who have departed the CNFL. The Z League’s 2nd season will begin the weekend of August 28 and 29 with the defending champion Storm taking on the Nighthawks and the Barbarians traveling to Wuhan to face the Berserkers.

City Bowl on indefinite hiatus, teams jumping ship

The 2nd oldest league in China, the City Bowl suspended all operations in 2020 and appears to be well on their way to shuttering their doors in 2021 and beyond. The City Bowl once boasted a robust number of teams and featured a promotion and relegation system, but a number of teams have begun to search for a new home elsewhere. The 2019 champions Nanchang Gun Cavalry and the 2018 runner up Wuhan Griffins have found landing spots in the CNFL while a number of other teams have formed the North-South League.

Last weekend’s games:

The CNFL officially kicked off on July 31st with the Zhengzhou Steamer hosting the Mountain City Fury. It’s been a difficult few weeks for the city of Zhengzhou, as Henan Province in Central China was recently ravaged by floods and Zhengzhou, in particular, saw an entire year’s worth of rain in less than three weeks. However, the game was been officially confirmed and took place as originally scheduled. Zhengzhou would go on to win 21-0 in a game that was called at half, as uncertainty around the city of Zhengzhou releasing new Covid-related policies the day of the game.

Also impacted by new Covid policies was the Haikou-Shenzhen game. After being delayed for several weeks, the South China Bowl was scheduled to continue when the Haikou Cruisers was set to host the Shenzhen Buffalo on August 1st, but the Haikou Tourism Board recently re-suspended large gatherings and as a result, the game was canceled.
Allen Hu is a Chinese-American who grew up playing American Football in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. He primarily spends his time in both the United States and China