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Dalian delights in hosting duties

By ZHANG XIAOMIN in Dalian | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-07-27 09:18
Stephan El Shaarawy (L) of Shanghai Shenhua drives the ball during the opening match between Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai Shenhua at the postponed 2020 season Chinese Football Association Super League (CSL) Dalian Division in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, on July 25, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Local luminary Zhang Jiashu compares soccer's influence in Dalian to the sun-warming the hearts of the city's population and bringing cheer to their lives.

On Saturday, the "Beautiful Game" delivered more heart-warming moments when Zhang-the chairman of Dalian's soccer fan association and a member of the Chinese Football Association's executive committee-accompanied a group of 22 local representatives of COVID-19 frontline workers to watch the kickoff of the new Chinese Super League season.

They were the only spectators in the stands at the Dalian Sports Center Stadium as Guangzhou Evergrande got the long-delayed action underway with victory over Shanghai Shenhua.

The behind-closed-doors matches will continue in Dalian, as well as Suzhou in Jiangsu province, for the first phase of the CSL's return until Sept 28.

"Why Dalian? It is a result of the city's profound soccer culture, the continuously optimized facilities for soccer, and the positive environment created by soccer enthusiasts from all circles," Zhang said.

The history of Dalian's soccer culture can be traced back 120 years. Since 1949, the port city has churned out 210 Chinese internationals. According to Zhang, over 70 Dalian-born players currently play in the Chinese Super League.

The city's now-disbanded Dalian Wanda/Shide team won the domestic league title eight times from 1994 to 2004. The port city now boasts 618 amateur soccer clubs, comprising more than 2,700 teams and 400,000 players. Zhang said that a third of Dalian's seven million population are soccer fans.

Last August, Zhang was elected a member of the CFA's executive committee. Wang Zuokai, headmaster of Dalian's Dongbeilu Primary School, is also one of the 35 members.

"I think our presence on the committee is vindication for Dalian's work on soccer culture, fan activities and training for young players," said Zhang, whose fanatical commitment to his local club is not commonly seen in China.

Having once worked as a soccer journalist in Dalian, Zhang was appointed deputy general manager of the city's professional team-then called Dalian Wanda but now reformed as Dalian Pro-25 years ago.

His dedication to the Dalian cause was so strong that he once organized 1,200 fans to travel via chartered ship to cheer their team on in Tianjin.

He eventually returned to Dalian Daily and was head of the planning center of Dalian Media Group when he officially retired in March this year. Last September, the center launched an event to trace Dalian's 200 internationals while the city was applying to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

"Officials from the Asian Football Confederation and the Chinese Football Association were shocked and moved by the stories at the launch ceremony," said Zhang.

On Sept 21, Zhang hosted 70 Dalian-born internationals, including former national team coach Qi Wusheng, to Dalian Pro's home stadium to meet fans and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

Although the 60-year-old Zhang is now receiving a pension, he has no intention to stop working.

With Dalian selected as one of the hosts for the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2023 Asian Cup, Zhang is busy as a member of the preparatory committee in the city.

"Seizing the opportunity to stage such big games, Dalian's soccer sector will grow even faster," he said.

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