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American football debut earns rave reviews from Chinese fans

Updated: 2013-11-11 08:11
By Murray Greig ( China Daily)

The Arena Football League passed its historic first test in China with flying colors on Sunday.

The AFL's East vs West All-Star clash - the first professional American football game played in the People's Republic - attracted a raucous crowd of about 6,000 to the Capital Gymnasium in Beijing.

Except for the Chinese characters on the advertisements surrounding the playing surface, the scene could easily have been mistaken for Philadelphia or Phoenix.

The sound system blared KISS and AC/DC, a bevy of beautiful cheerleaders entertained with dance routines during the breaks and the crowd was dotted with cartoon mascots and star-struck fans holding up homemade signs. Chili dogs and popcorn were the hot sellers at the concession stand.

From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, it was obvious the throng was enjoying the spectacle, cheering loudly at the appropriate times and even cutting loose with some booing over a couple of disputed calls.

For the record, the East romped to a 69-52 victory - but it was AFL China that was the real winner.

The purpose of Sunday's game - which was televised live on BTV - was to introduce the sport to Chinese fans ahead of next fall's launch of a nationwide six-team league.

Martin Judge, owner of the AFL's Philadelphia Soul and the driving force being AFL China, addressed the crowd before the kickoff, pledging "a new era" for homegrown talent.

"Our future is the young, talented crop of Chinese athletes who will see our game and fall in love with it," said Judge.

"This moment was 2 1/2 years in the making, and I've very proud to be the one bringing American football to China."

The Capital Gymnasium was transformed to accommodate the 50-yard playing surface, which was covered with artificial turf specifically manufactured in China for the event. As well, the suspended goalposts and end zone nets were also made here.

From the opening play - a 20-yard pass by West quarterback Nick Davila that was picked off by the East's Bryan Robinson, who subsequently fumbled - the non-stop action struck a chord with the spectators, most of whom had never before seen American football.

"This was my first time seeing the sport and I enjoyed the speed and intensity," said Yu Lianzi, a clincial research associate in Beijing. "The players who carry the ball forward and get hit are very brave."

Asked if she would pay to watch another game, Yu replied: "Definitely!"

Engineering student Paul Liu found the strategies intriguing

"This is not a difficult game to understand and there are good patterns on both offense and defense, like in basketball," he said. "It's fun to watch because everything happens so quickly."

For a Tianjin resident surnamed Zhang, who brought his 10-year-old son and 12-year-old nephew to the game, the AFL was a welcome alternative to soccer.

"So much scoring is good. There is always something happening that is interesting to watch. By comparison, soccer is very boring. And the boys are very impressed by the big size and speed of the players."

As if to put a stamp on how quickly the AFL won over Chinese fans, an over-zealous young man had to be escorted off the floor by security guards after he jumped the wall and tried to intercept the snap to Davila with two minutes to go.

And just like in Philadelphia or Phoenix, he got a big cheer.

 American football debut earns rave reviews from Chinese fans

West ballcarrier Cameron McGlenn is tackled by East linebacker Nui Spikes during the second quarter of Sunday's Arena Football League All-Star Game at the Capital Gymnasium in Beijing. The East romped to a 69-52 win in the first professional American football game played in China. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

(China Daily 11/11/2013 page24)

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