There is a bigger history to what you may know, at least always in China this is the case. While there has been a lot of articles during the last 3 years on the fast development of American football in China (Grantland, New Republic and now NPR) the actual story of how this “fast development” came to exist could be traced for over 100 years ago. While this article/blog post is just a small piece of what American football has become in China, I do hope it will be a good reference until one day we can publish a book of the whole history.
1908 The Great White Fleet at Amoy
At the moment the only proof of the 1st championship played in China is the following postcard by Walter Stiles, Machinist, Second Class, from the USS Virginia. This was a done over the The Great White Fleet Instalment 167.
The picture above shows the championship football game with the pavilion in the background. This would be one of many 1st Game-Ever-In-China. Probably the first but the lack of local talent would have to wait a few more years.
1926 The Marrow of the Nation at Shanghai
The book “Marrow of the Nation” by Andrew D. Morris picks up the brief history of American football in China. The date was November 1926, a playoff was held in Shanghai between the Shanghai American School and two Chinese teams. The Huaimei Schoo from Yangcheng, northern Jiangsu, sent their team (which was founded in 1923 by an American principal that had been a gridiron start in the States). St. John’s University was represented by the Shanghai Chinese American-Football Team, established just that fall by William Sung. In this playoff the Shanghai Chinese team soundly defeated the Shanghai Americans.
With this everyone would have assumed that the rise of American football could be possible but what I have been able to find shows me otherwise.
1940s People’s Game
While the dates have been hard to pin-point I was able to obtain this picture by the Weibo (China’s biggest microblogging site) of Nesta Lau where we can see two local teams battle it out in the grounds of what would become People’s Square. The field was used also as a race track and it was adapted for this game. Considering the markers and the numbers of referees it should be safe to assume that this was not just an ordinary game but probably a Cup or tournament.
1970s Harbin’s Ice Bowl
There are some reference hidden in Baidu about a game hosted in the city of Harbin around the 70s. At this moment I have not been able to retreat the page where I found it but I will leave this since I should be able to update this paragraph when I get back to China.
1996 The Great Wall of Tianjin
The 90s brought a “New China” with the opening of the country not only to business but more mainstream. This showcased in the best way by the Great Wall Team. From the article in HUPU the writer FDTraceur writes:
With a “New China”, the earliest development of American Football can be traced back to a group of people in the 1990s, they didn’t have actual helmets but used motorcycle helmets and added steel bars for the face-masks, the shoulder pads were homemade, and that is how the first team-legend was created: The Great Wall of Tianjin team. Able to found some history from the internet, the Great Wall team was registered as a formal club on June 18, 1996 as shown in the following link.
Some other references direct to this site: blog.sina.com.cn/wangusfootball
The pictures above do not only show how they adapted the equipment to be able to play the sport, it seems the ball is a genuine Wilson, but shows that the love for this game could be found in any place in the world.
2000s and the World Wide Web
Easier access to the internet marked a HUGE step for American Football in China. One of the first websites that was run by football enthusiasts and even today is one of my source-to-go is TDL100.
Here some of the users started posting meet-ups in big cities and based on some of the histories of one of my teammates have told me the 1st touch games were held in 2007 in any open space that they could find. Some were at the grounds of Fudan University and then moved to Fuxin Park. Nothing will be official but a group of enthusiasts that enjoyed the game.
At the same time in Beijing in 2010 Nathan Jones will start ad found the Beijing Guardians, one of the first adult tackle teams in this new era. The following adult team would be the Shanghai Nighthawks whom will start with the help of the local players from the TDL100 group and some expats that joined them every weekend.
The stage for the 1st official game in China in this new millennium would be the NFL Home Field Experience in Shanghai. Here we would have the 1st fully recorded game and probably one of the most special games I had the honor to be part of it.
新世纪第一场正式的美式橄榄球比赛，开始于上海的八万人体育场外场，当时由NFL China在上海举办了Home Field周末嘉年华活动，于是第一场全装备的美式橄榄球应运而生，这也是笔者记忆中的第一场亲自参与的美式橄榄球比赛。（这场是的时间是2011年11月27日）
This is just the 1st part of a series I will start writing related to this amazing sport, I want to thanks everyone that have been a part of my development as a player and a fan of American football for the past 5 years. The football community in China is growing at a HUGE rate but the reason for this post is just to share some light on the long history that this amazing country has with the game.
Alej CACERES #25 for the Shanghai Nighthawks
上海夜鹰球员25号 Alej CACERES