Tuesday 08 October 2013
Stoke City may not quite have the pulling power of Manchester United and Liverpool in Asia – but the Potters are putting down very worthwhile roots in China, and in particular the cosmopolitan melting pot of Shanghai.
"I asked if they would like some Stoke City coaches to come and do a summer camp. It went so well and there will be another one next summer in Shanghai at WISS"
The vast interest in the Barclays Premier League in China's largest city, with a population of 23 million, sees huge numbers of Chinese and expatriate supporters glued to televisions in sports bars such as The Big Bamboo and The Camel, or at home – following the live action at all hours of day and night.
But on an initiative of visiting squash coach Angela Smith, a former professional and Stoke fanatic, the club staged a first summer school this year with community coaches flying out from the Britannia Stadium to the Western International School of Shanghai [WISS]. Another will take place in 2014, with discussions ongoing over sending coaches out for six-month stints.
"I had a privileged life as a pro squash player, so as well as my 'day job' of squash coaching it is great to put something back into things that are important to me," said Smith, also chair of the Stoke Supporters' Council. "I was out in China doing some coaching with the Chinese men's squash team and saw a Stoke scarf hanging on a wall, belonging to one of the teachers.
"So that gave me the idea of helping set up the supporters club for China, which we have now done, and I have done similar in Bermuda and elsewhere. Then I asked if they would like some Stoke City coaches to come and do a summer camp. It went so well and there will be another one next summer in Shanghai at WISS."
"We invited about 55 kids in – from local schools, some underprivileged kids and a few of our own students – and it was perfect"
Walking in to the office of Stephen Walker, Director of Sport at WISS and on the quiet a West Ham fan, is an eye-opener. Adorning the walls are framed signed Stoke shirts, a poster celebrating the inaugural July summer coaching clinic, and, in a glass case, a football signed by the first-team and the particular pride and joy of the school’s owner on show-rounds.
"I wasn't aware of a Premier League club from England having done a summer camp before," said Walker, who has lived and worked in Shanghai for seven years. "We didn't go too ambitious, invited about 55 kids in – from local schools, some underprivileged kids and a few of our own students – and it was perfect.
"The two weeks they were here, it was Monday to Friday, 9am til 3pm. It was far too hot then to stay outside all that time, around 40 degrees, so we did skills outside early while it was cooler – dribbling, passing etc, and later some swimming for the youngsters.
"Then it all led up to competitions on the Fridays and a mini-tournament to win official Stoke merchandise and shirts, and all the kids were presented with little presents like lanyards and pens.
"The kids from this neighbourhood wouldn't necessarily have had the chance, and we had an email from a local school saying one of the kids had gone back and started a team up – that's what it was all about. We would love the coaches to come out more semi-permanently, there are a lot of emails at the moment.
"You forget the impact that the Premier League name can have in other parts of the world"
"The Supporters Club is also now up and running, there at least 15 to 16 Stoke fans I know here. One is Sam Thorley, another teacher – I think his dad used to be the kitman at Stoke. Maybe we can get a team entered into a league, or stage a tournament at the school. We host the new email here at WISS – email@example.com."
Another local Stoke supporter is Steven Chen, who started following the Potters when they were promoted to the Barclays Premier League and was attracted by the club's red-and-white stripes as well as the fans' passion.
"We meet in the city and watch all the games," Chen said in an interview for the Stoke City matchday programme. The only downside is that we are seven or eight hours ahead of UK time so it can involve very late nights or very early mornings. It's all totally worth it though and it is always great fun. Well, most of the time, if we win it is."
Chen, whose favourite current player is Peter Crouch and wishes he had seen Gordon Banks play for Stoke, says the community coaches' visit has boosted the club's presence in the city. "You can't help but see youngsters out and about proudly donning their red-and-white shirts," he said. "It's amazing."
"You can't help but see youngsters out and about proudly donning their red-and-white shirts – it's amazing"
Adrian Hurst, Stoke City's Head of Community, revealed that the club's coaches who made the trip over also enjoyed a rewarding experience. "The two club community coaches we sent over – Paul Salvatore and Adam Cookson – had a wonderful time and a great experience in Shanghai," he said.
"When you are over here we see it all the time and you forget the impact that the Premier League name can have in other parts of the world. Stoke are not as internationally well-known as some of the bigger clubs, but the recognition is starting to grow by being part of the Premier League.
"The two lads are desperate to go back to China, and we are in discussions on how we might extend the programme during 2014."