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April 27, 2021

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The tireless ‘godmother’ behind the birth of women’s football

AFTER China’s national women’s team made it to the Tokyo Olympics, winning 4-3 on aggregate following a 2-2 tie with South Korea, striker Tang Jiali was invited to speak on a video chat with teenage players from the Jinshajiang Road Primary School in Shanghai.

“It is a tradition to give our students the chance to talk to their idols and be inspired by them. I feel that they have become more passionate in training after talking with their ‘big sisters,’” said school coach Qian Hui.

Qian, 52, is known as the “godmother of women’s football in China” — she has trained 21 national team members so far. In addition to Tang, her team­mates Zhang Xin and Fang Jie were also inspired by Qian to get interested in football in their childhood.

Retired as a professional footballer in Henan Province in 1993, Qian started coaching at Jinshajiang Road Primary School, where she set up the first foot­ball team for girls.

Qian only recruited eight girls at first. “Many parents were not willing to allow their children to learn football at that time, because they thought there was no prospect for professional football in China,” she said.

Zhang Ying, another former national team player who was among Qian’s early students, recalled the tough training en­vironment. “We trained in a poor field surrounded by a cinder track with small stones on it,” she said.

In Zhang’s view, Qian not only acted as a strict coach, but also a beloved mother. “Coach Qian set high standards for us, but the foundation she laid for us ben­efited me during my whole career,” she said. “On the other hand, she took very good care of all the young girls. We did not have dormitories, so she took us to small hotels for baths and combed our hair.”

An insightful coach, Qian cares about her students’ future after they graduate and does not want to lose any girl with footballing potential. Luckily, her hus­band Zhang Xiang, also a senior football coach, supported her and volunteered to teach students at middle and high school stages.

However, finding a middle school will­ing to accept the football team became a problem facing the couple. The private Meilong Middle School offered admis­sion to the girls, but the problem was not completely solved.

Many girls’ families could not afford the high tuition fees of a private school and thus chose to quit the team. Qian knew that the girls truly loved football, as she was told they reviewed video re­cordings from their previous games at home.

Qian did not give up, contacting local education authorities and finally per­suaded the school to cut fees for the football team. She telephoned those families who were looking for a new school and reunited the team.

After nearly three decades of hard work, the training base established by Qian and Zhang now extends to five schools in Shanghai’s Putuo District. Nowadays, Qian and her coaching team have expanded their football activities to kindergartens.

What pleases Qian is that young par­ents have very different views from the older generation. “They cheer for their children when watching them play games, and regard football as one of the sports worthy of their children’s partici­pation,” said Qian.

“This gave me a lot of confidence, mak­ing me believe our football career will have a brighter future,” Qian added.


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