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In a league of their own

ONE of Asia's best amateur soccer leagues is a self-described "expat drinking team with a football problem," and Shanghai Shooters say success means having as much fun on the pitch as off, reports Sam Riley.

Every week footballing pride goes on the line when competitors in the Shanghai International Football League battle it out in what is now one of Asia's best amateur soccer leagues.

On the grassy expanses of the Tianma Country Club in suburban Songjiang District, some of the 20 teams that make up the league take part in 11-a-side games using full FIFA rules.

With players from all over the world, including teams representing German, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese nationalities, the 10-year-old league showcases a range of football styles. There are South Koreans, Aussies and Brits, of course.

There is the speed and dash of the Japanese players in "Shanghai Japan FC" and the technically correct play of the league's first all-Chinese team, "U-Team FC."

"Among the amateur soccer scene in Asia we are among the better leagues, especially the top three or four teams in the SIFL. They can compete well in Asia," says SIFL President Daniel Berger.

The Shanghai Shooters AFC is the most successful of Shanghai's football sides in Asia. The team that boasts on its Website to have as much fun off the field as success on it has won an impressive collection of Asian football silverware.

The self-described "expat drinking team with a football problem" has won its own SIFL Premier League seven times in the last eight years. But in Asia the team has won three times the tough Manila Nomad's 6's and the Bangkok 11's in 2004. The players have also taken on the Mongolian national team in front of 4,500 spectators as part of the team's preparations for the World Cup.

The Shooter's manager, Dane Klaus Borregaard, says success is built on fun.

"We succeed because we take it seriously on the pitch and have fun off it as well," he says.

Borregaard has played for the Shooters for almost eight years and when he started there were fewer teams because there were not as many foreigners.

"So it was really a good way to get a lot of friends instantly when you arrived, and every weekend we have 12 or 15 players going out and partying. We always say if you cannot win off the pitch you won't be successful on it," Borregaard says.

When it was founded in 1998, the league was predominately British but it has evolved to become much more international.

As players come from quite a few countries, the league style has evolved to match its international makeup.

"We used to play very much like a typical British team, with a 4-4-2 configuration and lots of long balls, but over the last five years we have developed into an international league and we play a lot more of a passing game," says the manager.

Despite Shanghai teams' success in Asia and good matches at home, the global game had modest beginnings in the expat community.

Expat football started from weekly indoor "pick-up" games on Saturdays. It wasn't until 1994 that a group of expats decided to organize competitive monthly tournaments, and this was the forerunner to the current league established one year later.

Originally games were 9-a-side on half fields with no offside, with the first competition consisting of eight teams.

In the 1996-97 season the SIFL Cup competition was introduced and an opening and closing tournament to the season were added.

It wasn't until 2000 when the league introduced "real football" with 11-a-side and offside that things really took off, says President Berger.

The quality of football improved dramatically, with Shanghai teams competing with success in Asia in the following years.

The SIFL also introduced its own league cup, the Hebiguchi Cup.

While the league plays some form of football all year round, the season runs from September to June each year and attracts more than 400 regular players.

"When you are looking at supporters and other less active players, there are more than 500 people involved in the league and it is quite a platform for a vibrant little community," he says.

"And in terms of setting standards for professionally organized amateur football, I think the SIFL is comparable to the league in Hong Kong and is one of the best in amateur football leagues in Asia," Berger says.

There are two divisions, Premier and First Division, two sides assigned to the first division and another two promoted every year.

There is also a fully developed sanctions and suspensions system for foul play, with fines for yellow and red cards going toward a local charity. The league's disciplinary committee can also suspend players for serious incidents and has handed down penalties exceeding full-season suspensions.

In an indication of the rapidly improving standard of football in Shanghai, the previously dominant Shooters have found it much tougher this season.

Previously it was common for the Shooters to rack up six, seven sometimes 10 goals against its hapless opponents, according to Borregaard.

But this year, despite occupying their normal top spot in the league, they have lost three games, as many as they have lost over the past five years or so.

"I put this down to a couple of the guys who have carried the team getting older, but the league is also getting better and a lot more competitive as well. So it is definitely a credit to the other teams because they have definitely lifted," he says.

Teams are constantly on the lookout for players. Anyone who wants more information can visit the league's Website at


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