Tranmere Rovers’ relationship with China has gone from strength to strength in recent months following a number of successful initiatives.
The club’s partnerships with Little London English School, Honder University and the Inner Mongolia Government are set to continue to grow to the benefit of all parties.
Tranmere’s involvement in China began earlier this year when it entered into an arrangement with Little London English School which involved a number of people – several of them Tranmere supporters – being recruited to teach English in Hohhot on six and 12-month placements. The first group flew out in Autumn and have become an important part of the school’s language programme.
This initiative was led by Tranmere fan Robbie Bigland who has joined the club as its China Desk Manager.
Bigland said: “The relationship with Little London has created some fantastic life changing opportunities for young people in Wirral and will continue to do so – we’re already recruiting for more teachers to fly out in early 2017.
“We’re really grateful for the support being given by Chairman Zhou from Honder University and Little London. It’s a huge, prestigious establishment with a population of 20,000 students and to be involved is a great accolade for the club.”
The next steps in the club’s China programme came following a visit to the country by Tranmere chairman Mark Palios and vice-chairman Nicola Palios in September when the relationship was extended to include the Inner Mongolian Government. Inner Mongolia is the first provincial level pilot programme in China’s football development campaign, with Hohhot the first football city in China.
The first phase began following an agreement for the club to oversee the coaching of 3,000 children at an Inner Mongolian football training camp on the island of Hainan. Tranmere first-team coach Shaun Garnett has spent the last month in Hainan coaching the youngsters and helping develop the coaching practices of 150 Chinese coaches.
Garnett commented: “It has been a privilege to be a part of such a ground-breaking project for the club.
“The facilities and infrastructure in Hainan is top class and I’ve enjoyed working alongside the coaches here.”
Garnett has been joined in Hainan by Tom Roberts, who was recruited from the club’s college.
Bigland added: “Tom’s involvement shows that there is a real pathway for all the young people currently at the club’s college and those thinking of joining it. Tom gained his coaching qualification while in our college and is now putting everything he learnt into practice in a fantastic location.
“We’ve had some fantastic media coverage in China, showing just how involved the club is in the training camp.”
The second phase got underway when Mark and Nicola agreed and signed a contract with Little London to invest a 45% stake in an international football school in Hohhot. Following the model of Little London, the school will operate at evenings and weekends, and will offer football training for all ages. Given that the game is not yet very developed in China, the school will focus initially on grass-roots level training, but it is intended that it will evolve into a full academy offering as the skill level rises.
Tranmere will be responsible for providing the technical content of the curriculum and providing coaches for the school, with Little London providing the administrative and business functions. The club is currently recruiting ten Level 1 FA qualified coaches to provide the training for the children with the football school set to open on April 1st 2017.
Nicola Palios said: “Little London is the most successful language school in Inner Mongolia, with around 9,000 pupils. Given the current focus on football in China thanks to President Xi’s determination to forge China into a global force in world football, we have every confidence that we can replicate that success with the football school. The plan is to start in Hohhot, but then expand into other cities in the future as the football school gets established.”
In addition to the initiatives with Little London, the club are also in active dialogue with the government of Inner Mongolia regarding the development of football in the Province, which has been selected for a pilot project by the Chinese FA. As part of the arrangements, 45 Chinese coaches will spend a fortnight in Wirral in February 2017, based at the club’s new training facility, Solar Campus.
Mark Palios said: “We understand we are the only football club who has this kind of relationship with any provincial Chinese government and we are very proud of that.
“China is fully committed to growing as a football nation and we are honoured to be involved. Our partnerships will deliver real benefits to the club, to young people in Wirral and to those we are working with in China.
“There are opportunities for people to represent the club as English teachers and coaches in Inner Mongolia, while the local economy here will benefit from the visit of Chinese coaches early next year.
“That visit is hopefully just the first of many and we are also looking at expanding the programme to bring Chinese children over to Wirral for football holiday camps.
“A few months ago, we were just talking about Tranmere and China but now we’re out there and we are delivering.
“We are spreading the club’s name far and wide and participating in projects which bring revenue to Tranmere Rovers and will help secure the club’s long-term financial stability.
“We believe we can also help to develop football in the largest nation on the planet just at the time it is turning its attention to the global game.
“The Chinese New Year has always been a big event in Merseyside but next year it will take on extra significance for the club and we look forward to celebrating with some of our new friends and partners”.