In April 2012, I moved from Ludwigsburg to Shanghai to work in our MANN+HUMMEL plant in Jiading as the manager for Fuel Filtration Asia Pacific. Even though I was really excited about this opportunity given to me, I was somehow sad that I would have to give up my most favourite pastime, American Football. Football is a unique team sport and the outcome depends very much on the ability of a team to operate as a cohesive unit. Teamwork (incidentally, one of MANN+HUMMEL’s six filter values) is key to success in this Sport.
I began playing football during my college years at the University of Karlsruhe in Southern Germany. Having scored 4 touchdowns in my very first game, the football bug bit me and has become a part of me for the last 15 odd years. I have had to take three significantly long breaks from this sport. Twice due to injury and once due to a three year assignment that I took up in our subsidiary in India in 2007.
Similarly, I thought moving to Shanghai would also lead to another long break from the gridiron but I was positively taken aback as I found some information online that suggested that tackle football is played in Shanghai. Although apprehensive, I decided to visit a training session of a local team called the Shanghai Nighthawks. I was amazed at what I saw. A bunch of mainly American laowais (that’s the Chinese nick-name for foreigners in Mandarin) and some locals were actually practicing in full gear. Of course the standard was a lot lower than what I was used to in Germany but at least they were playing football. Moreover at that time it was one of three adult tackle football teams in the country (2 in Shanghai and 1 in Beijing).
After 2 months of practice, we played the first of a series of friendly games against a team that had split from the Nighthawks about 6 months before. This team, the Shanghai Warriors are to-date the arch-rivals of the Nighthawks. The first year comprised mainly of a series of friendly games between both teams which were evenly split at 3:3. A few other teams started popping up all over China and in the fall of 2013, an amateur league called the AFLC (American Football League of China) was formed. Unfortunately the Nighthawks didn’t want to play in the league so a few of us decided to play for another newly formed team called the Shanghai Titans. We didn’t make the playoffs having lost to the Warriors in the group stage. The team from Chongqing went on to lift the trophy of the inaugural AFLC season. The second season started in the fall of 2014 and as the Nighthawks joined this time around, I got to play in the league with my original Shanghai team. So far the Nighthawks haven’t lost a game and the prospect of making it to the playoffs and eventually to the championship game is very promising.
What really impressed me about football in China is the pace at which the Chinese took to this sport in a country that is not known for its team sports prowess. Our team is about 80 % Chinese and it is really amazing how fast the locals learned the techniques which are needed to play this physical game. The rules in the AFLC stipulate that only 5 foreigners are allowed on the field at a time and I think this number would reduce with time.
In my opinion, this would only help make the locals better. I really look forward to the day when semi-professional leagues would start in China (similar to those in Germany). So far there over 25 teams have been established in the country within the last 2 years so this seems to be just a matter of time.
Since MANN+HUMMEL offers a number of opportunities to work on various continents and countries, I decided to take up yet another international assignment. This next one is taking my family and me back to India. I may have to take another break from this great sport but who knows, as in 2012, I may be surprised to find a bunch of Indian fellows with some laowais dressed up in pads and helmets and trying to tackle a guy carrying a conical shaped leather ball. If this happens, I may suggest that we think about starting a league of our own in India 🙂