China and the UK: the Homes of Football, Ancient and Modern

23 October 2015. The National Football Museum for England, in Manchester, is to be greatly honoured by the visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China. I will be greeting him, as the Chief Executive of the Museum. Nervously but excitedly waiting for the President and the British Prime Minister to arrive, with just 5 minutes to go, I was given some new instructions. I was told the President did not wish the meeting to be too formal, that I should engage with the President as one football fan to another. I was of course aware that the President is a big fan of football!

Left to right: The President’s translator, Sheikh Khaldoon Al Mubarak Chairman of City Football Group, President of China Xi Jinping, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Dr Kevin Moore, CEO of the National Football Museum

When the President arrived the first thing I said to him was that the English had invented the modern game of football, Association football, or soccer, in 1863. However, I knew that the Chinese had invented the first game of football, Cuju, over 2,000 years ago! I was told afterwards that the President was very pleased to hear these words from me, as I was the first person during his State Visit to the UK to recognise this unique historic significance of football in China.

I showed the President three outstanding items from the collections of the National Football Museum. First, the original Minute Book of the English Football Association, with the first hand written laws of Association football, from 1863. Second, a ball from the very first FIFA World Cup final in 1930, when Uruguay beat Argentina 4 goals to 2.  I explained that the two teams could not agree which ball to use, as each country used a ball with a different design. The FIFA officials set a compromise, and an Argentinian ball was used in the first half. This ended  Uruguay 1 Argentina 2. When a Uruguayan ball was used in the second half, Uruguay scored 3 goals to win 4-2.  Third, I showed to the President the perfect replica of the Jules Rimet trophy made in secret by the English FA in 1966, when the original trophy was stolen, during the build up to the FIFA World Cup in England in 1966.

The President then presented to me a gift for the National Football Museum, a replica of a ball used in the ancient Chinese football game of Cuju. I now realised that it had been highly appropriate for me to recognise the importance of Cuju in my very first words to the President!  I presented to the President a gift from the Museum, a replica of the FA’s first Minute Book from 1863, which is the DNA of modern football.

The President moved on to meet Paul Dermody OBE, the Chairman of the National Football Museum, and former Manchester United player Gary Neville.  The President then gave a special National Football Museum Hall of Fame award to Sun Jihai, in recognition of the fact that he had been, to date, the most outstanding Chinese player in the English Premier League, at Manchester City.  But maybe there will be a new Chinese star in the Premier League soon. The President then had a tour of Manchester City and famously agreed to a ‘selfie’ with leading City player Sergio Aguero!

At the end of the visit I said to the President that our two countries had unique roles in the history of football, as China was the birthplace of the first game of football, Cuju, and the UK was the birthplace of the modern game of football. The President said that he would very much like to see a cultural exchange between our two countries develop through football. As a result, the National Football Museum has developed a partnership with the Linzi Football Museum, Zibo, China, which is the excellent Chinese Football Museum, with displays on the ancient game of Cuju and modern football in China.

Cultural exchange through football

23rd October 2016. Exactly one year after the President’s visit. I and a number of UK professors, who are experts on the history of football, have been invited to take part in the prestigious First World Football Culture Summit at the Linzi Football Museum in Zibo. This was the next major step in our cultural exchange through football.

The Chinese developed the first major game of football over 2,000 years ago and the English invented the modern game 150 years ago. But now football belongs to the whole world …