According to FIFA, the ancient Chinese ball game Cuju (蹴鞠) is the earliest known form of football, while modern football as we know it originated in the United Kingdom.
In Xiamen, the history of modern football can be traced back to February 1898 when an English missionary set up a school -- Ying Wa School -- on Gulangyu, where a football team called “Yinghua” was soon established. Football then started expanding across China from Gulangyu, making the island one of the popularizing elements of football in China.
The People's Stadium on Gulangyu was built on October 14, 1956. It was built on an old tennis court called Fan Zai Qiu Pu (番仔球埔). The Chinese Football Association has formally recognized the People’s Stadium of Gulangyu as the earliest documented official football pitch in modern China.
One of the earliest documented records of Chinese playing football was found in the 1990s in a book written by an American scholar that included a report written by a teacher from Ying Wa School. The report said, “I couldn’t make a conclusion if these children were top cricketers or footballers, but I did believe they obtained endless joy by playing these sports, especially playing football.”
In Ying Wa School, each class had its own football team, and the school’s teams were named the Tigers, Leopards, Lions and Elephants. The football teams received regular training each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Yinghua Football Team members could practice their skills anywhere on Gulangyu except a place called Fan Zai Qiu Pu (番仔球埔), which was used exclusively by foreign residents on Gulangyu Island until 1941.
The People's Stadium on Gulangyu was built on 14th October, 1956. It was built on an old tennis court called Fan Zai Qiu Pu (番仔球埔).
Around the same time that the Ying Wa School was established, Americans occupants of Gulangyu forcibly annexed a small rectangle of land and cultivated it into a football pitch but would not allow Chinese people to play football there.
According to literature and history expert Mr. He Bingzhong, an old alumnus of Xiamen No. 2 Middle School, whose predecessor studied at the Ying Wa School, has a photo of Chinese students standing with foreigners. The photo’s caption reads, “Ying Wa School students playing football in Fan Zai Qiu Pu for the first time in 1941.” According to his research, this match was made possible only because the foreign footballers couldn’t find enough players due to the invasion of the Japanese, who wanted to take full control of Gulangyu, forcing many people from other western countries to retreat from the island.
Thus, we know that Ying Wa School students played football in Fan Zai Qiu Pu for the first time in 1941.
The football pitch was turned into a baseball field during the Japanese occupation of Gulangyu.
Ying Wa School students played football in Fan Zai Qiu Pu for the first time in 1941
The development of football on Gulangyu was fraught with humiliation for the Chinese people. But foreign forces nonetheless did lay the roots for this worldwide sport in Xiamen and Fujian Province starting on Gulangyu, and since 2007 Gulangyu has served as the only training base for the national beach football team.
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