Angela Smith: Strengthening Sino-British friendship through football

By Wu Yindan (People's Daily Online) 10:21, November 02, 2022


When people walk into the Stoke-on-Trent Town Hall, the first thing they see is probably Stoke’s Sporting Hall of Fame. Angela Smith, a pioneer of female professional squash who led the British team to victory in the world women's squash championship in 1979, was the first woman to be inducted into that Hall of Fame.

Smith deeply feels that her mission as a professional athlete is not only to win championships, but also to get more people to enjoy sports, as sports can give people healthy lifestyles and enhance international exchanges.

After her retirement, Smith joined Stoke City Football Club in her hometown and became the chair of the Stoke City FC Supporters Council. In 2012, the club announced that its first overseas football academy had been set up in Shanghai. Smith helped open a shining new chapter in Chinese sports, setting an example as a strong promoter of Sino-British football exchanges and pushing forward the Sino-British friendship.

Almost a century of friendship with China

People’s Daily Online: As a traditional English football club, why did the Stoke City choose Shanghai as the first city to establish its overseas football academy?

Angela Smith: The relationship of the Stoke City and China can be traced back to 1933. Stoke City has a deep relationship with China because of the legendary player Frank Soo. Every Stoke supporter, particularly in China and Asia, knows about Frank Soo. During WWII he played internationals for England and played for Stoke for many years. He was the first player of Chinese origin to play in the English Football League, and the first player of an ethnic minority background to represent England, though in unofficial wartime matches. Since the reform and opening up, China has made great efforts to develop sports, and has begun to shine brilliantly in international events. In 2008, China presented a splendid Olympic Games to the world. As a traditional sport, football has a broad mass base. Therefore, we chose Shanghai as the first stop of our overseas football academy.

People’s Daily Online: Do you remember your impression of Shanghai the first time you went there with your coaches? Were there any people or things that particularly impressed you?

Angela Smith: It has been 10 years. When I first went to Shanghai, with the coaches, we got off the plane after a long journey of 17 hours, and we went straight to watch our first football match in China. And the first match we went to see was Shanghai Shenhua. We love Shanghai Shenhua. It was a really wonderful experience and I just loved my time in China and I hope it continues for many, many more years. I was very impressed by the Chinese food and the professional ethics of the Chinese people. I like a wide variety of Chinese food, but what shocked me more was the seriousness of the Chinese people in their work. People always leave their jobs when their work is really finished. This kind of professionalism makes me feel really impressive.

Angela Smith

Football culture inspires people for generations

People’s Daily Online: We know that after the overseas football academy was established, many Chinese teenagers began training (both in Shanghai and Stoke-on-Trent) during normal or holiday periods, which also cultivated young talents for Chinese football. What kind of collaboration do we have specifically?

Angela Smith: In 2016, 68 coaches from across China arrived in the City to start a 12-week football coaching programme delivered by Staffordshire University and Stoke City FC. The coaches learned all aspects delivered by the university and the football club, including lessons in coaching, physiology, psychology, nutrition as well as practical classes in using GPS technology to monitor player work rates. They also undertook several coaching qualifications during their stay. In my opinion, apart from the young students, the exchanges and collaboration between coaches are particularly important and positive, signifying the sports exchanges between China and the UK could be long-term and sustainable, and such spirit should be passed down through generations.

People’s Daily Online: As someone who has seen it up close in the past decade, how do you view the development of China's sports in recent years?

Angela Smith: What made me most happy was that China had not only performed well in both the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, but also over the years, I was able to witness the great progress of China's sports industry with delight, especially amongst smart and hard-working young people who have extremely high physical and psychological capacities. It was precisely because of such great progress, that I would like to continue to participate in other projects dedicated to helping Chinese young football players to improve their quality and pay attention to the Chinese youth development in sports.

Angela Smith

Bright prospects for Sino-British sports exchanges

People’s Daily Online: In the past 50 years, China and the UK have had many exchanges in the sports industry. What do you think of this kind of exchange and what are your expectations for the future?

Angela Smith: I think the duration of this partnership, this relationship, attests to its success. I am proud of myself and also the Stoke City. Younger people now like different sports than when I was young. It used to be football, cricket, and tennis. Now there are so many more sports that you can do. I think the collaboration will get bigger and become better. I hope I will be around for a long time to see it blossom and flourish.

People’s Daily Online: As you have mentioned, the spirit of sport will always guide generations of young people, and you have always encouraged them to choose their favorite sports and find a better self. What would you like to say to Chinese young sports enthusiasts?

Angela Smith: No matter in the past collaboration with China in physical education, or in other world-wide sports exchanges I participated in, I will always hope that people will not just play sport to become good at it, but to be healthy and to enjoy it. In my opinion, health issues impose a huge challenge to our world. Therefore, when people do more exercise and go out of their houses, life will become healthier. I hope to pass on this concept of healthy life to more people. I hope everyone can have a strong physique.

(Web editor: Hongyu, Wu Chengliang)


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