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China Daily Website

Field of dreams

Updated: 2013-10-27 08:11
By Qiu Bo ( China Daily)

Field of dreams

He Yu

It was November 2010, and He was one of five fans who didn't know each other but had connected on a soccer website and arranged to go together to see United play Wigan Athletic.

"When I was passing by the clubhouse, I felt like I was on sacred ground."

He says he was so excited he almost got lost in the huge crowd.

The result was perfect. United won 2-0, but for He, the victory was only one of the good things to come from that unforgettable day. His future girlfriend was one of the five fans.

He later saw a job advertisement from the UK sports media company Perform, seeking a Mandarin-speaking soccer commentator.

"It was amazing when I saw the ad, but then I thought it might be a fraud," he recalls.

He says he didn't believe that the UK media enterprise needed Chinese staff members.

But British media were beginning to understand China's huge sports market potential.

According to an investigation by Kantar, one of the world's leading market research companies, there were 105 million Manchester United fans in China in 2012. That figure is slightly more than the combined populations of the UK and Poland.

The emerging Chinese market had also been noticed by Spanish soccer insiders. In 2011, Marca, Spain's major sports media company, reported that there were 60 million fans in China who watched the Spanish Primer League on TV or the Internet. The SPL's match scheduling has even been adjusted to cater to Asians' work and leisure habits.

He applied for the job with Perform but found the process more challenging than he'd expected.

He felt nervous yet excited during the interview.

"I used to criticize commentators, but I would never do that again," he says.

He says it was difficult to comment on a match while sitting alone in a room watching a TV screen.

He says every minute he waited at home for the result of the interview was torture, but he got the position. In March 2012, He began his career as a professional commentator.

"I was paid 80 pounds ($129) a match," he says.

After he took the part-time job, he put all his time and energy into it.

"I watched videos of games constantly, preparing background information, memorizing all the names and records."

However, the work dried up in the early summer, once the soccer season had ended. And it didn't kick off for him the following season.

"I don't know what had happened to the company, but I felt that I had lost my way."

After a demoralizing period, He suddenly received an invitation e-mail from Talksport, a major British sports radio network.

"Incredibly, they wanted to offer me a job," He says.

Later, he realized the invitation had come from his former boss at Perform, Zheng Guidong.

"He was very special and so passionate," Zheng says.

"He was the first person we wanted to use after we employed him at Perform."

Zheng tells China Daily Talksport wanted to get into the Chinese market and has about a dozen people on his China team.

This summer, Talksport sponsored He's work visa. He was the only one on Zheng's team to be offered that support. Though it was not easy to get the visa, Zheng wanted to keep the talented He.

"He deserved it," Zheng says.

His new life has prompted He to give up some bad habits. Now, to protect his throat he has given up smoking, alcohol and spicy food, and he exercises more.

He has also matured in the job. He says the situation on the pitch changes so quickly that he has learned how to stay calm and concentrate.

"Sometimes there could be two goals in five minutes," he says.

He recalls he once missed a quick second goal because he let himself relax after the first goal.

"I don't want to make a mistake like that again."

He believes his career is worth dedicating his life to.

"Life is a marvelous journey and soccer will be my best companion," He says.

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