Tranmere Rovers' relationship with China has gone from strength to strength in recent months following a number of successful initiatives. The Club's partnerships with Little London English School, Honder University and the Inner Mongolia Government are set to continue to grow to the benefit of all parties.
Tranmere's involvement in China began in 2016 when it entered into an arrangement with Little London English School which involved a number of people - several of them Tranmere supporters - being recruited to teach English in Hohhot on six and 12 month placements. The first group flew out last Autumn and have become an important part of the school's language programme.
This initiative was led by Tranmere fan Robbie Bigland who has joined the Club as its China Desk Manager. Robbie said: "The relationship with Little London has created some fantastic life changing opportunities for young people in Wirral and will continue to do so. "We're really grateful for the support being given by Chairman Zhou from Honder University and Little London. It's a huge, prestigious establishment with a population of 20,000 students and to be involved is a great accolade for the Club."
"The relationship with Little London has created some fantastic life changing opportunities for young people in Wirral and will continue to do so." - Robbie Bigland
The next steps in the Club's China programme came following a visit to the country by Tranmere Chairman Mark Palios and Vice-Chairman Nicola Palios in September when the relationship was extended to include the Inner Mongolian Government. Inner Mongolia is the first provincial level pilot programme in China’s football development campaign, with Hohhot the first football city in China.
"There are opportunities for people to represent the Club as English teachers and coaches in Inner Mongolia, while the local economy here will benefit from the visit of Chinese coaches."
The second phase got underway when Mark and Nicola agreed and signed a contract with Little London to invest a 45% stake in an international football school in Hohhot. Following the model of Little London, the school will operate at evenings and weekends, and will offer football training for all ages. Given that the game is not yet very developed in China, the school will focus initially on grass-roots level training, but it is intended that it will evolve into a full academy offering as the skill level rises. Tranmere will be responsible for providing the technical content of the curriculum and providing coaches for the school, with Little London providing the administrative and business functions. The football school opened on April 1st 2017 with coaches recruited by the Club delivering sessions to the youngsters.
Nicola Palios said: “Little London is the most successful language school in Inner Mongolia, with around 9,000 pupils. Given the current focus on football in China thanks to President Xi’s determination to forge China into a global force in world football, we have every confidence that we can replicate that success with the football school. The plan is to start in Hohhot, but then expand into other cities in the future as the football school gets established."
In addition to the initiatives with Little London, the Club are also in active dialogue with the government of Inner Mongolia regarding the development of football in the Province, which has been selected for a pilot project by the Chinese FA. As part of the arrangements, 45 Chinese coaches spent a fortnight in Wirral in February 2017, based at the Club's new training facility, Solar Campus. Mark Palios said: "We understand we are the only football club who has this kind of relationship with any provincial Chinese government and we are very proud of that. "China is fully committed to growing as a football nation and we are honoured to be involved. Our partnerships will deliver real benefits to the Club, to young people in Wirral and to those we are working with in China. "There are opportunities for people to represent the Club as English teachers and coaches in Inner Mongolia, while the local economy here will benefit from the visit of Chinese coaches. "We are also looking at expanding the programme to bring Chinese children over to Wirral for football holiday camps. "A few months ago we were just talking about Tranmere and China but now we're out there and we are delivering. "We are spreading the Club's name far and wide and participating in projects which bring revenue to Tranmere Rovers and will help secure the Club's long term financial stability.
"We believe we can also help to develop football in the largest nation on the planet just at the time it is turning its attention to the global game."