The Beijing Bombers have bounced back from the brink during COVID-19 and in doing so have rejuvenated their club with a 72% increase in active participants!
We’re all aware of the devastating affects that COVID-19 has placed on football within the region, with the cancellation of this year’s Asian Championships, club’s being unable to train or tour, whilst many clubs’ playing stocks have been significantly impacted and reduced by those who have returned home due to the pandemic.
One of AFL Asia’s smallest club’s, the Beijing Bombers, saw the writing on the wall – band together out of necessity or we may fall off the face of the AFL Asia map.
When COVID-19 first hit, the Beijing Bombers were hit hard with many expats returning back to their motherland and were left with three or four players from last year.
It was at that pivotal stage, thanks to the club’s Sales and Marketing Director, Stephen “Stevie Mac” McDonnell, that ‘every last Aussie in town started coming along for a Saturday afternoon kick at Chaoyang Park.’
“Those in their mid to late forties made their comebacks after 10-15 years of not playing for the Bombers. Every Aussie in town brought their wives, children and mates and the club has become very community orientated.” McDonnell said.
The Bombers implemented key strategies which focused on recruiting more women, local Chinese players and creating a friendly family environment; one which welcomes players of all ages, genders, cultural backgrounds and abilities.
Since such time, participation numbers have steadily increased, which has included an injection of new local players and a spread of newcomers from other countries, including France, Wales and the UK.
In fact, the hugely successful campaign driven by the Beijing Bombers faithful has produced a phenomenal 72% increase in active participants. Given the Bombers ended the 2019 season with 40 male participants, limped their way towards a mere 3-4 participants as COVID-19 hit, they’ve eventually come full circle and replenished their playing stocks, finishing the 2020 season with 69 participants, including 55 males, 10 females and 4 Auskick boys.
The Bombers celebrated their new vision and increase in numbers with their Shanghai Tigers and Guangzhou Scorpions counterparts and combined together for a weekend of football in Nanjing in September, which included an open practice game and some much-needed socializing after a strenuous year on a number of fronts.
The three clubs are aiming to close out the encouraging year of growth with another jaunt, this time to Guangzhou in December, albeit the Bombers themselves will cease training late in November as the weather falls below 5 degrees Celsius.
Upon taking up the sport for the first time this year, Thena Lee, who is a female Chinese footballer, described her introduction to the sport within the rejuvenated Beijing Bombers environment by saying;
“I got into playing footy with the Bombers because of my then-boyfriend (now husband). He’s an Aussie from Adelaide. We were looking for a new sport to play. He happened to be in the Bombers’ WeChat group and we showed up for a kick. During the first training, of course, I didn’t know what I was doing, it seemed to me that Aussie footy shares a similar mentality with basketball in terms of the teamwork and that people are looking for empty space to score a goal. (But) The sport has significantly more physical contact than basketball. Having played a bit basketball as a kid, I immediately liked the sport.”
When asked about her involvement with the game moving forward and how she would feel if she could represent China one day at a future AFLW Asian Championships, Thena added;
“It would feel awesome to play in a team of female players against different countries in Asia. It would be good to promote the popularity of the female AFL game in China and more broader in Asia, so that people are aware of this amazing sport. I hope to also play a role in this cause.”
AFL Asia are extremely proud of the Beijing Bombers and their pursuits to reinvigorate, rejuvenate and essentially resurrect their proud club in what has been a miserable year for the majority of the region!
We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the Beijing Bombers once normality returns and we would love to see the foundational success of this year’s female player recruitment drive spawn into a Chinese AFW Asian Championships representative team in the future!