Beijing women's football team has been top-ranked in China since it was established in 1985. The team has twice won the gold medal at the National Games of China, and the team has twice won the championship of the top-level Chinese women's league. Thirty of the team's players have been members of the national squad.
In November 2016, Beijing Enterprises Group Co., Ltd. (one of Beijing's largest State-owned enterprises) announced it planned to establish BG Phoenix Football Club, and pattern the team on Beijing women's football team.
BG Phoenix has hired a professional team to deal with management, marketing and the transfer of players. The club plans to sign some top foreign players. The club will establish both an international football school and a training base for young players.
BG Phoenix has five coaches and a 25-member squad, including two players from Chinese Taipei. The club also has three groups of players under age 18.
As the team's head coach, Liu Ying, a former member of the national squad, said the establishment of the club will definitely benefit the team's development.
China's women's football team won the silver medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, and it finished second at the Women's World Cup in 1999. The members of the national squad, including Liu, who competed between 1990 and 2005, were called "steel roses."
Liu said every football player dreams of competing in the World Cup and Olympic Games. She feels satisfied with her playing career.
Liu retired in 2005. Since then, she coached the Beijing U-18 women's team for eight years. Most recently, she has been the head coach of Beijing women's team.
Due to the lack of sponsorship, the team couldn't offer good salaries to the players. Some star players joined other teams in 2015, and it was hard for Beijing to find qualified young players. In 2016, Beijing finished sixth among eight teams in the league.
"Some teams completed their transformation into professional clubs two years ago. They have obtained sponsorships and they have top squads. Thus, it is significant that BG Phoenix was established. Although we still don't have a strong squad in 2017, I believe a highly competitive league will push our players to spare no effort during every match. The players will have higher incomes than before as long as they perform well," Liu says.
BG Phoenix will compete in the women's super league and the Tianjin National Games this year. The team has been preparing since January.
"It is the club's first year. We will do our best in all matches, and we will seek steady improvements through the matches. As a coach, I still have much to learn. I will keep improving my professional competence," Liu says.
When Liu and the Chinese team competed for the World Cup in 1999, Gu Yasha, now a member of both BG Phoenix and the national squad, started learning to play football.
"Back then, the Chinese women's team was very strong, and many players were popular throughout the country. But I was not much interested in the game until my PE (physical education) teacher in primary school asked me to join the school's football team, when I was 10. Once I got involved, I enjoyed it. Now, playing football still makes me happy," Gu says.
Two years later, to receive more professional training, she left her hometown, Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province. She attended Chaoyang District's Sports School, in Beijing, and in 2005 she joined Beijing women's team.
Given her good performance, Gu, then 17, was named to China's Olympic squad in 2008. "I didn't have much pressure at that time, and it felt amazing that I was able to score a goal, on home soil. I'll always remember that moment," Gu says.
She also competed in the Women's World Cup in 2015. Last year, Gu became the only member of the Rio Olympic squad who had competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
"Compared with my first Olympics, I knew I had to make a bigger contribution and help the team go further in Rio. I was happy that I scored a goal again for the team," says Gu.
Gu is now in the second year of her master's program. She is working toward a master's degree in sports education from Beijing Normal University. She hopes she can play football for several more years. She also hopes to help promote women's football education after she obtains her degree.
Zhang Yue, goalkeeper of BG Phoenix, was also a member of China's Olympic squad in 2016. She said competing in the Olympic qualifiers was an unforgettable experience.
"Because we failed to qualify for the London Olympics, and because our rivals performed better in international events, many people thought it would be hard for our team to win the qualifiers. However, we made it with our concerted efforts. I felt proud of the team," Zhang says.
Gu and Zhang hope they will help BG Phoenix achieve good results in 2017.
"We hope we will perform well in the women's super league. We expect that more fans … will come to watch our games at the stadium. We will design the images of the club and players. We hope we will blaze a trail in the development of Chinese women's football clubs," says Zhang Tingzhe, general manager of BG Phoenix.
(Executive Editor: XIAO FENG, Women of China English Monthly March 2017 Issue)
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