A 5 step process to further develop football in Taiwan

With news slowing getting to us in English through odd snippets in the news that Taiwan has planned to build six new footy grounds (I won’t call them stadiums because they’re more like something resembling my local Northern Premier League sides ground – Dunston Federation Brewery). This is a good development and shows that the powers in control of Taiwanese football are putting in more effort than ever before to push Football on the island.

Taiwan, in general, does need more sports facilities, but if the facilities cannot be easily booked by Joe public then I would say creating these pitches is pointless. It’s all part and parcel with promoting the sport if the pitch is created only to be used by the football teams involved in the Taiwanese Premier League for example and then is fenced off to block other people’s access that’s one simple way of promoting the game flushed down the toilet. Just getting people playing the game regardless of level is one of the best ways to promote a sport, especially if it is fun. As it is now it’s barely possible to play football for fun in Taiwan if your level is extremely low, or you cannot afford to send your kid to a ‘fancy class’ to play.

One day I hope I can go through with my plan of becoming a proper football philanthropic in Taiwan, unlike all these ‘soccer schools’ who probably do have the best intentions of the kids at heart but they’re still a business and need to generate a profit to survive. My aim wouldn’t be to create a sexy football school with their fancy badge coaches’. My aim would be to show them how fun football can be by just playing, lob the jumpers down like the good old days; sort the teams and away you go. Let’s be honest, that is how all of us started playing and fell in love with football and Taiwan would be doing well to realize letting kids ‘play’ instead of making it a class with certificates, badges and tests etc is the best way to generate interest among young people.

After that long-winded tangent, I will introduce my four steps for developing football further on the island, the main idea is to build the interest from the youth, create tribalism, improve awareness and create youth and city-wide league systems. Here is an in-depth look at how I would attempt to implement it, obviously I have no access to the CTFA resources but regardless of resources, it isn’t out of the realms of possibility to achieve what I suggest.

Build Interest from the Youth

Are sports in schools in Taiwan even a thing? It seems it’s a massively hit or miss, with some schools allowing P.E classes to be dropped completely for more academic classes, which the parents mustn’t mind about either because right now there isn’t really a platform for young athletes to build a career in sports if that is what they desire. They cannot make a decent living from it unless they are a small percentage of the extremely lucky few.

There should be more pressure from sports associations including the CTFA on the government for more active participation in sports at schools. The schools have decent facilities which could be used by students, even if right now they are left to fall into a state of disrepair because the schools are happy that no one is using them. A lot of schools, for example, have sports fields, running tracks, basketball courts and so on. The facilities are already there in schools, and the bigger ones will most likely have enough people wanting to participate in sports that would love to play against other schools in a league but are denied the chance because schools deem it useless when put against traditional academic classes.

It seemed like Taiwan’s Japanese manager Kazuo Kuroda started with small baby steps with putting into place some form of youth training but Gary White has taken it a step further by taking camps around the island and getting to places where normally Taiwanese managers don’t really bother with. Smaller towns and villages, visiting schools that sort of thing. This is so simple that it should have been done a lot earlier than it has been, because in a country like Taiwan you have to bloody accept that football is a minority sport and people won’t just come out to play because you build more football grounds, give the league a fancy rebranding or suddenly claim you’re professional because none of that actually matters to people who would be interested in watching the game.

Every Taiwan national team game a whole section of the stadium’s tickets should be given up to schools, from poor areas, rich areas, north Taiwan, South Taiwan, Central, East and West, the schools should be offered support and help in transporting the kids into the ground and out of the ground. Other than playing the game themselves, watching live games is another brilliant way of getting kids interested in the sport. The national team is the only level on the island where any kind of exciting atmosphere occurs and it’s best to show them the more exciting games of the national team than the empty ground that greets the Taiwan Premier league week in week out.

The last thing that could be done, and I have already seen through social media that it has also been implemented recently is Taiwan is eventually getting national team players out to meet kids in their normal schools, football schools and other events which is great news.

Create Tribalism

Football is tribalistic, in every city, town, or village around the world local people mostly support their team. That is their team which represents the place where they come from, a team with the closest proximity to your home and that team stays close to your heart and with you forever until your 12 feet under the ground. The team is normally representative of a location in some way, be it a name, club colours, crest or whatever but there always is some connection between team and city, village or town that generates the tribalistic support.

In Taiwan, this is non-existent, which doesn’t mean it could never happen. Currently, the Taiwan Premier League is made up of 8 teams, two of them are big corporations. Taipower (the state electronic company) Tatung (one of the biggest Taiwanese electronics manufactures) two expat teams, and four school teams. How or why exactly does anyone expect anyone to want to come out and support this on a regular basis and get behind the teams is a mystery.

If the world knows football is a tribal game, then why is the Taiwanese Premier League scaling that to minute zooming. Not many people can get too crazy about supporting those teams because people are not really represented by those teams, Fujen University, for example, represents the students of one university. Who is represented by the teams needs to change for an impact to make? If six new footy grounds really do pop up in the near to distant future then the teams should be forced to represent a city and ‘get’ a home ground to use. To start with the cities used should be the biggest Taiwanese cities at first, but if it worked it could eventually be expanded to a division 2 to include mid-sized cities and towns. I would start with Taipei, New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Taichung, this would help to generate the tribalism needed for people to feel involved, represented, for the results to matter and have some significance to people outside of a current small demographic.

Play games when people can watch them

This suggestion sounds absolutely ridiculous to be making because it really is the most obvious of all on the list, but if the majority of the population have zero chance of watching the games live then what hope do you have of ever making the league become successful no matter how much you want it to. Midweek games at 3pm must stop, national team games should not kick off at 7pm unless it’s a weekend. Kicking off at 7pm on a Tuesday or a Thursday night is mental when most people finish work at the earliest time of 6/7 pm.

All you need to do is look at Southern Europe for an example of playing games at a later kick-off off time, I believe there it’s down to the heat and seeing cooler in the evening, but in Taipei especially with such excellent public transportation running until midnight or later then it should be considered to play national team games later. Anyone who has tried to rush from work, and through a city like the time during peak traffic time knows how difficult it is to get to national team games in time for kick off. Some people are still arriving to the game close to half time.

What does that mean then, well what it means is you either have people who cannot get out of work or school on time to attend the game when they want to, or people who may have been considered a maybe or a might go will decide they won’t bother wasting their money if they have to miss half the game because they have no chance of making the start of the match.

Set up CTFA city amateur and youth leagues

Currently there a plethora of amateur leagues in Taiwan, with a lot of them being centered in or around Taipei especially. I admit I have lost track of how many leagues there actually are because new leagues get started as often as new teams do in Taiwan. I understand it wouldn’t be an easy task of creating a city wide league because people involved in the leagues under the guises they have now would be unwilling to admit that the leagues would be better if they were affiliated with one another and resources were shared with teams getting promoted and relegated between the league systems.

The teams at the higher end of this pyramid would be eligible to enter the Premier League qualifiers to face off against the teams who are currently relegated to not playing any football, they’re literally just booted out of the league to nothing and told to wait until the season is finished. Then they have to re-enter the qualifiers and hope they win or they have to continue to wait until they can win the play offs. If they don’t win the play offs their team is consigned to just waiting or joining one of the local amateur leagues.

I would say there is easily 6 to 8 amateur leagues currently being played in Taipei. That would amount roughly to around 40 or 50 teams, which would easily create enough leagues to have promotion and relegation, you could even factor different league levels into the rules if you wish, for example, if a league is a really low level (they probably won’t like this being said to them) then they could be allowed more subs or rolling subs, however as you worked higher up the system then the rules would become stricter and less subs would be allowed. This would give football in Taiwan the structure it is currently craving which isn’t being provided by the amateur leagues or the Taiwan Premier League and the whole is a jumbled mess.

As well as trying to find a way to affiliate the leagues, I would form youth leagues. There are plenty of football schools now all over Taiwan, but there is still very little opportunity for these young teams to play each other. There was a tournament organized at a private school, and there used to be a youth league organized by the CTFA but as far as I am aware there are no regular youth leagues in Taiwan.

Without the regular youth leagues you’re not giving these young guys and girls any chance of competing with one another, a chance to play the game in a competitive well managed environment, youngsters are missing out on knowing what it’s like to work together to achieve a goal or an aim which promotes teamwork. Some of the skills the kids would learn playing in a youth league would help them in every aspect of life in the future regardless if they were playing in a team for fun, or they’re being pushed into a team by tiger mom and dad.

I have no doubt at all that if a youth league was formed, and well organized that there would be a big number of youth teams wanting to get involved, the difficulty at first would most likely be down to trying to get the right age groups but that isn’t something that should prove a huge stumbling block. A youth league setup is vital for football to become popular, and for football to do well in Taiwan.

Improve awareness

Right now a lot of the CTFA organized events are only published through social media as far as I am aware. More needs to be done to get the word out to the man on the street that Taiwan even has a football team, never mind they are actually playing games and performing well lately.

A lot of Taiwanese people don’t even know their country plays football, this is not a good position to be in when you’re talking about creating a professional league and new football grounds. More people need to know about it, and somehow a way needs to be found where more people can be targeted. Taiwan might not be aware of this due to how many people are glued to social media on their phones all day, but social media does not reach everyone. Other forms of marketing needs to be used the over reliance on social media is currently too much.

Conclusion

These are just my suggestions about how to move the football in the best direction possibly to ensure football has a bright future on the island. I have no way of knowing if these ideas would work, but currently, apart from the national team games there really is a massive lack of interest. The Taiwan Premier League doesn’t get many people watching games outside of anyone with a vested interest.

My grandad was a bricklayer for years, and he would always tell me, “Mark you can’t bloody build a house by plonking the roof on it first!” Taiwan should learn to listen to my grandad and build the game from the foundations up to the roof, instead of putting the roof on first because at some point it will all collapse in on itself and no one wants to see that happening.

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