Meet the Brit Introducing the 'Beautiful Game' to Youth in Guangzhou

By Matthew Bossons, April 14, 2020

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If you were able to travel back in time and chat with Andrew Bowden when he first arrived in China in November 2013, chances are he wouldn’t have predicted where his China journey would take him.

Originally from Buckinghamshire, England, Bowden touched down in Guangzhou with his best friend Sidney Bartlett to complete a six-month TEFL teaching contract. As is so often the case, both men fell in love with the city and are still here six and a half years later.

Bowden’s professional career has evolved greatly since he first stepped off the plane at Baiyun International Airport: He has gone from a short-term ESL teacher to working as the full-time elementary school athletics director at the Canadian International School of Guangzhou.

Those who know Bowden well will tell you that he’s an eternal optimist who is motivated and generally passionate about life. They’ll also confide that he is a massive sports fan and a talented athlete. 

“I was always a sports fanatic from a young age. I played many sports growing up including football, cricket, tennis, rugby and athletics,” Bowden tells That’s. “I started focusing primarily on football in my teenage years and I have learnt so many important life skills from playing this great game.”

Guangzhou-Sharks-FC-2.jpg
Image via Guangzhou Sharks FC

In 2016, the now 31-year-old Brit decided to take his love of sports beyond the school setting, founding Guangzhou Sharks Football Club with Bartlett.

The club came about organically, after a couple of his students’ parents approached him to inquire about whether he’d be interested in providing weekend football classes for their children.

“The very first class started with 10 children and we have not looked back,” says Bowden. “I coached football for many years and have played since I was 4 years old in England, so I was very excited for this opportunity to start and grow a club.”

At present, Sharks FC has 125 children participating in their weekend programs. If you include the students partaking in the organization’s in-school programs, Sharks’ coaching staff are directly involved in the football development of over 200 kids each week. 

The increased enrollment has resulted in youngsters of various ages and skill levels coming together to learn about the ‘Beautiful Game’ and how to maintain an active lifestyle. To accommodate the diversity of ages and the geographic spread of their membership, Bowden and his coaching staff offer a range of classes at Wanshengwei in Haizhu and Agile in Panyu.

Guangzhou-Sharks-FC-7.jpg
Image via Guangzhou Sharks FC

“We have Mini Sharks classes for our young children to learn the fundamentals of the game in a fun environment. We then have classes for 9- to 13-year-olds, both beginner and advanced levels,” Bowden tells us. “Our advanced teams compete in regional and national competitions and hopefully next year, international competitions.”

Henry Cross, a U-12 Sharks FC squad member from the United States, writes in a testimonial provided to That’s, “The coaches always give us tips, encouragement and support, which makes me want to keep playing and keep improving. We’ve also started playing in a lot of matches and tournaments with other teams, which can be challenging but also a lot of fun and a great way to get more practice and experience.”

In addition to the diversity of ages and skill levels present in Sharks FC participants, the organization boasts a highly international membership – with kids from around the globe partaking in the fun. Recently, Bowden has also noticed that an increasing number of girls are showing an interest in joining the honorable ranks of Sharks FC. As a result of the growing demand from girls in Guangzhou, Sharks FC is introducing its first girls-only team this year.

“I absolutely love the diversity of Guangzhou and Sharks FC is no different. We coach children from over 20 countries and seeing them learn and grow together is a huge honor of mine,” says Bowden. “Over the years, more and more girls have been signing up, which we are thrilled about.”

Guangzhou-Sharks-FC-4.jpg
Image via Guangzhou Sharks FC

Like any job, though, there are challenges. With a mix of both international students and local Chinese youth participating, language barriers are an unavoidable obstacle. With his characteristic optimism, Bowden notes that motivated students make this hinderance one that’s easy to overcome.

“It is amazing how quickly kids can pick up basic football language,” Bowden tells us. “Demonstrations are also a great non-verbal form of communication.” He additionally notes that bilingual coaches and children help explain the finer points of football when necessary.

This is perhaps the winning feature of Bowden and Bartlett’s creation: It connects a diverse group of kids and coaches in a welcoming environment outside the classroom and pushes them to learn from each other. The goal, as far as we can tell, is as much about developing friendships and good values as it is about honing athletic prowess.

Guangzhou-Sharks-FC-1.jpgImage via Guangzhou Sharks FC

“Sharks FC has been a huge positive for my son Zach,” says Guangzhou expat (and self-proclaimed football legend) Chris Thomas. “He gets to learn the value of team work as well as learning a sport, which is made fun by all the excellent coaches.”

Justin Uren agrees, writing in a testimonial provided to That’s, “Sharks coaching is not only of the highest standard in China but also higher than we had in South Africa and England. Coaches don’t only focus on football skills but also teach important life skills such as respect, commitment, dedication and teamwork. All of the above seem to be core values of the Sharks academy, which are propelling this team to be one of the most competitive sides in Guangzhou and Guangdong. As parents we are extremely proud to be part of this professional structure.”

[Cover image via Guangzhou Sharks FC]

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