From Shanghai to Etihad: A journey of passion and dreams

4 Mins read

Manchester City Football Club has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity, especially among fans in China.

In the bustling streets of Shanghai, where the blends of tradition and modernity meet, lives a devoted football fan named Zhang Haosheng. His journey from a football enthusiast living in China to becoming an ardent Manchester City supporter is a testament to the global reach and emotional connection of the beautiful game.

Zhang Haosheng’s football odyssey began long before Manchester City found a place in his heart. As a true aficionado of the sport, he held a special reverence for Pep Guardiola, the footballing maestro known for his philosophy of controlled football and mesmerizing game style. 

When Guardiola was appointed as the head coach of Manchester City in the summer of 2016, it was a momentous occasion for Haosheng. He couldn’t resist the allure of “The Citizens” and decided to follow in the footsteps of his footballing idol.

In the years that followed, Zhang Haosheng became an active member of the local Manchester City fan club in Shanghai. He joined fellow supporters in cheering for the team and participated enthusiastically in fan-day activities. His dedication to the club was unwavering and he longed for the day when he could watch Manchester City play live.

“I’ve made lifelong friends here, all because of our shared love for Manchester City.”

Jack Chen

The opportunity of a lifetime arrived in the summer of 2019 when Manchester City embarked on their China tour for pre-season matches. The highlight of their visit was the Premier League Asia Trophy final against Wolverhampton Wanderers, which took place at Shanghai’s Hongkou Football Stadium. 

Haosheng was there in the stands, living his dream, watching his beloved team in action for the first time. The magnificent skills, the exhilarating style of play, and the electrifying football atmosphere left an indelible mark on him.

It was during that magical evening in Shanghai that Zhang Haosheng made a heartfelt wish for himself — to someday visit the Etihad Stadium and be part of the passionate crowd, cheering on Manchester City in their iconic blue jerseys. 

At the time, he was studying for his undergraduate degree in the nearby city of Nanjing, but he had a clear vision for his future. He was determined to pursue a master’s degree at Manchester University, not just for academic reasons, but for the love of the club that had captured his heart.

Haosheng’s path to achieving his dream was far from easy: “I had unwavering goals and dreams in my heart, I maintained excellent academic achievements and enriched my resume with valuable internship experiences, also successfully passed the English language proficiency test.” 

His relentless pursuit of academic and personal excellence paid off when he received the long-awaited admission letter from the Business School at Manchester University.

For many Chinese students who are avid Manchester City fans, studying at the University of Manchester is nothing short of a dream come true. It’s an opportunity to live and breathe the same air as their footballing idols.

Being in the same city as the club allows them to experience the magic of the Etihad stadium firsthand, attend matches, and immerse themselves in the electrifying atmosphere that is synonymous with English football.

Manchester City fans in Etihad Stadium
This is how it feels to be City [X: @ManCity]

These fans occasionally get the chance to bump into players, visit training sessions, or attend fan events. These interactions with their footballing heroes make the experience even more special and adds a layer of personal connection to their fandom.

After completing the master’s programme last year, Zhang Haosheng is now studying for a Ph.D. at the University of Manchester: “Studying and living in Manchester is a dream come true. I get to watch my beloved team play live, and I’ve even been to the Etihad stadium countless times.

“It’s a unique lifetime experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.” He added.

For Zhang Haosheng and others like him, Manchester isn’t just a place of academic growth but a gateway to living the dream of supporting Manchester City up close and personal. 

The journey from Shanghai to Manchester may be long geographically, but its true distance is measured in the depth of passion, the embrace of a community, and the shared love for football. 

This unique fusion of academic and footballing dreams makes their journey to the University of Manchester a truly memorable and deeply personal one. It’s a testament to the power of football to transcend borders and inspire lifelong devotion. 

As Haosheng said: “Never stop dreaming and working hard for what you love. Whether it’s football, education, or anything else.”

Zhang Haosheng’s story is far from rare among Manchester City-loving Chinese students in Manchester. 

Jack Chen is another recent Chinese graduate from the University of Manchester: “I’ve made lifelong friends here, all because of our shared love for Manchester City. We often gather to watch games, discuss tactics, and participate in City’s offline activities. It’s like having a second family.”

Studying in Manchester provides these fans with the opportunity to create lasting memories. From celebrating victories to commiserating defeats with fellow fans, these experiences become an integral part of their time in Manchester. The friendships formed through a shared love for Manchester City can last a lifetime.

Etihad Stadium
Etihad Stadium [Junsheng Xu]

Perhaps the most straightforward reason for Manchester City’s rising global popularity is their success on the pitch – their consistent excellence in the English Premier League, as well as their impressive performances in domestic and international competitions has captured the attention of fans worldwide. 

Manchester City’s footballing style has been described as breathtaking and mesmerizing. Their commitment to attacking football, intricate passing and flair on the field has won the hearts of fans who appreciate the beauty of the game.

Another reason why Manchester City has resonated with Chinese fans is its inclusive approach – the club actively celebrates diversity and unity, emphasising the importance of inclusivity both on and off the field.

Their “Cityzens” initiative, aimed at bringing fans closer to the club, has been particularly successful in fostering a sense of belonging among supporters worldwide.

As the club continues to grow, it’s likely that more stories of passion, dreams and love for Manchester City will continue to emerge from all corners of the world, building an even stronger bond between the club and its global fan base.

Featured image by Manchester City on X.

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