Home and away…
Albion’s 2-0 win over Shanghai had been scheduled as the final trip of the Chines tour, but such was the interest in the Throstles, a final game was hurriedly arranged against Kwantung Province on May 26th. The home team might have wished it hadn’t been, for Albion signed off in style with a 6-0 win.
With that, we bade farewell to China and a monumental and genuinely historic tour, stopping off in Hong Kong to beat a Select XI 3-0 on the way home, Cyrille Regis maintaining his record of scoring in every game.
It was an eye opening trip and one where the players brought nothing but huge credit to the football club, that trip the first step in the journey that ended in Guochuan Lai’s proposed takeover of the club.
John Wile reflects, “With China having become so modernised in so many ways now, it was a fantastic experience to be exposed to such a totally alien culture. But it was difficult, just because it was so completely different. There were endless banquets and it was very hard.
“People think you’re not being respectful of the places you visit but we were professional footballers, we were there to play games and our way of showing respect was to prepare properly and play properly.
“They’d arrange a trip to see something three hours away on the coach, but we were playing the next day, and people wondered why we didn’t want to go. But we’d be thinking about the game, as good pros do. Our show of respect came from treating the football matches as we would in this country”.
As Ron Atkinson noted, “Nearly every night the players got blazered and flannelled and we rolled up to some function or other. We sat with the Chinese people and to be honest, a lot of our lads had trouble enough speaking English, so they weren’t very fluent in Chinese, that’s for sure!”
A year later, the roles were reversed and the Chinese national team came to tour this country, stopping off at The Hawthorns on August 1st 1979 to play a return fixture, the second half of which was screened live on BBC2, such was the interest generated by Albion’s trip a year earlier and the “World About Us” film made of that tour.
With Albion in the thick of preparations for the new season, and looking to prove that we could weather the departure of Laurie Cunningham to Real Madrid, we were in just as professional a mood as out in China, with new boys Gary Owen and Peter Barnes especially keen to impress.
The Chinese team had clearly made progress but as the game wore on, Albion’s greater professionalism and fitness took its toll and the home side ran out comfortable 4-0 winners.
For Chinese football, that was really the beginning of their journey towards becoming major players on the world stage. They might not be quite there yet, but make no mistake, China will be football’s next big story.
You can read much more about Albion’s visit to China in 1978, featuring exclusive interviews with players, journalists and diplomats who went on the tour, in the Everton edition of our matchday programme, Albion News.