A new study of the strength of interest in international football across China by Warwick Business School shows that not only is the England team shirt the most popular football shirt across China, England is also by far Chinese football fans' most favoured international team beating Brazil, Argentina and Germany.Dr Sue Bridgewater, a researcher in the University of Warwick's Warwick Business School carried out research among football fans in China for the English Football Association during World Cup 2006.
Her study, presented to the FA this month, shows much more interest among Chinese fans in international football (78.01%) than Chinese local football (31.24%). English football fared best of all among such supporters. In major tournaments where China was not present, 96.3% of Chinese fans supported another international team. England was by the most supported "second" team (26.35%), followed by Brazil (20.61%), Argentina (11.82%), Italy (10.81%) and Germany (10.81%).
When Chinese fans were asked which team they had seen most frequently England fared even better: 27.2% listed England followed by Brazil (12.9%), Italy (11.2%). Next came English Premiership club Manchester United which, at 9.5%, was rated above all remaining international teams.
The research found that the most commonly seen international football shirt in China was the England national shirt (40.56% of respondents report seeing it very often). 30.42% of respondents report seeing Manchester United shirts very often and 29.72% Italy shirts. A number of shirts are most reported as seen often (Italy 36.04%, Argentina 35.66% of respondents, Real Madrid 29.22%) and AC Milan (29.72%). Those recorded as being "not seen often" included Spain, Chelsea, Germany, France and Inter Milan.
When Chinese fans were asked to rank of the top three international football shirts seen in China. they listed England first (43.9%) some distance ahead of Real Madrid (12.14%). The shirt most commonly listed second was Manchester United (21.75%) followed by Brazil (19.85%). AC Milan was most frequently listed third (27.51% of respondents).
54.14% of the fans surveyed owned a football shirt. Again England came top - 19.6% owned an England shirt, 13.9% a Manchester United shirt, 8.8% AC Milan and 8.23% Italy. Almost one quarter owned more than one international football shirt. Over 75% of respondents knew where to buy an England shirt and almost the same percentage could buy one locally in a sports good store or market. England shirts were available in all the Chinese provinces covered by this research.
70.64% of respondents followed the Chinese national team but levels of active support by match attendance, or consulting media about the Chinese national team were lower (only 27.1%) of the levels than those for local Chinese football. This probably reflected the higher frequency and proximity of Chinese club football compared with the lower frequency of Chinese presence in international competition. When asked to list their post popular local Chinese the top teams were Beijing Guoan, Dalian Shide, Shandong Luneng and Shanghai Shenhua.
England and China
Football links between the UK and China are growing rapidly as part of the close relationship between the hosts of the two next Olympic Games.
British football clubs are leading the field in establishing links and joint ventures with clubs in the Chinese football league.
In 2006, Sheffield United Football Club (FC) became the first foreign club to acquire a majority stake in a Chinese football club with its purchase of 90% in the renamed Chengdu Sheffield United.
Stockport County FC has established a joint venture named Stockport Tiger Star with Liaoning FC.
Bolton Wanderers FC have signed a partnership agreement with Wuhan FC, are involved in training and exchanges, and later this year will open a joint football development centre in Wuhan.
Everton Football Club is working with Ningbo and Guangzhou sports authorities on a number of projects related to youth football and coach training.
Cardiff City are in talks with Xiamen Superleague club Lanshi as part of the two cities' twinning relationship
These joint ventures are supplemented by an exciting programme of visits by English football teams and coaches.
Manchester United, perhaps the most famous English football team among Chinese football fans, visited China in 2005 for friendly matches in Beijing and Hong Kong.
In September 2005, the Prime Minister Tony Blair joined Sir Bobby Robson, former captain of the English team, in a football class for young football Chinese players at Beijing's Yuetan Stadium.
Stockport County FC toured Xinjiang and Liaoning in 2004.
Liverpool FC played a friendly match in Hong Kong in 2003.
Britain has also welcomed Chinese players into its professional tournament series. Dalian native Sun Jihai became the first Chinese player to score in a premiership match when he joined Manchester City in 2002. Since then he has been joined by such Chinese players as Li Tie and Dong Fangzhuo who have been recruited to the Everton and Manchester United teams respectively.
Said British Ambassador to China William Ehrman: "Football is a passion in both the UK and China. It brings our two countries closer together. Recent progress in joint ventures in football, for example between Sheffield and Chengdu, are very exciting. We look forward to more in the future.