The “Year of France in China” may have ended, and Shanghai’s Oktoberfest extravaganza may be drawing to a close, but one particularly energetic and unique cultural phenomenon still waits in the autumn wings: Shanghai’s very own 10th Asian Gaelic Games, to be held at the Shanghai Rugby Football Club in Jinqiao, Pudong this Saturday and Sunday. The joys of Gaelic football may not have touched us all — for those in the dark, it is a whimsical Irish combination of soccer, rugby, basketball and ballet — but Shanghaiist must confess to being a full, if recent, convert to this most elegant and skill-filled of field sports.
Coached by Kerryman Colm Healy, the Shanghai Saints & Sirens teams will be facing such stalwarts as the Dubai Celts, the Singapore Gaelic Lions and, nemesis of all who take to the field, the ever-victorious Seoul Gaels. With a couple of exhibition hurling matches (again, for those in the dark, think men with sticks hitting a ball — and each other — through the air, with true Celtic gusto) due to round up proceedings on Saturday, and numerous pitch-side events scheduled throughout the weekend, the Games promise to be a truly entertaining, welcoming and perhaps for some, bemusing, Irish affair. Shanghaiist has noticed many an astonished Chinese face peering over the rubgy club fence at the sight of a team of girls racing across a pitch in pursuit of a small, round ball whilst being bellowed at in Kerry dialect by a roving coach.
The seeds of the tournament were sown back in Taiwan in 1996, when a group of Irish expats found themselves getting together to play football in their spare time, and through the grapevine, knew that their fellow countrymen were doing the same in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Manila was duly chosen as the scene of the inaugural championship, and the rest, as they say, is history. Via Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, the job of hosting the event has now fallen to Shanghai, where, as luck would have it, Noel Lennon, the only player to have been involved in all ten tournaments, and indeed to have scored points in all ten tournaments, is resident. As tournament organiser, his burden is a big one, but with the help of two mobile telephones and a hefty dose of Irish charm, he is apparently taking everything in his stride. “We’ve raised the bar for this year’s event,” he says, “and that’s the kind of thing I like being involved in.” With more than 450 players of all nationalities due to participate in the name of nine separate clubs from Japan to Dubai, there’s no reason to doubt him.
Make no mistake, the sport is not for the faint-hearted, and if tradition is anything to go by, nor will the pitchside activities be either. Integral to proceedings is the large Guinness tent in which many a weary spectator, or indeed player, is invited to quench their thirst. Should the fancy take you, and should you be in a position to pass yourself off as a small child, you might then relax by taking a little hop on the bouncy castle stationed nearby. Food, drink and general all-round craic will abound, and all for the microscopic price of 30 kuai. A trip out is highly recommended, but should you miss the daytime clash of the titans, then fear not, for the Blarneystone pub will be transmitting China’s first public broadcast of the All-Ireland Final, the emerald isle’s equivalent of the Superbowl, at 10 pm on Sunday evening. With 450 junketing Irish nationals in the crowd, you could shut your eyes, sip your pint and almost be in Croke Park. A change is as good as a rest …
Asian Gaelic Games. Play runs from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, followed by two hurling matches. Knockouts start on Sunday at 9 am, with finals (bowl, plate and cup) played from 1 pm.