At 5.30pm on Sunday, just a few hours before the World Cup final, eleven teenage Shaolin monks took to a field in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, Henan province, for their first-ever football match.
Dressed in yellow robes, white trainers and with black strapping holding their long socks up, the monks took on a (pub?) team organised by the Tsingtao brewery.
“The boys, who are training in kung fu, came up with the idea of setting up a team,” said Feng Weifeng, a spokesman for the Shaolin Temple’s Tagou Martial Arts School. “They are all mad about football. They have been watching the World Cup in their dorms every night. They all have their own team, and they tend to like Brazil and Argentina. Messi is their favourite,” he added.
Knowledge of the game, however, was limited. “Some of them had never touched a football before, and they kept using their hands,” said Mr Feng.
On the pitch, however, the athletic monks were a blur, entertaining the crowd with an array of flips, somersault and overhead kicks.
They were such a blur, in fact that no one is quite sure who won the match. According to Tsingtao, they triumphed by a modest 15 goals to 8. The Shaolin Temple, meanwhile, feels that it won 10 to 8. “It was hard to say,” said one commentator. “Most of the goals from both sides were offside.”
Unlike Holland, the monks did not rack up any yellow or red cards. Not because they did not foul, but because the referee did not have any cards. “Offsides, corner kicks, fouls and handballs were all overlooked,” reported one newspaper in Henan.
Anyone who has watched Shaolin Soccer, the film by Steven Chow which imagines a possible union between kung fu and football will be entertained to know that Wang Pengyu, the Shaolin goalie, managed to puncture a new ball by kicking it too hard.
“The ball did not fly through the air, but stuck on the end of the keeper’s toe,” said the newspaper. “They have Shaolin Kung Fu and strong legs,” remarked one fan.
“We have no plans for another match yet,” said Mr Feng. “The students are very busy and we are just having fun, not playing for a crowd”.