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I was there: Watching the first real AFL game in China

AFL teams Port Adelaide Power and the Gold Coast Suns at the centre bounce.
AFL teams Port Adelaide Power and Gold Coast Suns face off in Shanghai Jiangwan Stadium.

Supplied: Jamie Pi

Jamie Pi is a diehard Australian football fan originally from China, who thought the idea of a premiership AFL match in Shanghai was a long shot, until one day in May 2017.

If you had asked me couple of years ago if I'd ever be standing on the sidelines of an Australian Football League (AFL) premiership match in the middle of Shanghai I'd call you crazy.

The idea is so far-fetched, even the biggest advocate of footy connections in the Chinese community had problems believing it could happen.

To rewind: a year ago a press conference was held in Shanghai by the AFL, the federal government and the Port Adelaide Football Club.

They announced a bold idea of an AFL game.

Not an exhibition game, but a bona fide, proper game for premiership points, to be played in the world's most populated city.

The hard work began in earnest. There was a lot to do, from finding an opposition club for Port Adelaide, who was the driving force behind the whole idea, to having the correct type of grass for the oval.

And now, here I was in Singapore's Changi airport, for the last leg of my journey for this impossible idea.

Jamie Pi took his love of AFL to Shanghai
Jamie Pi, a Chinese community ambassador, has been in love with Aussie rules for decades and was in Shanghai to be a part of the action.

Supplied: Jamie Pi

Looking up at gate B8, where the Singapore airlines flight to Shanghai Pudong airport was waiting, I could see a waiting area full of football colours.

The fans were abuzz and keen to see what the Oriental Pearl [Shanghai] has to offer. More importantly they were here to witness history.

The first domestic sporting competition playing a normal season game outside of their competing country is important.

The AFL beat the much bigger codes and competitions such as the NBA, EPL and the NFL to bring their game to China.

I'm fortunate enough to be involved with the AFL to help make this game happen.

Shanghai is always awesome, a truly breathtaking city of modern China.

There's so much to do and so much to see. After settling in I had the pleasure of hosting the official Gold Coast Suns function.

Chatting with some players and fans, everyone was overwhelmingly excited about what was to come.

Game day came by extraordinarily fast, and the old and tired Jiangwan Stadium was transformed into a unique sporting area.

Makeshift grandstands, flags of China, Australia and the competing clubs fly in the breezy Sunday morning air.

Preparation for the historical game was almost complete.

The tireless staff were pushing each other to get through the day, even though the lack of sleep over the last few days meant they were running on fumes.

Finally after the anthems were sung and the banners were broken, the game was on.

As if according to script, Port Adelaide took control after 10 minutes of scrappy play and they were never challenged until the final siren.

The thousands of travelling Port Adelaide fans were ecstatic, and the stands full of locals were also cheering at times, perhaps not in the same tune as the fanatic supporters.

And then, just like that, I catch myself standing in the middle of Jiangwan Stadium, looking at the emptying stands, thinking about the game that I just witnessed, and what it all meant.

By the sounds of all the officials involved, AFL China 2018 may just be bigger and better!

For now, the Port fans are singing all the way back home, across the seas.

Jamie Pi is interviewed on television about the historic AFL game in China.
Jamie Pi being interviewed by a television crew about the future of AFL in China.

Supplied: Jamie Pi

Jamie Pi is an AFL Community Ambassador who moved to Australia from China when he was 13.

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