By sportswriter Xiao Shiyao
On June 26, Manchester United head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sent a letter to Chinese grassroots football coach Jing Yongxing. The letter crossed seas and arrived at Beijing on Friday, but couldn’t be opened by its recipient.
Jing, a long-time follower of the Red Devils who had been battling stomach cancer for seven years, passed away on July 3 at the age of 36. It was only ten days after his inspiring story was first reported and gained significant traction in China.
“We know that you are a huge Manchester United fan and we are very grateful for your loyal support. We have also heard about the hard work you put into becoming a football coach and setting up a team for young players in your local area. You should be proud of the positive impact you have made,” Solskjaer wrote in the letter. “On behalf of everyone at Manchester United, I wanted to get in touch to share our well wishes with you.”
When Jing was diagnosed with the cancer at a terminal stage in March 2013, he was told by doctors that he just had a 50 percent chance of surviving one year, and that it would take a miracle to survive three years.
How would you spend life if you knew you had only three years to live? Jing’s answer was to teach children to play football. The former travel agent established a youth football club in Yanjiao, a satellite city about 30 kilometers away from downtown Beijing, and brought the beautiful game to hundreds of adolescents.
Jing’s condition eventually deteriorated when the cancer cells spread to his intestines in February 2019. While he was in a critical condition in hospital last month, Jing said that one of his biggest regrets is that he might never have the chance to watch a match at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United.
After hearing his news, the Premier League powerhouse decided to display his images on the billboard at their home match against Bournemouth on July 4, so he could “have a look at ‘the Theatre of Dreams’ in another way”.
“I am sure that you, like us, are delighted the Premier League is back after the recent break. The players will be pushing to finish the season as strongly as possible – and I hope that we can entertain you with some great football and goals in the process,” Solskjaer wrote.
“We can only imagine how difficult a time this must be for you and your family and we hope our few words of sentiment can encourage you to stay strong through the challenging days.”
But fate decided otherwise, Jing died one day before the match and couldn’t enjoy the convincing 5-2 triumph of his beloved club. Due to delays to international deliveries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he did not receive the letter before he passed away.
“The victory also belongs to you, one of the Red Devils. We are deeply moved by what you have done for Chinese football. Fear not the want of armor, for mine is also yours to wear. May there be football in heaven,” Manchester United wrote on their Weibo account. The club also sent condolences to Jing’s family and friends on its official website.
“I would like to thank all the people who have helped Jing in his last days, he left with no regrets,” said his wife Shen Chan.
Apart from the letter, Manchester United sent a jersey signed by all members of the first team. Luckily, the jersey arrived in good time and Jing took a photo with it, which was one of the last images he left to the world. Enditem