Morecambe FC have signed an historic link-up with China intended to transform the club’s fortunes and footballing future.
The Shrimps will be working with prominent business figure Yan Yanjie in a relationship that is expected to see him invest in club projects while Morecambe coaches travel to China to aid youth development.
As part of the deal - the first ever Chinese investment in a Football League club and one that club bosses say will be ‘phenomonal’ for the town of Morecambe - Shrimps merchandise will be sold in Shanghai and there is the future possibility of a player from the Far East superpower pulling on a Morecambe shirt.
The partnership will be launched with a charity three-team tournament at the Shrimps’ Globe Arena home on September 7.
In another first, the Shanghai Clever Football Club will become the first team registered in China to play at a Football League ground in England.
The day, in aid of Prostate Cancer UK, will see the Chinese outfit founded by Mr Yan and managed by Chinese football superstar Fan Zhiyi take on a Morecambe Legends XI managed by Jim Bentley and a Celebrity XI led by West Ham United boss Sam Allardyce.
According to chairman Peter McGuigan this is just the start of a relationship he believes will not only secure the long-term future of the football club but also put the town on the map.
He said: “It’s only the first step in our collaboration.
“People are asking how much money is going to be invested but it’s about the bigger picture and getting Morecambe Football Club into China.
“Will we get a Chinese player playing for Morecambe? Will we play in China? Possibly in the future.
“No other club is trying to do what we’re doing. We’ve registered Morecambe Football Club in China. Part of our website will even be in Chinese.
“There’s 24 million people in Shanghai. It’s massive. There’s a lot of things we’re talking about that we don’t want to go public on yet but for the town of Morecambe it will be phenomenal.
“This is the first stage in a long, lasting journey.”
Mr McGuigan said he had been working on the deal for around 12 months having dipped into a contacts book built up over 30 years doing business in China.
He said: “We looked about how to get the funds to secure the long-term future of the club and help us with our ambitions to get into League 1 and I went back to the contacts I built up over 30 years in China.
“This began about a year ago and takes time. It’s the first big step. History is being made because there’s never been Chinese investment in an English Football League Club.
“In three years I think we’ll be selling more shirts in Shanghai than we do at the ground at the moment.”
Mr Yan formed the Shanghai Clever team with Fan Zhiyi, the first Chinese player to play in the Premier League when he joined Crystal Palace in 1998, in order to encourage young people in China to take up the game.
Fan is such a well-known name in China that talks are on-going with both British and Chinese broadcasters to screen the charity extravaganza on September 7.
Mr McGuigan said: “Fan is like David Beckham in China. He played in the World Cup team and he’s involved with a lot of major sponsors over there.
“Mr Yan wanted to get all these ex-international players together to try and encourage kids to play football.
“There are coaches there but they need training to get them up to speed and that’s where we come in. We’re looking to coach their coaches.
“He was really impressed with our community set up.
“Our coaches could go over there in the off season with under 15 and under 16 teams from Shanghai coming over here for a few weeks.”
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Read all about the charity tournament launch on September 7 HERE