Before the start of the inaugural season, MAFL Commissioner Aiger Masing gave each team the task of chronicling their experiences over the 21 week season. Each team was given the liberty to record their stories in the format of their choice. This series shares some of the excerpts from these chronicles. In this edition, we look at the captains from Tiangong and Huacheng.
Season 1 of MAFL will go down as a historic event for many but for the two Chinese teams, it wasn't a very encouraging start. For the majority of the season, both teams languished at the bottom of the standings despite strong support from respective colonies.
The following are excerpts from independent interviews with Stanislas Hachette, Captain of Tiangong Wuji, and Qigang Lian, Captain of Huacheng Dong Ji.
What were the expectations at the beginning of the season?
Hachette: Expectations were much higher than they should have been in Tiangong. Being part of a new professional sport league was the buzz, so boasting about it pre-season got out of hand. I warned everyone to be more careful about it. Most of my teammates had little exposure to football and I can honestly tell you that our exhibition games weren't strong indicators.
Lian: It was very high... too high especially when you look at our actual performance. That is why I and the whole team feels like we failed Huacheng. I personally felt we would do better. We brought together our team quickly compared with other clubs, so we felt well prepared from our extensive training as a unit. We were able to demonstrate that with a strong start, but in many ways, this made the rest of the season very frustrating for us.
When did things started to unravel for your team?
Hachette: In the beginning, we were not very good. We lost our first three before we finally winning a match. And then, before we could get any momentum, we went on to lose 6 in a row. There wasn't a defining moment, it was bad from the very start.
Lian: We were 2 and 1 in our first three matches but then our pain began as we lost our next 6 matches. Many of our losses came at the hand of overtime. This is what is upsetting because we could hold our own during the halves, but consistently lost in the shootouts. We lost all seven overtimes. Even our very last match of the season against United went this way.
Were there any distractions that stood out?
Hachette: I never expected so much pressure would come from a game. For us, our inexperience and a lack of dynamic, skilled players was one thing, but dealing with it mentally was our nemesis. We scored the fewest goals in the league and things like that really get to you.
Lian: There was no shortage of reports about Darkeem Dennis by the middle of the season. He was a good teammate and he had the ability to score, but he was not happy. He was recruited to our team and left his family and friends in Wendland for the opportunity to play sports. It was hard for him to transition to life in Huacheng. He was becoming very lonely and distant the more we lost. I think Darkeem going to Europa was a best move for everyone.
What were the highlights of Season 1?
Lian: Our win over the Titans in Week 18 was glorious. It was a definitive win and it showed us that we can compete against the elite teams.
Hachette: The passion and support from the fans has been unbelievable. At first, I wasn’t sure if people would care, but they did. And they kept caring even though we weren't a winning team. I can't tell you how much that means and how much it motivates the entire team to be better next year.
Are you looking forward to next season?
Hachette: Absolutely. Despite the challenging year, the game an the fans are incredible. I wouldn't trade going back to my old job for the world. We are going to come back with a vengeance in season 2. Our manager is reviewing all our matches, so I am expecting a lot of positive changes.
Lian: We showed much promise in the 2nd half with some of our younger players improving significantly. But we have to learn how to win close matches. After we beat the Titans, we lost the next three matches to the Comets, Dynamo and United all in overtime. If we fix that issue next season, we can be contenders.