CHENGDU, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- Ma Zhongyu, a 31-year-old fruit farmer in Sanhe Village in Banzhuyuan Township of Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, now works as the manager of a soccer team. Properly speaking, an ad hoc hodgepodge.
"Our team is made up of firefighters, police officers and farmers, with an average age of 30," Ma said, noting that they previously played soccer in the space reserved for sunning grain when they were teenagers.
An annual amateur soccer league match, or the Baoyou Cup, was launched in the village in 2015, two years after the team was formed.
The just-concluded fifth Baoyou Cup attracted more than 600 players in 24 teams from all over the province, even foreign players, with more fans crowding the small village ignited by the soccer spirit.
Ma and his teammates never expected a soccer pitch six years ago when their village had nothing to do with the sport.
At that time, the village's only road connecting to the outside world was a rough dirt track, potholed and muddy on rainy days. For a long time, the income of the villagers fell short of the town's average.
Yet things began to change in 2013, when Tan Jie, a college graduate who was elected as the Party chief of Sanhe, started to repair roads and plant grapefruit, grapes and figs in the village.
Tan soon noticed that many young villagers shared a common interest in playing soccer. He sought funding and spoke tirelessly with the locals to persuade them to agree to turn the grain-sunning ground into a soccer pitch.
Thus, in 2015, Sanhe's first soccer pitch was born.
"I was so excited at the first glance of the well-equipped court, with perfect lighting and drainage facilities, a simple stand and a changing room," Ma recalled.
Today, the place is well-known as "Chengdu's first soccer village," attracting teams from other cities for matches.
Whenever there is a match, people who come to watch will buy fresh grapefruits planted by the villagers and visit local restaurants. There are also supermarkets, fishing grounds and leisure farms, offering more job opportunities for the locals.
The villagers' annual income per capita was 23,423 yuan (about 3,340 U.S. dollars) last year, nearly double the number from 2013. Sanhe also attracted 90 million yuan in social capital in 2018, compared to none six years ago.
By cooperating with Southwest Petroleum University, the village now sends talented children to professional soccer clubs for further training, said Tan, who plays as a left back in the Sanhe soccer team.
The village also partners with the Sichuan Conservatory of Music, inviting bands to perform at the first "Starry Sky" Music Festival held in March in a rape flower field in the village, which attracted 100,000 live spectators and online viewers.
With sports and music, fewer people in the village play cards and mahjong now.
"The village is going through earth-shaking changes, with everyone on the move," said Liu Yungen, a 79-year-old villager.