‘At the end of the Wei... it’s a game of two halves’

Wei out west: Chinese sports commentator Wei Yidong is in Sheffield on a job sabbatical
Wei out west: Chinese sports commentator Wei Yidong is in Sheffield on a job sabbatical
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WEI Yidong has more than 100,000 followers on the Chinese version of Twitter and rarely goes out in Beijing without being asked for his autograph.

But when the 36-year-old arrived in Sheffield two weeks ago he assumed, some 5,000 miles from home, he would be an unknown face.

“We took him for a meal at Wong Ting in Matilda Street and it was like walking in with a film star,” says Dr Geff Green. “People were pointing at us, and a couple came over and asked what he was doing here. It was surreal.”

So, who is this Far Eastern celeb? And, perhaps more importantly, what’s he doing sprinkling his stardust in Sheffield?

Answer: he’s China’s premier sports presenter, anchoring football, snooker and basketball shows on Beijing TV’s Sports Channel, a station which broadcasts to an estimated 60 million households.

“Like Gary Lineker,” he says in fast-improving English. “But not as good at football.”

And this Steve Ryder of the Orient is here in South Yorkshire for the next six months as part of a job sabbatical which will see him learn better English, make new media contacts, discover western presenting techniques, and do a spot of commentary on Premier League Football for those footy fans back home. Indeed, he’s already covered Arsenal versus Man Utd where, sure enough, he was spotted by a group of Chinese lads on the way to the stadium.

And he’s using Sheffield Hallam University as a base after making links with the centre during the Beijing Olympics. In return Dr Green, a lecturer in the department of media, arts and communication who has coordinated the visit, is hoping he’ll do a spot of lecturing.

“It’s a lovely city,” says Wei, through today’s stand-in translator, Hongwei Zhang, an engineering lecturer at the university and himself - there’s a pattern emerging here - somewhat starstruck by his new colleague.

Wei again: “Sheffield is very compact compared to Beijing but elegant. Everyone has been helpful. I am learning a lot which will be useful back home. I have been to London and hope to go to the BBC’s Media City in Salford. I’ll be covering the snooker when the World Championship take place and a pre-Olympics basketball tournament at Sheffield Arena.”

He’ll also be going to a couple of games down the Lane and at Hillsborough, including, he hopes, next month’s Steel City derby.

Look away now, though, United fans - he’ll be supporting Wednesday.

“Both these clubs are well known in China from the semi-final in the Nineties,” says the father-of-one who has been presenting for 13 years. “But I always liked Wednesday. No reason. I want United to do well too now I’m here.”

He well stay in Sheffield, living in Abbeydale Road, until June when his bosses plan to send him to Ukraine and Poland to cover the football European Championships.

“Just having someone like this around is great for the university,” says Dr Green. “Experience like that can’t be bought.”

Also big in Beijing

Yao Ming: basketball player with the Houston Rockets and proof that most famous of Chinese stereotypes isn’t necessarily true - he’s 7ft 6in.

China World Trade Centre Tower III: at 330ft tall, it’s a bit bigger than St Paul’s Tower.

Faye Wong: city-born singer, songwriter and self-proclaimed Heavenly Queen. Modesty not her strong suit.

Water Dragons: it was the Chinese new year this week and these are all over the capital.

AND NOT SO BIG...

Human rights: it’s not always wise to disagree with the Chinese government.

The Crucible: Beijing famously wants to host the Snooker World Championship, the Crucible famously already does.