Arsenal.com editor Richard Clarke was there when the idea for the Thomas Vermaelen Warrior video was born. And the concept did not come from inside the Club.
It began on a rain-soaked night in Hangzhou last July.
The Arsenal team bus weaved its way through the evening traffic to a small stadium squeezed into a suburb of this sprawling city in western China.
The Hangzhou Sports Centre was the venue for the team’s first open training session in the country and, despite the downpour, the excitement of the fans was palpable.
As our blogger, Josh James, recorded at the time: “Screaming supporters held back by a regimented police cordon greeted the team as they arrived. Up in the stands the Chinese fans, many of whom had travelled from all over the country to be there, displayed magnificent homemade banners, and some yelled out marriage proposals.”
To most of us, it was not the wedding bells that rang out but those imposing banners draped over the first tier of the main stand. The Chinese fans had depicted the likes of Jack Wilshere (above), Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie as traditional Chinese warriors. Arsène Wenger, meanwhile, had been interpreted as having mystical powers.
It was a painstaking pictorial ‘mash-up’ of eastern and western, traditional and modern, football and fable.
In 15 years of covering Arsenal (and a lifetime supporting them) I had never seen such a striking and thoughtful re-working directly from the fans. Others at the Club were similarly impressed and asked the artists if we could take the banners back with us to London.
Nine months later, when we began the creative process of promoting our return to Asia, those images were still resonating.
So we decided to bring one to life. We consulted a Shaolin Kung Fu master, Shifu Shi Yan Kun, who was struck by Thomas Vermaelen’s costume. It reminded him of a particular Chinese warrior who was known for power, strength and leadership.
We had a similar garment made up and Shifu choreographed the moves you can see in the main video, making sure that they reflected the personality of the Chinese warrior and the playing style of Thomas.
At this point, I’ll let you into a tiny secret. Our sturdy Belgian defender is not performing ALL the moves you see. However Shifu taught Thomas some key poses as we sought to animate the character.
We hope you like our own interpretation.
Thanks to Shifu at the Shaolin Temple Academy for his knowledge, thanks to Thomas Vermaelen for his help but, most of all, thanks to those Chinese fans whose originality and dedication inspired this video.
We look forward to seeing you next week when we return to China.
P.S. Thomas liked the banner so much, after the video shoot, he asked if he could keep it.
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