Liu Hongwen, born in 1938, is a retired middle school teacher. Yet she is also a Weibo celebrity and a "Gooner" (nickname for a fan of Arsenal). Her ID is "Grandma Liu the Gooner".
Like many of her peers, before 2002 Liu's life used to center around her offspring. After her oldest son went abroad with his wife and son, she felt losing her sense of what-to-do. "For someone like me, there was no work, no examinations, no children aside to nag, or grandson at home to look after. I just didn't know what to do."
It was during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. With only an hour's time difference and the matches dominating the screen, she tried to watch some of them. "It was the round of 16 match between Spain and the Republic of Ireland. There played overtime and had a penalty shoot-out. So exciting!"
From then on, she became a football fan. She didn't know about the major European football leagues until she watched a match in the UEFA Champions League in 2006.
"I saw how Arsenal was defeated by FC Barcelona in the Final. I felt for them and became a Gooner," says Liu. "I've already missed their peak time!"
"The Gunners were young and vigorous. Their passes were so elegant." Tomas Rosicky was her favorite. "He had an artistic style of play. People nicknamed him 'the Little Mozart' for his ability to 'orchestrate' the midfield. Nobody else could dribble smoothly like he did."
The ex-manager of Arsenal Football Club, Arsène Wenger has a mixed reputation. Yet Liu is a firm supporter of his. "I like his idea of cultivating young football players." She's also fond of Wenger's integrity: "He'd been at Arsenal for 22 years. He could have left after their most impressive winning streaks. Also when the team was on the decline, he rejected offers from other clubs. He loved Arsenal, and he wasn't there only for the paycheck. He changed the style of football in England."
With her son's help, she registered and found more football fans on Weibo. She interacts with them a lot, and often attends the fan events.
Despite the victories and failures, Liu also falls for the drama on the pitch. "There is great happiness and sorrow, turning points and own goals, kindness and deceptions," she says. "For example, instead of celebrating his victory, Klose always comforts the defeated first." When he showed signs of transferring Cesc Fàbregas, Liu even wrote to the clubs expressing her unwillingness to see him bought or sold.
Most of her favorite stars have retired in the past 12 years. She has become more rational and peaceful watching the games than she was before. "I only talk about Arsenal when I'm with the Gooners, not when there are fans of other clubs. It's about respect."
In 2014, Liu's youngest son bought her a ticket to a match at Wembley Stadium, where she witnessed Arsenal win the Football Association Challenge Cup again. Later she was invited to take a tour of the Arsenal Football Club in 2017. "I saw young lads going to the matches with their old men. I saw grey-haired couples support their favorite teams together. It's their passions that will be passed on."
"Among all my identities, a football fan prevails." Watching and learning about football, Liu feels more fulfilled than lonely. As she says, "Any club in the world you name it, Arsenal will always be my favorite."
The story is one in The 1.3 Billion series exploring the diverse lives that make up China.