HIS time in China has become a tale of two cities for Steven Mundell. A move that offered life-changing opportunities has delivered, just not in the manner that he expected.

The 12 years he spent at Rangers, first as a community coach and then in the Academy setup, plus a stint at Rotherham United, ensured he was prepared for the next stage of his career in Chongqing. Nothing could have readied him for events of recent months, though.

The sprawling metropolis that Mundell now calls home is inhabited by some 28million people but it was a city he had never heard of before he was given the chance to live and work there. For days, weeks, months on end, all he could see of it was the view from his apartment.

Mundell is just a few hundred miles from the epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak as the disease which originated in Wuhan has swept across countries and continents. Its impact is being felt far further than the Chinese border now but he remains at the heart of the crisis.

A return to Scotland allowed Mundell to celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay with friends and family. As Chinese New Year approached, life quickly changed beyond recognition.

“It has been strange, difficult at times,” Mundell said. “I was meant to come out September time but because of work and visa issues it got delayed a wee bit so it was November by the time I came out. I was here on January 4 to start working again and then the schools stopped for Chinese New Year on the 23rd.

“I worked through as normal until then and it was only really towards the end of that period that you started hearing things about what was happening in Wuhan and the virus but there wasn’t really anything in place because it wasn’t widespread.


“A bit like Christmas and New Year at home, Chinese New Year is a big holiday so the schools were off for a week and it was only really during that time that things started to pick up and you heard more.

“Obviously with the language barrier I am reliant on the information I get from the guys that I work with and they have been really helpful and always kept me up to date.”

The early advice was for everyone to wear masks as authorities attempted to keep the lid on the spread of Coronavirus. Within days, movements were restricted and visitors to Mundell’s home were banned.

“Anyone that was from outwith the Chongqing area had to have an immediate 14-day isolation and only one person per household was allowed out every second day to get supplies,” he said.

“It was very strict. My apartment block is 15 levels and it is not even that big and most people stay in flats so there isn’t the option to go out in the garden.

“There is a bit of a communal area down there but people were avoiding contact with each other so nobody really went outside. When these measures came in, myself and most other people started getting their shopping delivered.

“Every three or four days, I would get a delivery, walk down the stairs, pick it up and go back in. Apart from that, you were essentially 24/7 in the flat.”

That journey down and then back up the stairwell of his block was as close as Mundell would get to freedom for weeks. China was in lockdown and he could see into what would become the future for those that he had left behind in Scotland.

The time was passed productively as Mundell – already fluent in Spanish – sought to improve his local knowledge and worked on the coaching resources he hopes he will soon be able to put to use at a school in the city.

His situation would be a frightening one for many to even think about. Yet he sees himself as one of the fortunate ones amongst a population that has been blighted by an unseen but deadly enemy.

“My fiancé is still in Glasgow and all my family are there but I have been in contact, which has obviously been a real help,” Mundell said. “I am in the flat by myself but I could communicate with them, I kept working a bit and I am trying to learn Mandarin so I am keeping busy, trying to give myself a working day.


“As time goes on, it does get more and more difficult, but it is nothing like what the people on the front line working in the hospitals are having to deal with or the people that have suffered with the virus. I would never complain because essentially I have just been staying in.”

Last Thursday was day 54 of the government measures into tackling Covid-19 in China. It wasn’t an occasion to celebrate, but Mundell was able to mark it with a 90-minute walk around Chongqing – the longest he had been outside of his flat since January.

Movement between neighbourhoods is still forbidden, while temperatures are taken as locals enter banks, but the measures are more precautionary than restrictive these days.

As Mundell looks closer to home, he knows better than most what lies ahead. There is a sense, though, that he has seen the worst of it around him.

“It was very strict but, at the same time, the general feeling that I got was that everyone was willing to do that to help and people were worried about getting the virus,” Mundell said. “Given the seriousness of it, people were happy to stay in. That walk was the first time I had been 10 yards away from the front door to pick up the shopping in months.

“A lot of people are back to work but not everybody. A lot of the shops are back open but there are still some that are shut, restaurants are doing takeaways so that is not back to normal.

“There are people out and about now and the rule is that you can only be outside if you are wearing a mask. You can walk about pretty freely.”

As people across the world wonder whether life will even be the same again, Mundell has become accustomed to his existence in China.

Sooner rather than later, he hopes he will be able to work with the people that inspired him to move there in the first place as Chongqing becomes a proper home from home for the man from Moffat.

“It is more normal than it was and there isn’t the same restrictions in terms of having to stay inside,” he said. “But, at the same time, it is not back to normal life yet.


“The hope is that the schools will go back maybe the second week in April and once they go back hopefully not long after that the Academy will start training again.

“I am sure the initial priority will be to get the kids back into classes and then hopefully once that happens we can get back to doing some coaching and essentially normal life.”

Life may have been put on hold for Mundell in recent weeks but his perspective and plans haven’t changed as he looks to his own future, and that of those he works with.

The two years he spent at Rotherham were his first not on the books of Rangers. He had no hesitation in making his next move a far more daring, yet fulfilling, one.

“It has always appealed to me to try and work abroad and to learn another language,” he said. “It always appealed to me, if I got the opportunity, to go abroad and you look at the way that football is developing in China.

“I thought, long-term, the language would be a real skill to have, as well as challenging myself as a coach, being able to go somewhere so different. Initially I had to work without the usual verbal communication and then developing that into working in a second language. It was all of that which made the appeal.”

With a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, Mundell can look forward to getting back to work, to doing what he always wanted to when he left behind life in Glasgow for a new one in the Far East.


The learning curve is a steep one on a personal basis, but he is sharing the experiences and opportunities with others that are determined to grasp them in search of a brighter future.

“It is a bit like a Scottish Performance School in that we try to recruit the best players to go to the school and train like an Academy,” Mundell said. “The players are recruited to come to the school so we try to find the best players from the primary schools to join and they have squads from Under-13s through to 18s.

“The idea is to try and produce players to get picked up by the Chinese Super League clubs or maybe get picked up by the universities and get into the Super League that way.

“The role I have here is essentially like a head of coaching so I coach some of the teams, but my bigger role is to coach the coaches and try and implement a philosophy to help the long-term development.”