Arsenal raise the roof - and fill the coffers
In the end, yesterday's Arsenal-Kitchee clash was about so much more than a game, it was about the future.
A delighted Kitchee chairman Ken Ng Kin happily revealed after watching the two teams play out a 2-2 draw at a packed Hong Kong Stadium that the official crowd of 39,209 meant the day would make organisers around HK$5 million. And that's enough to cover Kitchee's share of the much anticipated youth football training centre at Shek Mun the club wants to build in partnership with the Jockey Club.
'The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charity Trust very generously donated HK$44 million and we needed to raise about HK$5 million and from this now and that donation, it is all going to happen,' said Ng.
The centre will be the culmination of Kitchee's plans to invest in football education in the city and, Ng hopes, the development of a serious football playing culture.
'I've put on 18 games in the past 18 years, so we've not been shy. But this not like promoting a concert where you just put it on and walk away. This time the money we have raised will help build the Jockey Club training centre, so this will leave a legacy behind for the future of Hong Kong football.' It is expected the centre will now take 18 months to be built and it will feature pitches, training, changing and medical rooms and offices spread out over an estimated area of 15,050 square metres, and the complex will include changing rooms, medical rooms and offices.
'It's all about commitment. For the past four years we have used the Barcelona curriculum, we've brought in ex-Barcelona coaches and we have provided the training for free,' said Ng. 'We will continue to do this in the future, and develop the training centre, and slowly I think that will change the future of Hong Kong football.'
Out on the pitch yesterday, Arsenal's defensive frailties were once again on show - as they were all through a three-match Asian tour that included a 2-1 win over a Malaysian XI and a 2-0 loss to Manchester City in Beijing. Not that the packed house was complaining as it meant the game was wide open and exited from start to finish.
Yago Gonzalez Lopez (seventh minute) and Daniel Cancela Rodriguez (28th) were the heroes for the locals, making a mockery of the Premier League opponents whose blushes were saved by strikes from Theo Walcott (23rd) and, late in the game, Thomas Eisfeld (79th).
Arsenal looked a far better team in the second half, once the likes of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and a bullish looking Gervinho entered the fray and manager Arsene Wenger said he was pleased with the way his team had battled - and with his brief visit.
'We got what we wanted from them - a good challenge,' said the Frenchman. 'We had to dig deep to come back twice. I played all of the defenders in this tour to see who's ready and who is not ready.
'Nice city. Good football.'