Player power brings England to Hong Kong for pre-Euro match
A chance to get away from pre-tournament pressures while forging strong team spirit away from home were the reasons behind Hong Kong being the choice for the England squad's tune-up before Euro '96, English FA representative Brian Scott revealed yesterday.
A few weeks ago, England's trip to Asia, where they will play an exhibition against the Hong Kong Golden Selection on May 26 after a match in Beijing three days earlier, looked improbable.
But England's tour - their first to the territory - has now been confirmed, giving Golden the distinction of being the last opposition the hosts of Euro '96 will face before they take on Switzerland in their opening Euro match on June 8 at Wembley Stadium.
Scott, who is travel manager of the English Football Association, said there were several factors which favoured Hong Kong over South Africa and North America, the other two options England manager Terry Venables had at his disposal.
'Terry [Venables] wanted to gather the squad three weeks after the season finished and to get away to a different environment. He wants the squad to relax before the pressures of the tournament. The players were given the option and they themselves wanted China and Hong Kong,' said Scott.
'To have stayed at home for the three weeks before the championship would have been to risk boredom. Terry had asked the senior players which country they would prefer and several of the them including Arsenal players David Platt and Tony Adams, have had experience of playing in Hong Kong and strongly supported returning. It was an overwhelming choice of the players.
'Terry sees the trip as an excellent opportunity for the players to forge a strong team spirit. He sees it as a bonding exercise.' Scott, whose main task is to arrange England's trip here, confirmed England will be sending a 'star studded' squad of about 25 players which includes Blackburn striker Alan Shearer, newly-crowned Professional Football Association (PFA) Footballer of the Year Les Ferdinand and Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne.
Golden president Simon Wan Chi-lok said his team will not be overawed by the presence of England, which will be the strongest overseas squad ever to assemble in the territory.
'It is indeed an honour to play a team of such magnitude. Whether we win or lose, it doesn't matter. What matters is that spectators will have a chance of seeing a team of the highest calibre,' said Wan.
Wan is still trying to arrange for Reebok-sponsored stars Ryan Giggs and Gabriel Batistuta to guest for Golden.
Scott said: 'We have agreed to play in Hong Kong and it doesn't really matter how strong or weak our opposition is. It's 11 versus 11 as far as I'm concerned and it's England's last game before the start of Euro 96.
'Playing clubs is not something new for England. We played Italian clubs while preparing for Italia '90.
'We'll definitely take Golden seriously and I'm sure they'll be playing their best because they will be fighting for final places in the squad.' England will arrive in the territory on May 24.