'Regional revamp holds the answer'
Ken Ng won't be cheering for Instant-Dict today. The former Dickies boss now chairs the Hong Kong Football Association's youth development committee and he has moved beyond parochial interests. Instead he harbours visions of a Hong Kong soccer scene where the national team is successful, clubs make money and crowds are back filling the stands.
Unfortunately for Hong Kong all these three goals are presently just a pipe dream. But Ng says the HKFA is working on all these inter-related problems and is hopeful that results will start to be seen in 18 months, by the time the 2002-03 season rolls along.
According to Ng, the solution to Hong Kong soccer's malaise lies in regionalising the game by moving the clubs out into the boondocks and building a strong base of supporters around each club.
'We don't need one big centralised stadium. What Hong Kong wants is six to eight 12,000-seater stadiums dotted around Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. We need to have facilities in Tuen Mun and Tsing Yi, for instance, where the people of that area come and support the club which is based there,' says Ng.
'Hong Kong lost the bid to host the 2006 Asian Games. If we are going to bid for 2010, then the Government should build these smaller stadiums around Hong Kong. And there is only one spectator sport you can hold at these stadiums: football.'
The HKFA's idea to regionalise the game meets with the approval of former Hong Kong international Derek Currie, who says a club identity is vital if crowds are to again file through the turnstiles.
'At the moment how do you support teams in Hong Kong unless you are a South China fan?' asks Currie. 'South China has a fan base which other clubs lack. It is a good idea to move a club to a part of Hong Kong and start up a supporters base there. Say, if Sha Tin were hosting Sai Kung, I'm sure that would draw people from Sha Tin to watch the game and also bring in people from other areas. I would go and support a team from Sai Kung because I live there.'
First Division clubs lose money every time they play, according to Ng who managed Instant-Dict from 1995 to 2000. More often than not, the costs of hiring Hong Kong Stadium or Mongkok Stadium and other related charges cannot not be offset by gate receipts.
'In all my years with Instant-Dict, we broke even only on one occasion,' recounts Ng.
Ng admits it is up to the HKFA to create an environment to entice clubs to move out into the districts. 'We have to give them a reason to go out. And what better reason than money? If we can tell the clubs that there is a system where you won't have to suffer financially and where you have a training ground and a support base, then I'm sure they will go out.'
The HKFA's 'Go West' plan, as it can be called in the spirit of those pioneers who settled the American West, will take time says Ng. 'Things won't change overnight. But we've started.'
Currie added: 'It is worth a gamble. It will take time, but then time is all what we have right now.'