Ball Watching

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2001, 12:00am

Welcome back. Here we are on the verge of the little kick-off before the big kick-off, or the Charity Shield as some people call it. And what an off-season it was, full of rumours, gossip and speculation. Normally all that intrigue would be about player signings and managerial shakeups but not this summer. Not in Hong Kong.

The dominant topic for football fans in the SAR has been the vexing question of whether or not there will be any major channel showing the Premier League this season. But then came the welcome announcement that ESPN had signed a new 'non-exclusive' contract with I-Cable. So here we are, more or less back to square one of two years ago after all that palaver. At least the fans know there will be four or five English games live or delayed per week.

I-Cable also agreed to take a bundle of other channels including STAR Sports. In order to make room for the new channels I-Cable will be merging it's own two sports channels (Sports 1 and Sports 2) into one from next week. Once the English and Spanish seasons are up and running that means I-Cable will be carrying four of the world's major leagues - Premier League (on ESPN), Primera Liga (STAR Sports), Serie A and Bundesliga (CABLE Sports). This will mean about 14 matches live or delayed live every weekend. ESPN's return also means the Champions' League's welcome return to HK next month.

But with all that it has still taken one of the local terrestrial channels, TVB Pearl, to come up with this Sunday's English curtain-raiser, the Charity Shield. Pearl will show the match live with coverage starting at 8.55pm on Sunday. It's the first chance for HK's legions of Manchester United fans to see their new signings Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron in live action. As Liverpool are probably the next-best supported English team here, this should get a huge audience.

This weekend's CABLE fare includes a couple of interesting Bundesliga matches including Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich tomorrow and Borussia Monchengladbach v Schalke 04 on Sunday. In midweek there's international action, with England's friendly against Holland on Wednesday night (3am Thursday) and two South American World Cup qualifiers, including Brazil v Paraguay (8.30 Thursday morning).