Gloomy build-up to season for Happy Valley

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 August, 2002, 12:00am

Former champions Happy Valley began full-scale training for the coming season yesterday still unclear when the local season kicks off.

Happy Valley officials had been informed the new season would start on September 15 in the league opener against champions Sun Hei at Hong Kong Stadium. But now the former league and League Cup winners have been informed that Hong Kong Stadium has been booked for that date and that September 14 at Mongkok Stadium has been pencilled in as an alternative date.

Happy Valley team manager Lim Fong Kee fumed: 'There are only a couple of weeks to go before the new season and we still don't know when the season starts. I certainly hope the Hong Kong Football Association can sort out the date quickly. I can't understand how the Hong Kong Stadium would be booked by another party. Isn't Hong Kong football supposed to get first priority?'

The Hong Kong FA said they would look into the matter, hoping to clarify the league opening date as 'soon as possible'.

In the meantime, Happy Valley went about their business, hoping and praying for a better season after years struggling to make ends meet. Hong Kong soccer has been hit hard by a steady decline of spectators attending matches.

Even yesterday, the prospect of another gloomy season looked inevitable. Unlike in previous seasons, a small crowd would gather at teams' opening training sessions, but spectators were non-existent as Happy Valley went through the motions at Sports Road. Similarly, Sun Hei were also affected by the lack of interest.

'We can only pray that things get better for the new season. What can we do?,' said Lim, whose team had to slash their club budget by about US$1 million to US$9 million.

On a brighter note, Happy Valley have signed Slovak striker Martin Jancula from South China. The team want to sign one more foreign player to make up a quota of four expats. They have retained the services of St Kitts' striker Keith Gumbs and defender Gerald Ambassa Guy, while signing local defender Leung Shing-kit from Double Flowers and midfielder Lee Chun-yip from Rangers. The team have also managed to get sponsorship from Italian sportswear company Line.

Happy Valley will go to Malaysia on a pre-season tour later this month to sharpen up their skills for the new season. The local club will play a total of five matches, starting on August 28 when they play the Penang state youth team. Matches against the Kadah state team and the Malaysian Asian Games squad in Kuala Lumpur are also being planned.

'We chose Malaysia for our pre-season training because it was easy to book friendly matches and because we could cut down on expenditure. We will be well taken care of because facilities and training grounds are good in Malaysia,' said Lim.