Reprieve for South China, HK08

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2006, 12:00am

Relegated sides South China and HK08 will remain in the First Division next season. That was the verdict after a two-hour meeting at the Hong Kong Football Association chamber last night.

The association's council also agreed that another team from Guangdong currently playing in the First Division of the China Super League - Guangzhou Pharmacy - would join the league next season.

'We are delighted that the number of teams for the new season has been decided and we can now start all the preparations,' said Martin Lam, secretary general of the association. 'With two teams from the Second Division - Hong Kong Football Club and Tai Po - gaining promotion to the top flight, there will be 11 teams and we can look forward to a more competitive season.'

Lam said the main reason South China were invited to stay in the top flight was because South China Athletic Association, their parent body, had agreed to bolster the side for the new season.

'South China are a long established side in Hong Kong and have the biggest support base,' he said. 'If they promise to put together a stronger side, there is no way we can shut the door on them.'

The Caroliners failed to avoid relegation after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Citizen in their final match, an encounter which attracted the highest league attendance of the season of over 3,200.

The decision to keep the HK08 team up is controversial because the team will be strengthened by the inclusion of a number of older players who will not be eligible for the 2008 Olympic qualifiers.

'It was a ridiculous decision,' said an official close to the team who did not want to be named. 'The aim of setting up HK08 was to give the youngsters more top-flight exposure to prepare them for the Olympic qualifiers. But the entire aim has been ruined by adding over-aged players.'