Record crowd watches Caroliners progress

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2006, 12:00am

Happy days are here again for Hong Kong soccer if yesterday's Choi Fung Hong Senior Challenge Shield quarter-finals at Mong Kok Stadium are anything to go by.

A Christmas Eve bumper crowd of 3,954 spectators - the biggest this season - attended the Shield matches featuring Happy Valley v South China and, earlier, Kitchee v Hong Kong Football Club. The previous season record was South China v Kitchee in the league, which attracted 3,560 fans.

South China held Happy Valley to a 2-2 draw at the end of extra-time before the Caroliners won 5-3 on penalties. Earlier, Kitchee beat Club 1-0.

Officials said yesterday's festive crowd was the biggest they had seen in at least five years as a paying crowd of 3,429 spectators made it a Christmas Eve to remember. 'This is good news for Hong Kong because we were really struggling to fill the stadium during the past three or four seasons and things are looking rosy again,' said a Hong Kong FA spokesman.

There appears to be a single dominant reason for the upsurge in interest - the re-emergence of long-time favourites South China as a force to be reckoned with. Since the Caroliners announced they were going to spend HK$10 million on their team this season, they have reignited interest. The Hong Kong FA has offered incentives for the paying customer, including a buy-four-get-one free ticket.

'The reason so many people have attended this game is because South China are playing well and they are the best supported club in Hong Kong for many years,' said long-time fan Tony Chan. 'Also, matches this season have been closely fought. There are really no weak teams. Look at the other day when Sun Hei defeated Citizen by just one goal. Hong Kong Football Club have also gained good results against stronger teams. It's more evenly matched than before.'

Meanwhile, holders Kitchee advanced to the semi-finals of the Shield thanks to a last-minute goal from Wilfred Bamnjo which gave them a 1-0 win over Club.

Happy Valley opened the scoring first when Sham Kwok-keung scored in the 24th minute before South China's Cheng Siu-wai equalised in the 78th minute.

Wong Chun-yue put the Caroliners 2-1 ahead in the 100th minute before Poon Man-tik made it all square three minutes later.