HK must grab chance for revival, FA's Kwok says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 May, 2010, 12:00am

Twenty-five years have passed and it still ranks as arguably the greatest moment in Hong Kong soccer - the 2-1 victory over China in a World Cup qualifier.

Now the international director of the Hong Kong Football Association, Kwok Ka-ming is still remembered most by fans as the coach who masterminded the memorable victory at Beijing's Workers Stadium in 1985.

Defenders Cheung Chi-tak and Ku Kam-fai put their names into Hong Kong folklore scoring in each half against a team who needed only a draw to see them through to the next qualifying round.

The home fans were so upset they burned cars, broke shop windows and created mayhem in the city after the match.

'It was definitely one of the greatest moments in Hong Kong soccer,' said Kwok, attending a 25th anniversary reunion on Wednesday with 15 of the 22 players from that famous night. 'No one would have expected that result, but we made it and stunned a packed stadium. It was like achieving mission impossible.'

A member of the Hong Kong team before being promoted to coach, Kwok has been sought for his experience and knowledge in the government's consultancy study, which will hopefully change the fortunes of the game in Hong Kong.

Kwok bemoans declining standards here in recent years.

'In those days, we had some high-quality foreign players and some came to Hong Kong straight after representing their countries in the World Cup finals,' said Kwok.

'The local players learnt a lot from playing against these top-quality players, especially our defenders, who had to tackle them all the time. This explains why we were able to hold the strike force of China back on that night and walk away winners after capitalising on two quick counter-attacks for goals.

'The quality of foreign players nowadays can hardly compare with those in the 1980s, and have little to offer local players. Many teams are still very amateurish in their operation and the general standard of the domestic league is far from ideal. How can the players we produce from this mediocre league be competitive?'

Chan Fat-chi, who played for top teams Seiko and South China in those halcyon days, and was one of the starting 11 25 years ago, said they were much more focused than the players of today.

'We spent most of our time on the soccer pitches, whether it was training or after training, as we only had soccer on our minds. It was not easy to become a First Division player, and we all cherished the opportunity,' said Chan, who is now coach of First Division League side Sun Hei.

'My Seiko teammate, Wong Yiu-shun, had to run from Stanley to join our training in Happy Valley to save money. Many of us were from the lower class in those days and we knew we could not spurn the chance we were given.

'Now there are more opportunities in society, and if a potential player chooses not to play soccer, he may still have many other options. Many come to a practice session for just two or three hours and then leave to pursue other interests. They simply lack passion for the sport.'

Kwok said the soccer community had to accept the changes proposed in the consultancy report, as the sport was at a critical stage.

'Our world ranking has dropped because the team is not competitive enough at international level, and our gate receipts have dropped because the quality of domestic competitions has declined and fewer people come to watch,' Kwok said.

'Now we must grasp the opportunity, as the government is prepared to help out. We have been on our own since we started professional competitions in the late 1960s, and it has reached a point that we need assistance from outside.

'The government has promised to inject financial resources, employ more professional staff members, build more and better facilities, and start an international-standard academy for the Hong Kong teams of different age groups. All these are pivotal to our future; there is no way we are not going to accept the changes.'