Reaching for the dream
Goalkeeper Eric Ching Man-chun always has his eyes on the ball rather than the goal as he tries to stop opponents from scoring in matches.
However, off the field, he has his eyes set firmly on life goals - securing a place at university and becoming a professional footballer.
Football is more than just a hobby for Eric, 18, who plays for Yan Chai Hospital Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School, in Ma On Shan; the sport has become the focus of his whole life.
He even changed schools so he could combine football and studies. He successfully applied for a place at Tung Chi Ying after it teamed up with Hong Kong First Division champions Kitchee in running a European-style football academy.
Tung Chi Ying began its Professional Footballer Preparatory Programme last year. It offers an extended football curriculum within its secondary school system.
'Before studying at Tung Chi Ying, I didn't know what I wanted out of life,' says Eric, who dreams of emulating his hero - former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel - by playing professional football.
'I did not think I was a particularly good goalkeeper before and I was not that great at studies either. Last year, I was thinking about becoming a policeman after completing Form Five and taking my HKCEE.
'But all that changed when I saw the chance to become a student on the school's professional footballer programme.'
Now Eric combines his love of football with his academic work alongside other leading young footballers at the same school.
The change has helped Eric to excel as a player. His outstanding displays were instrumental in his school team winning both the Sha Tin and Sai Kung District Inter-School Competition and the All Hong Kong Secondary Schools Jing Ying Trophy in March. His heroics also gave him the chance to play for Hong Kong at this year's All China Secondary Schools Students' Games in Baotou , Inner Mongolia.
Eric also aims to keep improving in his school work, too. 'My mother is very concerned about my studies, but I want her to know that I have a clear plan,' he says.
'I remember how happy Mum was watching me play when we won the final of the Jing Ying tournament.
'I will give my best, not only on the football pitch but also in my studies. I promise I will prove to her I am on the right track. But it will take a little time.'
Ken Ng Kin, Kitchee's general manager, has inspired Eric to think about studying for a degree. 'He said he believes I have a chance to study at university ... I was so delighted,' Eric says.
The teenager has been particularly excited about seeing two new coaches-cum-teachers during the new school year - professional footballers Alton Li Ling-fung, of Hong Kong First Division side Pegasus, and Hinson Leung Cheuk-hin, of Kitchee.
Both players are university graduates who have joined the programme to share with students their experiences of how they have successfully combined academic work and sporting excellence.
'We have been chatting about me applying for university and I plan to ask their advice again in future,' Eric says.
This year, apart from preparing for his HKDSE exam, Eric is playing for Tai Chung Football Club in Hong Kong's Second Division.
'This year the team have become a 'trainee team' for our school, which gives our players more opportunities,' he says.
'I hope to play really well this season so that I can hopefully achieve my ultimate goal - playing in goal for Kitchee - as soon as possible. I want to be a successful professional goalkeeper - just like my hero, Peter Schmeichel.'