Hong Kong Soccer Sevens showcase for European leagues' future stars
Watch the idols of tomorrow and the heroes of yesteryear in action at annual tournament
Mere mention of the word "sevens" can make some sports fans break out in a cold sweat. While the Hong Kong Soccer Sevens may be more a civilised and far less hyped animal than its rugby counterpart, it is an event that lovers of football in the city have been enjoying since 1999.
This year's tournament will be held from May 29 to 31 at the Hong Kong Football Club in Happy Valley. Matches are played under standard seven-a-side rules over two halves, each of seven minutes. "We play matches on a three-quarter size field, so there is a lot of goal-mouth action, which really gets the crowd going," says tournament organiser Tony Bratsanos. "The main draw consists of teams of under-20 players from all over the world, many of whom are likely to be the stars of tomorrow."
They include squads from English Premier League clubs Aston Villa, Leicester City and Newcastle United, as well as Hong Kong Football Club and Kitchee. Atletico Madrid from Spain's La Liga have also signed up for this year's event, among others. "In the [English] Premier League alone, there are 60 young players who have taken part in Hong Kong. Jack Grealish, for example, an under-20 player from last year, will be lining up for Aston Villa in the FA Cup final on May 30," Bratsanos says.
The other side of the tournament features the so-called masters (over-35s) and has provided many of the most memorable matches of recent years. "These guys might be slightly slower than the under-20s, but they're no less passionate," Bratsanos says.
Former Chelsea and Leicester player and coach Frank Sinclair first competed in the event three years ago as a member of the Citibank All Stars masters team. "It's a fantastic tournament," he says. "The atmosphere is great and it's a great way to see the stars of the past, and to get a feel for international football. And I get to meet old friends that I used to play with, too."
As well as playing, Sinclair will be staging a series of skills workshops for Hong Kong children. "We know they love football, but there's not many opportunities for them, so that's why we put on these coaching clinics. We'll be going through basic techniques - passing, control and dribbling - but the most important thing is to make it fun and enjoyable for all the girls and boys," says Sinclair.
Hong Kong-based Kitchee player Jordi Tarres from Barcelona was last year's top scorer at the tournament.
"Last year, in the game against Newcastle, we only had five players and we went in without a goalkeeper. And we won," says Tarres.
The tournament is a chance for players young and old to put their put their best foot forward. "The veteran players always play with great passion. It's like they're kids again when they're out there."
Sinclair, who lives in the UK, looks forward to the event every year and says the quality of the matches is very high.
"The atmosphere is brilliant. The fans are so close to the pitch and there are lots of supporters from all over the world to support their teams," he says.
"Word has got back to the UK about the HK Soccer Sevens and a lot more players are aware of it. All the publicity has meant that clubs are sending more of their young and gifted players."
HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens, May 29-31, Friday, May 29, 4.30pm-9pm; Saturday, May 30, 9am-7.40pm; Sunday, May 31, 9am-7pm. Hong Kong Football Club, 3 Sports Road, Happy Valley. Friday is free, weekend passes are HK$160 per day or HK$300 for both days. Go to hksoccersevens.com or cityline.com for details