The HKFC Citibank International Soccer Sevens prides itself on earning a reputation as the world's best seven-a-side competition where fans can see the stars of tomorrow and legends of the game in one exciting event. Here's what we learned last weekend:
1) Hong Kong's best-kept secret. This annual invitational event started in 1999 and has welcomed many illustrious current and former players, as well as respected referees, to provide fantastic entertainment over 21/2 days. The competition is divided into two parts; the Main tournament and the Masters tournament. The intimacy of the Hong Kong Football Club venue allows fans to get close to their heroes and to "scout" for potential English Premier League stars.
2) Peter Beardsley is a true gentleman. Peter Beardsley, Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton, Tim Bredbury and other CLA Discovery Bay players turned up with no shin pads and also wearing their wedding bands in the first match of the Masters tournament. When Rational Ref asked them to put on pads and take off their rings, the initial noncompliance was astounding. What's more, a non-playing squad member, bizarrely dressed in full kit complete with shin pads, even had the gall to tell me where to go. At this point, Beardsley stepped up and said they were told they didn't have to wear shin pads in the Masters tournament. This may or may not be true but considering most of the team had no shin pads, Rational Ref gave them the benefit of the doubt. However, I insisted they at least roll up their socks and tape up their rings to give some semblance of safety. It took time to find some tape but Beardsley calmed down his teammates and thanked Rational Ref by saying: "You've done your job, now we'll do ours." Throughout the tournament Beardsley's conduct was exemplary, unlike some of his teammates.
3) Litmanen let goals escape him. Evergreen Finn Jari Litmanen may still be fit but has turned goal-shy. Several times he had the chance to shoot and score for Aegon Ajax All-Stars, but instead chose to either pass to a teammate or take his time and thus lose the opportunity to score. Has he lost his shooting boots? In contrast, teammate Kenneth Perez was on fire all three days amassing an incredible 11 goals, the competition's highest total.
4) Teddy Sheringham has a look that could kill. Everyone knows Sheringham and Darren Anderton regard Hong Kong as an exciting place to party from their much-hyped exploits in 1996 just before their successful Euros tournament with the England squad. So when Sheringham failed to show up first thing Saturday for CLA Discovery Bay's 9am match and, looking worse for wear, warmed up for the next match, those in the know knew. One Spurs supporter asked for a photograph and then, to lighten the mood, quipped: "Rumour has it you had a good time last night". At that, Sheringham shot him a murderous look that said it all. Sheringham was late again and missed Sunday's early kick-off, which did not go down well with his teammates.
5) HKFC's artificial pitch, which is Fifa-compliant, has excellent drainage. The Soccer Sevens' mantra is "safety first", so at any sign of lightning or heavy downpours, play is postponed. This delay happened on a couple of occasions much to the bewilderment of the Scottish players who thought nothing of Hong Kong's inclement weather.
6) Peter Beardsley is a professional who inspires. As well as playing in the Masters tournament, Beardsley is a youth coach and obviously inspires Newcastle United's academy players. After fulfilling his duties with Disco Bay, Beardsley prepared the warm-up drills for United's players, who eventually finished runners-up in the Main tournament. Beardsley also had time to play one-on-one with a toddler and sign autographs.
7) A hard lesson for photographers. During the Masters Cup final, a shot sailed through the air and hit a camera attached to the face of a cameraman who was lying prone next to the goal post. The impact broke his nose and EPL referee Phil Dowd delayed play for a few minutes to allow for medical treatment. This is why no one is allowed to be close to the pitch, even if they are apparently out of harm's way. Parents and coaches take heed.
8) Des Walker is smaller in real life but remains a defensive giant. Compared with, say, towering forward Jason Lee, former England centreback Des Walker looks tiny. Playing for the Nottingham Forest Mobsters, he showed during training and the tournament that he is still a class act by reading the play and reacting well to sudden counterattacks.
9) There's a knack to after-dinner speaking. In his day, Joe Jordan was a top-class player. But he is not a motivational speaker. His 70-plus minute monologue, deliberated for those with ears finely attuned to the Scottish drawl, appeared to go on incomprehensively forever during the Sportsmen's Dinner. One would-be comedian brought a smile to many people's bored faces when he asked during question time: "Thanks Joe, I came in late and missed most of your talk. Could you start again from the beginning please?"
10) Hong Kong's best-kept secret needs to become our best-open secret. The Soccer Sevens has the potential to be as big as the Rugby Sevens. Every stakeholder in the sports community should put on their thinking caps and help grow this wonderful competition.
Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at firstname.lastname@example.org