Nine clubs for Premier League not enough, says Eastern director
Long-time stalwart Peter Leung says proposed new professional league, which received just nine applications, should have at least 10 clubs
As another round of protracted wrangling over the proposed Premier League looms, cash-rich FA Cup champions Eastern Salon stand out as one of the few clubs eager to take to the pitch next season.
The deadline for applications to join the new professional league passed last week and the Hong Kong Football Association said nine clubs had submitted the necessary documentation to join - seven from the current First Division plus two from the Second Division.
Funding remains a critical issue. Clubs have struggled to attract and hold on to commercial sponsors, while three of the nine are district teams - Yuen Long and promoted sides Tai Po and Wong Tai Sin - and need significantly more than the HK$1 million each side receives through government support.
Tai Po secretary Chan Ping said last week they still needed to find another HK$2 million to compete in the new league. The three district clubs will appeal to the Home Affairs Bureau next week for more financial support. Chan had earlier said if they failed to secure sufficient funding through either the government or commercial sponsors, they would rather decline the promotion to the Premier League. Two district teams - Southern and Tuen Mun - did not apply for the licence, citing financial restrictions.
Eastern director Peter Leung Shou-chi, a veteran of domestic club management, said nine teams was not a good number.
"There should be at least 10 to 12 teams in the top tier competition, regardless of whether it is called the First Division or Premier League," said Leung. "If there are just eight teams which the football association has declared as the minimum necessary, it will hardly be a convincing product to present to the public.
"The number of matches will not be sufficient to keep the league competitive and the interest of the fans. Who wants to watch if the big games are always South China against Eastern or Eastern against Pegasus?"
Eastern, meanwhile, are believed to have had discussions with Sun Hei, one of the clubs that did not apply, about setting up a second team using the Sun Hei name.
"There are too many players at Eastern and they would not mind setting up another team to compete in the coming season as money is not a concern for the big spenders," a source close to the club said. "They can use Sun Hei's name but there are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out, especially as Sun Hei did not apply for the professional licence."
Eastern's principal sponsor, Salon, is a Macau-based entertainment consortium.
Leung said Eastern had set aside more than HK$15 million. "The management has given me a free hand to set up a team that can mount serious challenges in all competitions, especially the league, as we want to qualify directly for the regional cup competition," said Leung.
To bolster their prospects, they have secured five foreign players from other Hong Kong teams and signed Hong Kong's top goalkeeper, Yaap Hung-fai, from South China, along with his teammate and fellow international Luk Chi-ho.