Promising Hong Kong kids earn dream trip to Bayern Munich
Discrimination and weight problems fail to stop two youngsters from fulfilling their German dreams
Vicky Chung Pui-ki has drawn strength from discrimination against her mother and the ignorance of her peers to set a lofty goal of becoming a professional footballer.
The 16-year-old will take another step on that long journey by spending six days at a training camp at German champions Bayern Munich from August 20, thanks to her standout performance at last month's Allianz Junior Football Cup in Hong Kong.
Chung won the most valuable player award and will be joined by 14-year-old Cheng Chin-pang, who has also overcome a different form of discrimination - being overweight - to be offered the chance of a lifetime alongside about 80 teenagers from around the world.
Chung, 16, comes from a single-parent family in Fanling and had faced discrimination because of her mother's deafness and muteness.
"Some of my friends who lived in the same neighbourhood saw I used sign language to communicate with my mum and laughed at her. I was upset, but determined to protect my mum by showing I was strong," said Chung, who plays for Chelsea Soccer School (HK) in the local league.
"My mum didn't believe at first when I told her I was named the MVP, and then she was very happy," said Chung.
"I fell in love with football when I was studying in primary school. So I thought excelling in the sport would be the best way to prove my strength [against the discrimination]."
Chung has already represented Hong Kong at the 2013 AFC U-16 Women's Championship qualifier in Guam and has now been selected for the under-19 squad.
Besides making her mum proud, the award will allow her to watch and learn from other promising talents at the German champions' training base.
"This is my first time to train overseas and will be an important journey in my life. Besides technique, I really want to acquire leadership skills there," said Chung.
"The trip will be important for my development, as I want to better equip myself and get hired by an overseas club one day. I want to become a professional player in the United States."
Cheng has also suffered with teammates criticising him for being overweight. He now tips the scales 22kg lighter.
He started playing football for fun in grade one, but stopped after being overlooked for selection in a school team in grade four. His weight skyrocketed and reached a peak of 87kg when he was in primary six.
"I was frustrated when the school team picked my elder brother but left me out. When I was in Form One, I studied in the same school with my brother and started to play football again," said Cheng, who will start Form Three at Yan Chai Hospital Tung Chi Ying Memorial Secondary School after the summer break.
Cheng struggled at first and was unhappy after some teammates scolded him because of his physique and performance. That pushed him to lose weight and improve his skills.
"I first lost about 10kg through playing, but I still found myself too heavy after I joined Kitchee last season.
"I was determined to keep improving. With self-training and running extra laps on the field outside my regular training sessions, I gradually trimmed my weight to 65kg and improved my skills at the same time," he said.
"Last year I was given the chance to lead the C grade school team to victory at the inter-school competition. Teammates saw my improvement and have become supportive."
And in the Allianz tournament, he also contributed to the success of his school team, who won the cup final at the under-17 tournament.
Not surprisingly, the MVP award means more to him than anything.
His elder brother, Chin-lung, helped the national squad qualify for the AFC U-16 Championship in September, while his father was a former player in the second division league.
"Decades ago my grandpa banned my dad from taking up a job in the football industry. He [grandpa] thought the salary was not sufficient for living. So my dad always wanted us to be first division players, or get a coaching licence. He thinks it's cool to have a job that we like and can exercise at the same time, and we can make a living, too."
Cheng says rather than living in the shadow of his brother, they are on good terms.
"My elder brother always supports me. He doesn't speak much at home, but he always reminds me what to do on the field and gives encouragement from time to time. I see him as a role model," said Cheng.
The trip to Munich is only the first step for Cheng, as the defensive midfielder for the Kitchee U-16 squad is targeting a spot in the national youth squad.
"I always have flashbacks of what I have experienced in the sport. [To lose weight and play at top level] was very tough indeed," said Cheng.
"Before the start of this tournament, I thought about winning this individual award. I didn't say it out loud, but I was eager to go for it, and I prepared for a month and delivered my best in every match," he added.
"And now I can experience the way they practice in a top European club. This is a chance to catch up the time I lost when I was away."
Besides training, Chung and Cheng will also have a chance to meet Bayern's first-team players and watch a Bundesliga match, likely to be the season opener against Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena.
Chung said: "I am excited to be able to watch Bayern Munich at their stadium. I haven't even been to the Hong Kong Stadium to watch a match before, so this will be my first time to watch a live football match in a major venue.
"Thomas Mueller is my favourite and I hope to see him showing off his skills."