HKFC Soccer Sevens is a success story that is going to get better, say organisers
The annual tournament has gone from strength to strength over the years as organisers seek ways to make it livelier while expanding their invitation to include teams from other top leagues in the world
Getting big name clubs to participate in the annual HKFC Soccer Sevens is no problem for organisers as they seek to develop the tournament further, according to tournament director Chris Plowman.
But with the soccer extravaganza attracting praise from participating clubs, maintaining an inclusive element of the tournament is a priority.
“Every team that comes and participates is surprised by the venue and the way the tournament is run,” said Plowman.
“We don’t have many issues with teams returning. But local participation and attendance is key. Obviously, we focus on the main competition, but we’ve also got the Masters and the Juniors.
“Literally, on the weekend we’ll have players aged from seven or eight years old up to players nigh on 50 years old, and that’s a great aspect of the tournament.”
As the 17th edition of the competition was preparing to get under way on Friday night, the tournament director spoke of how far it had come since its humble beginnings.
“It has grown from a small affair – the first tournament saw, I think, two teams from the English First Division, and just grew the participation of teams and its standing and professionalism.”
Plowman says inevitable comparisons arise with another successful abridged format – the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, which also started out life under the auspices of the Hong Kong Football Club, but whose popularity outgrew those humble surroundings before it became the world’s elite sevens event. But he doesn’t foresee the shortened soccer format moving away from its Sports Road home just yet.
“How to develop the tournament is something that has been debated a lot,” said Plowman.
“Personally, I don’t see it moving out of Hong Kong Football Club. I think one of the values of staging the tournament in this little arena is how close you can get to the action. It’s exciting. I think if you were to move it to say, the National Stadium, it wouldn’t have the same excitement and atmosphere.”
But in order to maintain the high regard the tournament is held in, Plowman acknowledges that attracting big clubs to participate is key. One of the clubs in attendance this year is surprise Premier League champions Leicester City, who have sent a crop of promising youngsters to compete.
“Leicester have been a supporter of the tournament for many years, and always a good name, but never so big as they are this year, so that’s been really pleasing,” said Plowman. “We talk to and try to attract the big five or six in the UK. Manchester City were very close to coming this year, but it clashed with their domestic schedule. I think it really is about trying to get as big a name as we can in terms of the main cup competition while preserving our values.”
After the hugely successful debut of Atletico Madrid last season, Plowman admits that they have widened the net to invite other continental European clubs as well as top clubs in the Asia region.
“We’re talking to teams in Germany, we talked to a couple of teams in Portugal as well, so those sort of relationships are developing,” said Plowman. “The challenge is that until they come, it’s very difficult to get across what it’s like. Until they actually come and witness the club and the tournament and how it’s run, that’s the challenge with the first timers. But once you get them here, they tend to come back.”