Fan reaction to Schmeichel's visit to Hong Kong shows depth of support
Vast support for Manchester United in Hong Kong reflected in fan reaction to legend's visit
Peter Schmeichel hadn't even officially entered Hong Kong before fans descended.
As the Manchester United legend approached immigration on his visit to launch the club's friendly with Kitchee, the officer in charge abandoned his booth to get a photo, while those queueing behind presumably wished they had chosen differently.
"I'm not sure I should tell you this," Schmeichel joked. "Even his supervisor was taking pictures."
It is that fandom that makes Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin confident the friendly, at Hong Kong Stadium on July 29, will be a 40,000 sell-out, but he isn't expecting his club to profit.
The government's Mega Events Fund has contributed HK$8 million to help cover United's appearance fee, believed to be easily the largest such fee for a local sporting event. The Tourism Commission believes the city will benefit from 8,000 visitors travelling for the match.
"I think we have a competition going, we are debating how many minutes or hours it will take for all the tickets to go," said Ng. "As a matter of fact everybody in my company is questioning how come they're not going to get their normal allocation."
Prices for United are between HK$390 and HK$990. Kitchee do not expect to profit from the match, but hope to raise money from ancillary events.
SCMP video by Hedy Bok
"Any financial gain [from these] will be donated to the Jockey Club Kitchee Centre," added Ng of the training facility under development that the club will share with the public.
The game follows the Barclays Asia Trophy on July 24 and 27, featuring Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland. For United, it is a further opportunity to market their brand in the region. They opened an Asia-Pacific office in Hong Kong in August and have recently signed sponsorship deals with Wahaha and China Construction Bank, two large mainland firms. It is their first visit to Hong Kong since 2005.
The club estimate they have 2.2 million fans in Hong Kong, with 108 million in the mainland. "The reception I've had in only a couple of hours is incredible," said the Dane.
He first visited Hong Kong as a 24-year-old with Danish side Brondby in 1987.
"I came back with Man U 10 years later and it was a stark reminder of how much I, as a footballer, had moved on in terms of popularity, but also the team I was with. [Those] 108 million people probably all won't get to Old Trafford any time soon so for us to come out and visit people here is a great honour."
Schmeichel is impressed with the current shape of United's squad, nine points clear of Manchester City and looking well set for title number 20. Schmeichel, who won five, said: "Sir Alex [Ferguson] has created a squad with a lot of young players who are now relatively experienced.
"It's a much stronger squad mentally, compared to last year. What happened in the Champions League last year [exiting in the group stage] was definitely not supposed to happen. The task this year was to get through dominantly and as quickly as possible and they did that and I think that shows how much they've improved."
Schmeichel is considering a move into management. Although Ferguson would be his role model, he doesn't see his job becoming vacant any time soon.
"I think our football club is having a long, long think about what happens when he retires. But the thing is, he might be 71, but you don't feel he's that age.
"If he's like he is now in five years, he'll still be the manager and we hope he is because he's the right man. As long as he feels he can do the job he's still going to do it."