• Sun
  • Apr 20, 2014
  • Updated: 12:07am
The Rational Ref
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 3:54am

Premier League visitors reveal how local game is far behind

Fans spoilt for choice with four top tier teams showing just how unprofessional the local game really is compared with EPL

BIO

William Lai is a qualified soccer referee, instructor and assessor, and has also officiated in England and Australia. As an educator, scientist and social scientist, he is also interested in human behaviour which is why his column offers an alternative and rational commentary of what happens on and off the pitch.
 

Hong Kong fans were spoilt with four Premier League teams playing in the space of six days over the past week. Having looked at the matches, Rational Ref made the following observations:

 

EPL attendance figures are 35 times those in HKFA Division One.

Last season the average attendance for EPL matches was 35,817; in Hong Kong's Division One it was 1,007.

During the Barclays Asia Trophy, which saw an average attendance of 37,747 over the two match days, EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore praised the 40,000-seater Hong Kong Stadium and made clear that ticket sales and attendance were not key factors for deciding the host venue. "I wouldn't think [the stadium] would be a big factor for us - 40,000 for our type of event is adequate. We'd far rather be full or 95 per cent full because effectively we're trying to recreate the Premier League [which] on average is played out in front of 40,000-seat stadiums that are 95 per cent full."

As a comparison, Manchester United played to a capacity crowd of 83,127 in Sydney, whereas Liverpool attracted 95,446 fans in Melbourne.

 

Excellent pitch drainage is paramount

Recall last year during Euro 2012 in Donetsk when Ukraine played France in the group stages. Five minutes after kick-off, a deluge of seemingly biblical proportions bucketed down forcing referee Bjorn Kuipers to call a halt, with the likelihood the game would not restart. Incredibly, after only 30 minutes the water had drained away and the match resumed less than an hour later without any further incident. Hong Kong's "pride and joy" failed to cope with a similar downpour, which was not even in the red or black rainstorm category. Sunderland coach Paolo Di Canio went as far as calling it a "killer pitch".

 

Pitches do not have feelings, but officials do

It's all very well for losing teams to seek blame externally, as Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas did when he criticised the pitch and the decision to go ahead with the matches. When teams lose, they should look inwards, blame themselves and then factors like the facilities and environment. It takes great restraint to resist blaming match officials and competition organisers, who are doing their best to facilitate fair, safe and enjoyable matches. "[Villas-Boas] had just come off after they had lost 3-1 against Sunderland and he is entitled to his opinion. When people lose matches, they are disappointed," Scudamore tactfully said.

Three days later Villas-Boas changed his tone after Spurs hit South China for six. He could not justify criticising the pitch, particularly after his own head groundsman, Darren Baldwin, helped Hong Kong's pitchfork-wielding, welly-wearing and transparent-poncho-covered grounds staff. The "solution" was to lay sand, which unfortunately contained impurities like pebbles and shells, on the muddiest areas of the pitch and pray that it would not rain further. And then victorious Villas-Boas was quick to praise his own groundsman and no one else. "Conditions really improved today to allow the tournament to go ahead. But it would have never gone ahead if it wasn't for our groundsman." A typically biased manager.

 

EPL referees used radio communication

Hong Kong referees would love to use this technology, but there are two main obstacles. An official licence is required to operate on special mobile radio frequencies in Hong Kong and, second, the cost of the equipment can be prohibitive. EPL referees Anthony Taylor and Neil Swarbrick never bothered writing in their notepads whereas hapless local referee Liu Kwok-man could be seen trying to write in his saturated little black book after every goal.

 

EPL referees are clearly used to communicating with players

This was evident especially on day one, when Liu did not actively communicate with the players when they were fouling each other and then running away. In Taylor's match, within the first five minutes when South China forward Mamadou Hady Barry upended City captain Vincent Kompany and ran away, Taylor asked him to come back. After checking on Kompany, Taylor turned to Barry and gave him a dressing down. He pointed to his own head and told Barry to "think about his actions". Barry stood there, head bowed, with his hands behind his back and paid attention like a schoolchild being spoken to by his headmaster.

 

Ashley Young deliberately kicked Kitchee's Akande

The preseason friendly between Manchester United and Kitchee was not too friendly. United wanted a win to sign off on their rather limp tour, whereas Kitchee needed no motivation. Forward Alexander Akande put himself about too eagerly and Ashley Young took exception, kicking him from behind in an off-the-ball incident. Referee Ng Chiu-kok missed this. Had this been a proper EPL match, retrospective action would likely have been taken and Young serve at least a three-match ban. Young was taken off at half-time.

 

Preseason injuries are part and parcel of the game

Injuries to Spurs' Jan Vertonghen and Manchester City's Matija Nastajic should not be a shock when players have returned from their four- to six-week holidays. The FA has published studies that suggest the risk of injuries is more likely in the preseason.

 

Does the size of a team's touring party reveal anything?

Reigning champions United had a delegation of 120, which amounts to about five people for every player. These include coaching staff, health and fitness personnel, and marketing and media executives. Runners-up City had 95, while fifth-placed Tottenham had 54. Does anyone know the size of 17th-placed Sunderland's entourage?

 

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com

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