Meet Chan Yuen-ting, the first woman ever to lead a men’s team to a top-flight soccer title
A love for David Beckham inspired ‘Beef Ball’ to become a football coach
The appointment may have shaken the establishment in a coaching world wholly dominated by men, but Chan Yuen-ting showed no fear as she took on the challenge of becoming coach of Hong Kong Premier League leaders Eastern, aged just 27.
Chan became the youngest coach in the league - and one of the youngest ever in Hong Kong when she took the reins in December 2015.
The decision may have raised eyebrows, but it paid off on Friday as Eastern won the league title, with Chan the first woman ever to lead a men’s team to a top-flight championship.
“Eastern are an ambitious club and leading the Premier League but I am not afraid of meeting the challenge,” Chan told the SCMP in December.
“With the support of the players and the management, I am confident of taking the club into a successful era.”
Nicknamed ‘Beef Ball’ in Cantonese, Chan’s passion for soccer was first inspired by a love for David Beckham. She even managed somehow to make soccer the focus of her final university thesis, even though she was studying geography.
Chan said her passion for the game even won over her parents, who wanted her to follow a different career path.
“My parents were against me entering professional soccer as there was little prospects, especially for a university graduate,” said Chan.
“They thought even a teacher would have a better future. But my passion and devotion to soccer, coupled with my achievements in the sport, have gradually changed their attitude. They fully support me now.
“I started learning soccer during my secondary school and all because of David Beckham,” she said.
“I watched the Premier League on television and he was so impressive and his image easily caught the heart of a young girl.
“I decided to join the sport and learned the skills through the summer training scheme offered by the Football Association.”
Chan, who started as a data analyst with TSW Pegasus in 2010, is one of the few Hong Kong coaches who has an AFC coaching A licence, awarded in 2013. She also led Sun Pegasus to the Under-18 Youth League championship title last season.
A Ma On Shan resident in Sha Tin district, Chan has been playing for Sha Tin in the women’s league at club level and was also a representative of the Hong Kong team.
“I am so fond of soccer that even my final thesis at university was about the sport, although my first degree is geography and resources management,” she said.
“The topic was ‘Study Hong Kong soccer through a geographical view’ as I used different aspects to explain the sport through Hong Kong’s climate, pitch location and population policy. In the end, the thesis earned a tribute from my professor.”
Chan admitted she was surprised to be given the call to lead the team, but her ambitions won’t stop in Hong Kong.
“To be honest, I expected this could come only when I reached 30 after gaining experience in small clubs – definitely not now,” said Chan.
“Soccer has always been my dream, both in playing and coaching, and I could not resist the chance to take charge of a top club like Eastern.
“In the end, only results will tell if I have made the right decision and the club has made the correct appointment but all I can say is I am ready.”
Four months later, the proof is in the pudding for champions Eastern.
“Being the Eastern head coach is just the first step in my coaching career,” added Chan.
“I want to be a success so I can have the opportunity of joining other developed leagues in the region such as South Korea where they have a women’s professional league or Japan, which has won the women’s World Cup.”
Eastern executive director Peter Leung Shou-chi said Chan was the logical choice to take over in December.
“The appointment has received great attention because Chan is a female coach who is going to make decisions in a men’s game,” said Leung.
“It’s not going to be easy but the management will give her staunch support so she can lead the club to achieve our targets.
“We understand she may not have the playing experience in top-flight soccer like most of the other head coaches, but we have other assistant coaches who were players and can help her.
“Her knowledge in the sport and her understanding of our team operations and players are an obvious advantage.”