Tottenham put on a surprisingly good show in Hong Kong friendly – just a pity more people didn’t see it
Premier League runners-up entertained the 27,000-odd who turned up to watch, but might game have been promoted more effectively?
Having witnessed a number of exhibition matches in China over the years when footballing giants roll into town, it was with some trepidation that I awaited the arrival of Tottenham Hotspur on Hong Kong's shores on Friday night.
With the Spurs kit man in a race against time to dry out the jerseys after their excursions during a Premier League final-day hammering of Hull City last Sunday, there had been rumours of disquiet in the squad about the prospect of a 12,000-mile round trip to Hong Kong to make face-time with corporate sponsors and play a meaningless friendly match against a club side from a country ranked 150 in the world.
Tottenham’s players, having delivered the club its finest ever Premier League finish, might have been forgiven for playing in their flip-flops after a draining near miss this season.
That was a flavour of the pessimism surrounding the run-up to the game. I’ve been hardened by years of covering post- or pre-season exhibition matches in China, too often experiencing the disappointment of fans who pay a premium to see big-name foreign clubs, only to be left disappointed by the selection of fringe and youth players that they witness.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) May 26, 2017
As much as I was looking forward to the prospect of a display of incredible attacking prowess by the swashbuckling side Mauricio Pochettino has assembled, I was holding out little hope of actually seeing it at its devastating best.
And then the game happened. The tourists couldn’t be faulted.
They gave a fine display which wowed the locals. They bagged two particularly well-crafted goals, and gave an all-round committed performance sprinkled with spells of showboating, which was enjoyed by everyone in the ground not of a Kitchee persuasion.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) May 26, 2017
The majestic Son Heung-min almost single-handedly made up for the disappointment of having to wait 75 minutes to catch a glimpse of a flu-stricken Harry Kane. The South Korean was relishing the chance to again adopt the primary playmaking role and was involved in almost everything good that Spurs did.
When he finally made way for Kane, there was rapturous applause – easily the loudest of the night – as the star performer was replaced by the star attraction.
After the game the Spurs players even sportingly played along, maybe a tad too enthusiastically, with the ridiculous awarding (by way of full stair-climbing ceremony) of the concisely named Jockey Club Kitchee Centre Challenge Cup.
They paraded their latest piece of silverware on a victory lap of the So Kon Po stadium stopping to pose for selfies with supporters and lob socks and shirts into an adulating crowd.
Later, Spurs manager Pochettino was most gracious in his assessment of the challenge the Hong Kong champions posed, rightly saying they had given his team a good contest on the night. He also took time to thank the club’s Hong Kong fans for their support and the warm welcome they had received during their time in the city.
All in all, the Premier League club conducted a very smooth operation on the tour.
You might say that as professionals that’s the very least we should expect from them and you would, of course, be correct. But we’ve come to realise down the years that you shouldn’t always expect that same level of commitment from touring parties to China.
Given that Tottenham more than held up their end of the bargain, it’s perhaps a little disappointing that the same couldn’t be said for operations at this end.
An official attendance of 27,568 represented a stadium just over two-thirds full. In the run up to the fixture, Kitchee revealed that they had set a modest target of 30,000 attending the fixture.
It could be reasonably assumed that the Premier League runners-up, playing an attractive brand of fluid football, with one of the hottest attacking properties in the world at their disposal might have sold out a 40,000-capacity stadium on a Friday night less than a week after the denouement of the league season.
Perhaps more could have been done to get the word out about the game. I lost count of the number of people who commented to me that they had no idea that Spurs were in town this week. You didn’t have to be living under a rock for the visit to have totally passed you by.
With more Premier League giants destined for Hong Kong Stadium this summer (Liverpool, Leicester City, West Brom and Crystal Palace are confirmed for the Premier League’s Asia trophy in July) it might now be safe to look forward to their visit in the hope of witnessing the clubs follow Tottenham’s example. As for selling the event, you can expect the Premier league and its reps in Hong Kong to do much better.