Former South China stars hope club makes swift return to Premier League after ‘sad day for Hong Kong football’

Ex-striker Tim Bredbury hopeful shock move is ‘just a smokescreen’, while Ricardo Rambo says ‘anything can happen’ in Hong Kong football

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 2:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 11:13pm

Former South China stars are hopeful the club can make a swift return to the Hong Kong Premier League, despite Monday’s shock announcement that they would voluntarily be pulling out.

The most storied and also most successful team in local football stunned fans when they announced a withdrawal from next year’s Premier League to play in the second-tier first division in order to “nurture youth players”.

“I’m a little bit sceptical at the moment, I think something’s going on behind the scenes for this decision to be made,” said former Hong Kong international striker Tim Bredbury, who played for South China between 1986 and ’90.

“I believe this is maybe a short-term fix to get out of a bad financial situation or find a white knight investor within Hong Kong football or the wider business community.

“The fact they’re talking about developing young players is a bit of a smokescreen.

“I believe the door is still being held open for them as you would imagine with the size of club.”

Ricardo Rambo, who played for the team in the late ’90s and was manager last season before being sacked, said “it was a sad day for Hong Kong football” and hoped a solution could be found.

“In my experience in Hong Kong many things can be decided at the last minute – anything can happen. Let’s hope something can happen and be a good result for Hong Kong football.”

Convener Wallace Cheung Kwong-yung spent HK$50 million over the last three seasons without a trophy. Nine players are believed still to be contracted, with a total salary of close to HK$10 million; the club and Cheung will have to resolve what happens with them.

Darkest day for Hong Kong football as ‘Shaolin Temple’ South China withdraw from Premier League

Insiders say there are plenty of interested parties wanting to take over as convener from Cheung, but there seemed little will among the club’s management to continue in the Premier League.

Rambo insisted he had seen no signs of financial trouble during his time in charge.

“There were never any problems, but since I left many things could have happened,” he said.

“For a big club like South China to pull out, if it was because of a financial situation or no support from investors, it’s really sad for Hong Kong football.

“When I was there we had a great run in the AFC Cup but struggled in the local league – as a big club I think these three years without winning any trophies was a big impact for them.”

Founded in 1908, South China have not played outside the top division in local football at least since their earliest days.

When they were in danger of relegation in 1982, a damaging draw against local rivals sparked the biggest civil disorder in Hong Kong since the 1967 leftist riots as fans reacted furiously.

In 2006, they should have been relegated, but the HKFA gave them special dispensation to stay up because of their importance to attendance figures, sponsorships, etc.

“Hong Kong football needs a competitive South China side that is challenging in the local league,” added Bredbury.

“Local football has been getting a little bit stronger every year and for them just to pull out based on this ... I don’t think fans will be happy for a start.

“You need a winning South China side if you want the gate receipts and attendances to go up, that’s why they’re called the people’s club.

“I’m quietly confident someone will come in and help the club maintain its status. But from a PR point of view it’s very poor for South China and the association, and if there are financial issues, that reflects very badly on the club and its management.”

Rambo added: “It will have a big impact on the local game – we just recently changed to a Premier League and having teams in the Champions League and when you have a big setback for sure it will have big impact on Hong Kong.

“Now it looks like 10 teams in the Premier League when we’ve been hoping to get to 12 ... it’s a big concern for Hong Kong football, really sad, really sad.”