Hong Kong changed my life, says West Brom boss Tony Pulis some 36 years after Happy Valley stint
Baggies manager made 13 appearances for the now second-tier side in 1981, and now returns for this week’s Premier League Asia Trophy
West Bromwich Albion are back in the Far East for the first time in 39 years, but for manager Tony Pulis, this week’s Premier League Asia Trophy provides a more personal trip down memory lane.
Three years after West Brom became the first British team to tour China for three weeks in 1978, Pulis moved to Hong Kong for a brief spell playing at Happy Valley Athletic Association, who now play in the second tier.
The 1981 move was set up by former West Brom manager Ron Wylie, who contacted Pulis while he was playing at Bristol Rovers.
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“I came out here really, it’s terrible to say, to earn a couple of bob to get married,” Pulis said.
Pulis made 13 appearances before returning to Rovers the following year, when he quickly tied the knot with partner Debs.
“I went home and got married the second or third week I arrived back,” he added.
“It was an opportunity to put a deposit on our house. We’ve been together for 40 years. This little place has played a big part not just in our marriage but our family.
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“It’s wonderful out here, I enjoyed it. It took a while to settle – the first couple of months were difficult.
“My wife, she came out here for five or six weeks. Happy Valley looked after her unbelievably well, the people were fantastic with her. We have good memories of Hong Kong.”
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West Brom’s links to the region stretch further after Guangzhou-based Chinese entrepreneur Lai Guochuan bought the Midlands club in August 2016, but it is unclear if Lai will make an appearance at Hong Kong Stadium this week.
“I think the group themselves have bought a lot of tickets,” said Pulis. “I’m sure if he’s not busy – and he’s a very successful, busy man – then he’ll pop over for the games.
“Things have certainly changed from when I was in Hong Kong. The brand is important, and the chairman will see it as an important step in bringing us here.”
Pulis’ squad, which contains new signing Ahmed Hegazi after the Egypt defender joined on a season-long loan, will visit China on Thursday to spend the day with Lai and visit one of his building projects.
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“He’s a wonderful man,” Pulis said. “I’ve met him four or five times, he’s a very honest and genuine person. I’ve found him very good to work with.
“We have John Williams as chairman over here who I deal with. Mr Lai doesn’t get involved with me, he passes it on to John to run. I’ve got a good relationship with John.”
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West Brom open their Asia Trophy campaign against Leicester City on Wednesday, with concerns about the state of the Hong Kong Stadium pitch with the Premier league teams greeted by an amber rain warning and almost constant downpours since their arrival.
“The weather conditions, we all knew what it could be like,” said Leicester City boss Craig Shakespeare after Liverpool were forced to cancel an open training session on Tuesday at Mong Kok Stadium due to the weather.
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“We’d like to think we’re a positive football club, myself I’m a positive person.
“We were out on the grass this morning training. The Premier League are doing everything they can to keep us in the loop in terms of what’s available with training facilities.
“We have contingency plans in place. You can’t do anything about the weather. It’s always a concern about the weather, whether it’s heat or rain. So far, no problems.”