MANCHESTER United last appeared in Hong Kong on May 17, 1986. The crowd that day was 4,575. You can't buy a ticket for this afternoon's game. How times have changed. The team's fortunes were very different in those days too. Twelve months before they visited Hong Kong, Norman Whiteside's goal had clinched an FA Cup final win over Everton. In 1986, when they finished fourth in the league, the cupboard was generally bare, especially for the fans who were clamouring for the championship to return to Old Trafford for the first time since 1967. The sun was also setting on Ron Atkinson's reign at Old Trafford, which began in 1981 but ended in a winter of discontent. In came Alex Ferguson . . . and the rest, as they say, is history. In contrast, South China had just won the Hong Kong Championship . . . the first of three successive triumphs on the local scene. Happy Valley took the title in 1989 but the Caroliners then enjoyed another hat-trick of successes. In goal for South China was former Singapore international Edmund Wee, while up front the local champions had ex-Scotland, Rangers, Manchester City and Leeds star Derek Parlane and former Chelsea player Tommy Langley. But the most significant names in the South China lineup were those of Ku Kam-fai and Cheung Chi-tak. Both were at the peak of their careers and, a year earlier, had been co-stars in the greatest triumph in Hong Kong soccer history - the 2-1 defeat of China, in which they both scored. Cheung, at 39, is still playing, and will start the new season with Uhlsport-Rangers, while Ku is still with South China but misses today's game because of a thigh injury. Eleven years ago, the game reflected the fortunes of the two teams, with South China taking a 2-0 half-time lead before United clawed their way back into the game to force a 2-2 draw. After 18 minutes, Leigh Palin - a guest player from Double Flower - made ground on the right and cut the ball back to Cheung who played it over a static defence to Phil Green. Green, in the report by the Post's then sports editor Robin Parke, wasted no time glancing a header past Chris Turner. The Caroliners went 2-0 ahead when referee Cheung Kwok-kui decided that a tumble by Lai Wing-cheong was actually a foul by Paul McGrath, and Palin scored from the spot. United came out for the second half with more urgency and reduced the deficit in the 55th minute through Barcelona-bound Mark Hughes. Irish international Frank Stapleton fed a perfect pass to the Welshman who made no mistake. Peter Davenport levelled five minutes before full-time and may well have clinched victory in the final minute but his rising drive was just off target. The crowd may have been small but the match was a cracker. Today's full house is guaranteed . . . now it's up to the players. TEAMS South China: Edmund Wee, Pang Kam-chuen, Hugh McCrory (Tam Yiu-wah 45), Ku Kam-fai, Yu Kwok-sum, Leigh Palin, Cheung Chi-tak, Derek Parlane, Lai Wing-cheong (Tang Sai-fun 51), Tommy Langley, Phil Green. Manchester United: Chris Turner, Paul McGrath, Graeme Hogg, Kevin Moran, Colin Gibson, Remi Moses, Clayton Blackmore, Peter Davenport, Mark Hughes, Frank Stapleton, Peter Barnes (Joe Hanrahan 45).