Hong Kong soccer's top 10
EASTERN Budget: $7.5 million Sponsor: Crocodile Team colours: Green with white trim/white/green Coach: Chan Hung-ping Captain: Lee Kin-wo Foreign professionals: Iain Hesford (goalkeeper), Tim O'Shea (central defence), Ross Greer (left-wing), Paul Nixon (striker), Tony Sealy (striker) Last season: League, champions; Shield, champions; Viceroy Cup, runners-up; FA Cup, champions One to watch: Lee Wai-man, a young and versatile defender whose talents have already seen him established at left-back in the national team Verdict: Will take time to adjust their pattern of play after releasing Dale Tempest and have less strength in depth than last season EASTERN, with the First Division title, the Senior Shield and the FA Cup in the cupboard, took a brave step by releasing their 23-goal leading scorer, Dale Tempest, at the end of last season.
And how they cope without him will hold the key to their campaign, as the rest of the squad remains largely unchanged.
Eastern's success was built on teamwork, continuity and consistency, with Tempest leading the line and at the hub of almost every move.
His replacement, 34-year-old Tony Sealy, is a clever and determined player, with over 60 league goals to his credit in English football, but is a very different player to Tempest. Although Sealy was not fully fit for last weekend's Aw Hoe Cup charity match, it was clear that Eastern will need time to find a fluency in their attack.
Ross Greer, usually on the left wing, may play a more central role, especially on the end of goalkeeper Iain Hesford's huge clearances up field.
Paul Nixon, in lively form already, may have to move deeper to get the ball at his feet, while Sealy will be looking to dart between opposing defenders.
As well as Tempest, Eastern also released right-back or midfielder Yeung Kin-keung (to Instant-Dict) and veteran stopper Lai Law-kau (to Sing Tao), signing only sweeper Wong Kwok-on from Ernest Borel and bustling striker Tong Yuen-sing from Kitchee.
Wong will be spending a fair amount of time on the bench, with Chiu Chun-ming, Chan Chi-keung and Tim O'Shea all ahead of him for a place in the centre of defence, while Tong could be used to give them midfield muscle.
In midfielder Tam Siu-wai and right-winger Lee Kin-wo, Eastern have two of the most attack-minded local Chinese players.
Having won the league last season without much of a challenge from the rest of the clubs, Eastern will find it much harder this time around.
SOUTH CHINA Budget: $10 million Sponsor: Coca-Cola Team colours: Red with blue trim/white/red Coach: Raymond Ng Wai-man Captain: Chan Ping-on, Ku Kam-fai Foreign professionals: Allen McKnight (goalkeeper), Dennis Koffyberg (central defence), Niels Gerestein (left-wing), Anto Grabo (striker), Marko Perinovic (centre forward) Last season: League, runners-up; Shield, runners-up; Viceroy Cup, champions; FA Cup, semi-final One to watch: Cheung Sai-ho, the new kid on the block with eye-catching skills in midfield. But he may have to wait for his chance Verdict: Have strengthened squad considerably during the summer and really mean business.
NO matter how good your foreign players are, it is the quality of the local Chinese who determine the destiny of the league title.
And South China, having watched the balance of power move to Eastern last season, have been busy in the close-season trying to put things right.
The demise of Ernest Borel at the end of last season allowed them to sign Hong Kong international forward Au Wai-lun, a player with bags of skill who, when in the mood, can be a real handful for defenders.
He tended to drift out of games for long periods, though, and the Caroliners will make sure that does not happen this time with much more competition for places.
Another newcomer is Wan Ho-yin, who has moved from China to join his father in Hong Kong, and looks a much more mobile player than former right-back Pang Kam-chuen, who has emigrated to Canada.
With playmaker Leslie Santos recovering from a summer knee operation, the emerging Chiu Chung-man will face competition for the central midfield role from Cheung Sai-ho, a teenager who showed flair on his debut late last season.
On the foreign front, only Allen McKnight and Anto Grabo remain from last season, with Grabo happy to play a deeper role now that the club have signed Croatian striker Marko Perinovic from Instant-Dict.
With Grabo's pace and attacking instincts and Perinovic's strength in the air and running off the ball, the Caroliners' front two will keep opposing defenders on their toes.
The other two new faces are Dutchmen Dennis Koffyberg at centre half and Niels Gerestein on the left wing.
If the management do not press the panic button after one bad result, which they did last season, the club could be back where they feel they belong.
I-DICT Budget: $6 million Sponsor: Instant-Dictionary (electronic translators) Team colours: Purple/white/purple Coach: Koo Luam-khen Captain: Cheung Chi-tak Foreign professionals: Roddy Manley (centre half), Steve Berry (midfield), Sean Edwards (midfield), Ian McParland (striker), Graham Harvey (striker) Last season: League, third; Shield, semi-final; Viceroy Cup, semi-final; FA Cup, quarter-final One to watch: Ng Chun-chung, a teenager who did a man's job at the back for struggling Kui Tan last season. Shows great anticipation and determination Verdict: Sure to collect some silverware this time after promising so much over the past two seasons WHILE Eastern and South China are expected to dominate the title race, Instant-Dict cannot be ruled out.
Now in their third season in Hong Kong football, Instant-Dict have yet to win one of the four major trophies, despite being one of the best teams in each of their two years in business.
This time they look stronger than ever, with Sean Edwards joining from Kitchee to form a potentially dynamic midfield pairing with Steve Berry.
Roddy Manley, formerly with Falkirk and St Mirren in the Scottish League, should give them more steel at the back, while another Scot, Ian McParland, remains from last season and is capable of being among the league's leading scorers.
Their fifth foreign player is Graham Harvey, a goal-poacher who learned his trade with Hibernian, Dundee and Airdrie.
Unlike other leading sides, Instant-Dict are happy to settle for a local Chinese goalkeeper and, in Chan Sau-yin, they have the best available in the territory.
Right-back Cheung Chi-tak, sweeper Leung Kin-bon, centre half Yan Lik-kin and left-back Cheung Yuk-sang are all solid defenders, while sweeper Ng Chun-chung was signed from Kui Tan on his potential, though he will let no one down if selected ahead of schedule.
Chan Chi-kwong will continue on the right wing and new signing Ng Kam-hung, from Ernest Borel, will provide his fair share of goals from a position wide on the left of midfield.
There is plenty of depth in the squad, too, with veteran striker Chan Fat-chi, pacy left-winger Lam Hing-lun and right-back or midfielder Yeung Kin-keung, signed from Eastern, all ready to fit in.
Sixth in their debut season in 1991-92 and third last season, behind runners-up South China only on goal difference, Instant-Dict can continue that improvement in the league and are capable of winning one of the three knockout trophies.
SING TAO Budget: $6 million Sponsor: Sing Tao Holdings Ltd Team colours: Yellow/black/yellow Coach: Law Kwok-tai Captain: John Moore Foreign professionals: Harvey Lim (goalkeeper), Richard Lant (centre half), Ian Docker (midfield), John Clare (striker), John Moore (centre forward) Last season: League, fifth; Shield, semi-final; Viceroy Cup, quarter-final; FA Cup, quarter-final One to watch: Wai Kwan-lung, another Hong Kong Sports Institute product with the strength to match his skills Verdict: Have made some shrewd summer signings and will prove hard to break down. Look an outside bet to win the title SING Tao never got moving last season, finishing fifth in the league and failing to reach any of the three knockout finals after winning the Senior Shield in 1991-92.
The management decided it was time for a change, releasing goalkeeper Peter Guthrie, defender Jason Hall and midfielder Paul Murray, all of whom played key roles in that Shield success the previous season.
With former Manchester United winger Ralph Milne also being released, only centre forward John Moore remains from last season - and the former Sunderland player now has the captaincy.
Not known for throwing their money around, Sing Tao have, nevertheless, made some astute summer signings, notably the acquisition of central defender Richard Lant from Michelotti. The teacher from Newcastle played for Club, Kui Tan and South China before Michelotti and consistently provides value for money.
Conservative with their cash and tactics, Sing Tao have signed three more defenders in right-back Choy Wai-man (from Ernest Borel) and stoppers Lai Law-kau (Eastern) and Tam Ah-fook (Ernest Borel) - as well as 'keeper Harvey Lim (Gillingham) to replace Guthrie.
With several tried-and-trusted defenders already on their books, including Alex Chu Chi-kwong and Sammy Wong Wai-tak, coach Law Kwok-tai will struggle to find room for all his new faces.
Another new recruit is Chu Yue-tai, a neat, left-sided midfielder from South China and one of the best goal-scorers among the Chinese players. But he may have to play a more central midfield role alongside new import Ian Docker, as speedy left-winger AlanChan Tsz-kong is their most dangerous forward, when fit.
Up front, Moore will be partnered by John Clare, formerly of Michelotti and Kitchee, and the two should combine well.
Clare looked fresh and sharp in the President's Cup after a knee injury ended his season four months early for Kitchee.
KITCHEE Budget: $6.5 million Sponsor: None Team colours: White with red trim/white/white Coach: Chan Fai-hung Captain: Chung Ho-yin Foreign professionals: Jason Loryman (defender), Jon Widdows (defender), Chris Ferdinand (midfield), Dale Tempest (striker), Mick Matthews (midfield), Rogerio Dos Santos Oliveira (striker), Jose Antonio (midfield) Last season: League, sixth; Shield, quarter-final; Viceroy Cup, quarter-final; FA Cup, semi-final One to watch: Wu Yiu-kwok, Ernest Borel's best player last season, solid and reliable in defence or midfield Verdict: Capable of improving on last season's league position but a top-four place is the most they can hope for SECOND Division champions in 1991-92, Kitchee consolidated their place in the top flight last season by finishing sixth.
Their defence will resemble the land of the giants this season, with six-foot six-inch Jason Loryman moving from Kui Tan to link up with six-foot four-inch Jon Widdows, one of the club's two vice-captains this season.
Yau Kin-wai, one of the most promising players in Hong Kong football, will operate as a sweeper behind these two, with new signing Wu Yiu-kwok to his right and probably Chan Hon-fai to his left.
Wu, a hard-tackling defender or midfielder, was the most consistent Chinese player with now defunct Ernest Borel last season - a very good capture. Lee Sai-cheong, a central defender or midfielder, has been signed from Instant-Dict to further bolster their rearguard.
Kitchee, having failed in an ambitious bid to tempt Dale Tempest from Eastern the previous summer, have succeeded in bringing him back to Hong Kong for a lucrative four-match run with a view to a two-year deal.
Tempest, who will be partnered up front by Brazilian Rogerio Dos Santos Oliveira, will not find chances as plentiful as at Eastern and South China, as Kitchee lack quality on the flanks and in midfield.
But veteran Mick Matthews, who arrives in Hong Kong on September 21, could be the man to hold the team together in midfield.
With a budget of $6.5 million - $2 million more than last season - chairman Fred Ng Chi-keung is determined to see the club up there with South China and Eastern and will begin the season with seven foreign players on his books, having already dismissed striker David Jones.
Kitchee will be skippered by Hong Kong World Cup goalkeeper Chung Ho-yin.
HAPPY VALLEY Budget: $4 million Sponsor: Zhinluck Co Ltd Team colours: White with green trim/white/white Coach: Yu Kwok-kit Captain: Leung Sui-wing Foreign professionals: Li Lixin (goalkeeper), Guo Weiwei (centre half), Wei Kexing (midfield), Ye Zhibin (central defence), Pang Weijun (midfield), Chen Weiqiang (striker), Wang Dongwing (sweeper), Tang Lepu (striker) Last season: League, eighth; Shield, quarter-final; Viceroy Cup, first round; FA Cup, quarter-final One to watch: Wong Fuk-wing, a striker who is back to his best after a miserable time with Sing Tao last season Verdict: Taking a big risk by hiring mainland Chinese players again and look set for another long, hard season FOR the second successive season, Happy Valley are entering the campaign with mainland Chinese players as their overseas signings.
This policy landed them in all sorts of trouble last season and they were heading for relegation until the club's management made a timely U-turn and brought in two players from Australia - midfielder David Clarkson and striker Kris Trajanovski - for the closing six league matches of the season.
In that time they won enough points to overhaul Kui Tan and finish in the safe eighth place - and then promptly discarded the pair.
The official who signed them, Raymond Ng Wai-man, has moved to Kui Tan. Valley are now under new management who prefer to recruit from Guangzhou, Beijing and Shandong. Eight players, plus a coach, are due to arrive in Hong Kong at various times, with onlyfive of them being eligible at any one time.
The absence of foreign players did not prevent Valley from winning the President's Cup seven-a-side title two weeks ago with a starting line-up whose ages ranged from 30 to 39.
But the club are kidding themselves if they think they will be able to survive in the First Division without strong imports. One or two defeats will remove all the early confidence and the disruptions forced by the arrivals of the mainland players and a new coach from Guangzhou, will leave them well behind the pack in terms of team pattern and preparation.
Their President's Cup victory proved they have some useful local players in goalkeeper Chan Shu-ming, signed from Ernest Borel, left-back Hau Yiu-tak, midfielder Leung Nang-yan, captain and sweeper Leung Sui-wing, midfielder Alan Reis and striker Wong Fuk-wing, who began last season with Sing Tao but moved back to the Valley after an unhappy and unproductive few months.
KUI TAN Budget: $3 million Sponsor: Tang - Tak Son Engineering Co Ltd Team colours: All green Coach: Cheung Chi-doy and Sammy Yu Kwok-sum Captain: Billy Bone Foreign professionals: Billy Bone (midfield), Richard Crossley (centre half), John Bottomley (striker), Derek Hunter (striker) Last season: League, ninth; Shield, first round; Viceroy Cup, quarter-final; FA Cup, first round One to watch: Yam Wai-hung, not the most consistent of goalkeepers but, on his day, pulls off some remarkable and spectacular saves Verdict: Will be happy to avoid the two relegation places after being given a reprieve last season WITH a budget of $3 million, Kui Tan will be the poor relations of the First Division once again.
Their only target will be to avoid the two relegation places and survive in the top flight - something they failed to achieve last season, only to be rescued by the Hong Kong Football Association when Michelotti were kicked out of the league because of financial problems.
So Kui Tan are back, with a young team built around a backbone of Yam Wai-hung in goal, Richard Crossley at centre half, Billy Bone in midfield and John Bottomley up front.
Crossley, who played for Michelotti two seasons ago, has a tough job in the centre of defence - the strongest area of their side last season with Ng Chun-chung sweeping behind Jason Loryman and Darren Bloodworth. Ng has moved to Instant-Dict and Loryman to Kitchee, while Bloodworth is staying in England.
Bone's combative qualities in midfield have earned him the captain's armband. The former Sunderland apprentice earned a contract with Sing Tao midway through last season after moving to Hong Kong to live with his parents at Sek Kong.
Disappointed not to be retained by Sing Tao, Bone got fixed up at Kui Tan.
So, too, did former Michelotti player John Bottomley. He was forced to play out of position last season, behind the Michelotti strike force of Tony Sealy and Alan Walsh, and failed to get on the score sheet with chances rare indeed.
He is confident he will be among the goals this time, though, as he plays up front alongside a new recruit, Derek Hunter, who has joined from Heidelberg United in Australia.
Kui Tan still have a vacancy in their overseas quota and are giving a one-month trial to Richard Webb, who played for Club last season.
They are desperately short of quality Chinese players, however.
CLUB Budget: $150,000 Sponsors: None Team colours: Blue with white trim/white/blue and white hoops Coach: Phil Russell (player-manager) Captain: Mick Lonergan Foreign professionals: Not applicable Last season: Second Division, champions; Junior Shield, champions; Junior Viceroy Cup, champions One to watch: Andy Roseburgh, a young goalkeeper with lots of potential and who looks set to attract the interest of the professional clubs before too long Verdict: Fit and experienced, they are capable of holding their own against the weaker professional sides but could find themselves outclased by the stronger clubs CLUB enter the new campaign looking much better equipped to handle life in the top flight than they were two seasons ago, when they were relegated with only five points from a possible 54.
Competition for places is fierce, especially in defence, where captain Mick Lonergan is not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up for Tuesday's opener against Rangers.
In addition to the squad who won the Second Division title, the Junior Shield and the Junior Viceroy Cup without losing a game last season, Club have brought in British Forces duo Pat Russell and Steve Rule.
While Pat Russell is a certain starter, alongside Kevin Russell up front, there may be no place for Rule, who was Forces' top scorer last season with four goals - a fine strike rate considering he had only five chances.
Lonergan can play in either full-back position but there is competition from Harvey Davis at right-back and Chan Tak-ming at left-back, while Chris Jobson's partner in the centre of defence will be either player-manager Phil Russell or Martyn Russell.
The central midfield pairing of Simon Page and Mick Valentine will be flanked by either Perry Tunesi or Andy Hunter on the right and by Richard Beacher or Paul Leng on the left.
Club are confident of picking up enough points to avoid relegation and the fixtures have been kind to them in the early weeks.
After taking on Rangers on Tuesday, Club's next four opponents are Sing Tao, Kui Tan, Voicelink and Happy Valley, giving them an indicator as to the work that lies ahead.
Apart from Sing Tao, their early-season opponents are all expected to be in the bottom half of the table at the season's end. With a cautious approach, Club can achieve their goal.
RANGERS Budget: $3.5 million Sponsor: Peninsula Knitters (HK) Co Ltd Team colours: Blue with red trim/blue/blue Coach: Jeff Lee Ping-hung Captain: Danny Lai Wing-cheong Foreign professionals: Jamie Picken (goalkeeper), Justin Crowe (centre half), Steven Raynes (midfield), Trevor Quow (midfield), Tony Richards (striker) Last season: Second Division runners-up One to watch: Chan Chi-hong, a Hong Kong Sports Institute product and youth international with dash and flair on the left wing Verdict: Young and inexperienced, it could be a tough season and they will be happy to stay in the top flight IT was something of a surprise when Instant-Dict released Trevor Quow at the end of last season.
Playing just in front of the defence or just behind it, the former Peterborough, Gillingham and Northampton player enjoyed a successful first season.
Quow, 32, was determined to find a new job in Hong Kong - and he has landed a job-and-a-half with Rangers, who were promoted as Second Division runners-up to Club.
As the senior professional in the side, Quow will have the task of holding together a largely young and inexperienced side.
Hoping to push forward more this season, Quow will be partnered in midfield by Steven Raynes, formerly with Hibernian.
Rangers' three other overseas signings are goalkeeper Jamie Picken, from Motherwell, central defender Justin Crowe, from Partick Thistle, and striker Tony Richards, from West Ham.
Crowe will be partnered in the centre of defence by former Eastern reserve team sweeper Poon Ka-ming, while ex-Michelotti midfielder Danny Lai Wing-cheong will be team captain.
Lai, very dangerous with free-kicks around the opposition penalty box, will alternate with exciting youngster Chan Chi-hong on the left and right flanks.
Rangers founder Ian Petrie has returned to the territory to help the club prepare for top-flight football but he must go back to Scotland at the end of the month to attend to some personal matters.
While he is away he will be on the lookout for possible new signings before returning to Hong Kong in December.
Rangers, with a pool of 15 full-time players, will settle for survival on their return to the First Division but know it will be difficult as they lack experience and strength in depth.
Their personnel shows wholesale changes to their line-up last season, when they finished only one point ahead of Police to claim the second promotion place.
VOICELINK Budget: $4.5 million Sponsor: King Network Ltd and Sharp Brave Team colours: Red and white with purple trim/red/red Coach: Simon Wong Yiu-shun Captain: Leung Shing-kit Foreign professionals: Steven Gonesh (striker), Ronny Proos (midfield), Ad de Jong (centre half), Jan de Rijke (centre forward), Milan Gavrilovic (sweeper) Last season: Not applicable One to watch: Lee Fuk-wing - shone for South China last season and represented Hong Kong in World Cup qualifiers. Plays wide midfield and is a good goal-scorer Verdict: Lack depth but not spirit and would happily settle for a mid-table finish in their debut season NEW club Voicelink have set their sights high in their debut season in Hong Kong football.
According to president Simon Wan Chi-lok, Voicelink are capable of finishing in the top four and of reaching one of the three knockout finals.
On the foreign front, Voicelink have gone Dutch, signing four men from the Netherlands, including stopper Ad de Jong.
Two seasons ago, when de Jong had a brief stint with Instant-Dict, he played up front but was out of position. Now, in the middle of the defence, he is confident the Hong Kong spectators will see the best of him.
Two of the other three Dutchmen will form the strike force, with six-foot six-inch centre forward Jan de Rijke being partnered by the highly rated Steven Gonesh, formerly with FC Groningen in the Dutch First Division. The fourth Dutchman, Ronny Proos, canplay either in midfield or at the back.
After problems with the necessary paper work, Voicelink are now ready to hire their fifth overseas player - Milan Gavrilovic, from Sarajevo. South China striker Anto Grabo, a former teammate of Gavrilovic in Bosnia, said he was equally comfortable as a stopper or a sweeper. He will come to Hong Kong from Belgium.
On the local front, Voicelink have signed three members of Hong Kong's World Cup squad - goalkeeper Chan Hing-wing (from Michelotti), midfielder Lee Fuk-wing (South China) and striker Wong Chi-keung (Ernest Borel).
Chan had a fine season with Michelotti last time, helping them to finish fourth in the table, while Lee scored seven times for the Caroliners after breaking into the team during the second half of the campaign.
Lee is on loan from South China, who have four players ahead of him in the queue for a place on a midfield flank.