Host Hong Kong a winner in Premier League Asia Trophy
Liverpool took home the title but Hong Kong also won praise for organising the tournament, and this time the pitch held up well, too
There was much at stake when Hong Kong hosted the Premier League Asia Trophy last week – and not just for the top English teams competing. The last time the city hosted the tournament, four years ago, the poor state of the Hong Kong Stadium pitch attracted criticism and made international headlines. At the time, it was difficult to imagine Hong Kong being trusted to stage the competition again. This time, heavy rain ahead of the tournament interrupted preparations and prompted fears of another embarrassment. But the HK$30 million invested in a new drainage system for the pitch was money well spent.
The playing surface held up as Liverpool, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace did battle. Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore both praised the organisers.
The competition provided Asian fans with a rare opportunity to see their footballing heroes in the flesh. Tickets for the matches sold out in record time, with Liverpool enjoying the majority of local support. The trip gave the teams a precious opportunity to give something back to their supporters in the region. And they didn’t disappoint.
The clubs also signed sponsorship deals, took part in promotional activities and generally built their brand. The clubs cannot afford to ignore Asia and the revenue generated by its many millions of fans. Plans to hold part of the tournament on the mainland fell through. But China continues to appeal to English teams, with Arsenal and Chelsea playing a pre-season friendly in Beijing last weekend.
Nine years ago, Scudamore provoked a backlash in Britain by suggesting some English Premier League matches would be played outside the country in future. He does not see that happening soon, given opposition from British media and supporters. But such a step will, surely, have to be taken in the future if the Premier League’s global appeal is to grow.
Asian fans are passionate and knowledgeable. They contribute to their teams’ finances through television revenue and the buying of merchandise. They are just as much fans as their counterparts in Britain. Hopefully, the Asia Trophy will return to Hong Kong and, one day, a top-flight English Premier League game will be played here.