Clean slate for Hong Kong football with new home, new manager, new CEO and even a new kit

Upcoming friendlies mark a jumping-off point for a fresh start for Hong Kong’s beleaguered football set-up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 3:58pm

It’s July 2030. There are 100,000 football fans and guests of Fifa’s corporate partners sat stunned in Wembley. They’ve just seen the first Asian team win the 2030 Fifa World Cup, the awkwardly named UK & Ireland 2030 which followed USMeCan 2026. As the biggest TV audience of all time tunes in to see Hong Kong celebrate a 1-0 smash-and-grab win over England on their home turf, it’s now 64 years of hurt for the Three Lions.

The home team collect their runners-up medals, led by the greying at the temples captain Marcus Rashford and World Footballer of the Year Phil Foden behind them Trent Alexander-Arnold, who still looks mortified after scoring the decisive own goal.

Veteran Tsun Dai, 31, is at the head of the Hong Kong players as they go up to the stage hastily arranged on the centre circle. There’s disbelief on their faces but ahead waits the serpentine smile of Gianni Infantino and another gleaming orb, the World Cup trophy. They set off to collect their medals, the crowd going wild at the team that has become everyone’s second favourite during the upset riddled 128-team tournament.

The smallest population since Uruguay won in 1930 and 1950.

Representing the 8 milllion back home, there’s Tan Chun-lok and Brian Fok, bandaged up after throwing his head on the line, receiving their medals, cameras flashing through winner’s medals collected, it’s left to Tsun to lift the famous trophy ...

Obviously, that’s total fantasy.

Apart from the most fervent fans and possibly the game designers at Football Manager because its their job, no one is even contemplating the possibility.

However, if it ever is to happen then this is moment where Hong Kong football has to make a choice.

It’s a time of great change in the city’s football scene. In the last week new head coach Gary White has named his first provisional squad ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Thailand at Mong Kok on October 11 and then away to Indonesia on October 16.

It’s also the week that the man who led White’s appointment left the Hong Kong Football Association after six years, with CEO Mark Sutcliffe returning home to England. There is more to change come at that level as the HKFA replace him, with elections for a permanent appointment next year.

New boss Gary White ‘can’t keep everyone happy’ after ringing the changes as Hong Kong prepares for two international friendlies

As if that was not enough, the long mooted Football Training Centre at Tseung Kwan O is up and running, with the representative team finally having a training base to call their own after years of preparing for international football in the same manner Wimbledon prepared for their FA Cup run in 1988.

To ram it all home, Hong Kong has even launched its new set of kits. A brand new look for this brand new start.

In many ways the change is overdue.

Winning the World Cup is a distant dream, as is qualifying for it. Hong Kong has not qualified for the AFC Asian Cup since 1968 and it will be at least 55 years since their last appearance before their next.

Success in the East Asian Football Federation Championships has proved as difficult to pin down, despite it being a far smaller playing field. A best performance of third place came back in 1995 and three fourth-place finishes have followed. If White can guide them to the next EAFF in South Korea next year, the qualification for which starts after the upcoming pair of friendlies, then it will end an exile dating back to 2010.

New Nike kit for Hong Kong football team released for Gary White’s first game against Thailand at Mong Kok Stadium

To do that, Hong Kong will need to change their recent fortunes against North Korea and join the hosts and fellow regional powerhouses China and Japan in the final. There’s no reason it can’t happen.

Incoming boss Gary White has been tasked with getting the team up the rankings and he has a history of doing just that.

The upcoming friendlies will be a test for a team that is ranked 143 in the world. Thailand are 122 and Indonesia are 164, but home advantage probably counts for something in the football hotbed of Indonesia.

Therein lies Hong Kong’s choice. What does it as a populace want from football? The interest is there on many levels. Septuagenarian taxi drivers having a kick around on the Mong Kok hardcourts, young boys and girls taking their first coaching sessions at Happy Valley, politicians wearing football shirts in interviews, bars packed for Uefa Champions League games and queues out the door before kick-off as everyone scrambles to get a bet on at their local Jockey Club. Hong Kong has all the ingredients to be a hotbed of football. Right now it seems just not for Hong Kong football itself.

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Everyone can make the choice to change that. The Hong Kong team is essentially a new team. There is a new head coach, new faces and a new team HQ.

If the people want a representative team that does well then they need to start supporting it – and local football ­– now to give it a fighting chance, rather than wait until its winning to take an interest.

Change is a coming, it’s time to decide that’s a positive.