Last weekend’s end to the Hong Kong Premier League season also saw the end of Guangzhou-based R&F and with it the end of the mainland experiment in the SAR’s football scene. The mainland side decided to take their ball home after four years in the city’s top flight, also taking with them well paid employment for some of Hong Kong’s top footballers. R&F’s brief foray into the top flight was a strange time. They started off by playing their home games in Hong Kong during their debut season before moving to Guangzhou’s Yanzigang Stadium, the former home of their Chinese Super League sister club Guangzhou R&F. Choosing China as a base definitely made life more difficult for the mainland side, adding an extra element of paperwork to the Byzantine bureaucracy of football by bringing visas into the mix. This season – and next season if they had decided to stay – they were forced to base themselves in Hong Kong anyway, after the coronavirus pandemic saw the season finished behind closed doors following a midseason pause. R&F had been top of the table when the league went on lockdown, losing out without a ball being kicked as Rangers, Pegasus, Yuen Long and champions Tai Po all pulled out with the league’s blessing. Results against all four teams were scrapped from the records and R&F saw their lead and handsome goal difference wither away. ‘May 19 incident’ and football matches that have gone down in infamy In the end they limped towards the line. Late season losses to Kitchee in the HKPL and to Eastern in the FA Cup final left them trophyless, with nothing more than the mathematical possibility of a first title on the final day. They have decided to cut their considerable losses and what this means for the long term of Hong Kong football is unclear. The end of the mainland experiment has reignited debate over whether we should go the other way and put a team from the city in the Chinese pyramid. It is not a new idea and one that has been discussed by the HKFA and the media. “The only way forward is a Hong Kong team playing in China. That’s where it is going to get exciting,” former Hong Kong striker Tim Bredbury said, pointing out that it would bring in sponsors too. Dale Tempest, another former Hong Kong forward, argues it was a missed opportunity when money started flowing into the mainland game. Anthem issues aside, Hong Kong needs to play ball on the mainland “The Hong Kong FA should have had a team in the Chinese league. That’s where Hong Kong football missed out and really should have gone,” he said. “They should have had a top pro side, where you’d have your foreign players but also local players, the best. You’d still have a local league but you would have one team, almost like an international team.” Others have suggested doing just that – putting in the Hong Kong representative team to get them regularly playing stronger competition. While there may be a general desire and belief that this is a way to improve Hong Kong football, there are stumbling blocks – and that is even if the fractious factions involved urged for such a move. There are the obvious questions of what it would mean for the sovereignty of the Hong Kong Football Association and their Fifa status, although any challenge to that could point to Welsh sides Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham playing in England. “When I played in Malaysia, Singapore were playing in the Malaysian league,” Bredbury said. Singapore then pulled out to set up their own league, with far fewer fans attending matches. ‘May 19 Incident’ – when Hong Kong ruined China’s World Cup dream Then there’s where any Hong Kong team would start in the pyramid, but more importantly there’s the Chinese Football Association. There has been a troubled relationship between big and little brother since the “May 19 Incident” of 1985, when the Hong Kong side went to the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing and shocked China, the win prevented them from reaching a first Fifa World Cup at Mexico ’86. Since then there have been problematic messages from the CFA about the racial make-up of the Hong Kong side and then two acrimonious 0-0 draws that did not help China reach a second World Cup finals in Russia two years ago. The anthem issue has not gone away since, and will only be exacerbated by the new National Security Law. There are legitimate fears over what will happen at the next Hong Kong game and the current coronavirus pandemic preventing fans in stadiums also prevents a headache for the HKFA, who have been fined several times by Fifa. It could be worse. Big crowds for home games in Hong Kong could be guaranteed – maybe enough to fill the new 55,000-seater Kai Tak Stadium. “If you want to fill Kai Tak, it has to be Hong Kong against Shanghai and all their teams, Hong Kong against Beijing,” Bredbury said. Away games even in a post Covid-19 landscape would bring their own headache but that’s ignoring the biggest one. Why on earth would the CFA want a Hong Kong side in China? As it happened: Kitchee claim memorable HKPL title win It would be a de facto Hong Kong team and they have presented China with obstacles in reaching the World Cup more than once. Why improve them? Turkeys do not vote for Christmas, as they say, never mind poultry who do not vote but take their orders from the politburo.