Players observing a minute's silence in 2011 for Valley former skipper Cheung Sai-ho, who committed suicide. During their celebrations, Valley displayed the No 8 jersey worn by Cheung. Photo: SCMP

Former soccer giants Valley and Eastern toast return to top flight

Former giants Eastern and Happy Valley secure promotion back to the top flight on final day

Two former giants of Hong Kong soccer, Happy Valley and Eastern, will be back in the top flight next season after winning promotion from the Second Division yesterday.

Valley, six-times former Hong Kong champions, thrashed Double Flower 5-0 in the final round of matches yesterday, while four-times champions Eastern, now playing as Eastern Solon, beat Sha Tin 2-0.

Tai Chung, who were second in the standings before yesterday, slipped up badly, losing 3-1 on the final day to Second Division winners Yuen Long and finishing fourth on 40 points, behind Valley (44) and Eastern (42). Yuen Long topped the standings on 51 points. The three promoted sides will join a new-look 12-team First Division next season.

During their celebrations, Valley displayed the No 8 jersey worn by former skipper Cheung Sai-ho, who committed suicide in 2011. "Cheung had said before his death that he wanted to help the team gain promotion and his wish came true today," said club director Kwong Hiu-ming.

"It has not been easy for the last couple of years as the competition for promotion is always tough. We have employed a group of core players who have top-flight experience but still we had to wait until the last match of the season to finish the job."

Kwong said Valley would set aside a budget of not less than HK$5 million for next season. "We have approached a coach from the Netherlands and hopefully his experience can help," Kwong said.

Eastern director Peter Leung Shou-chi admitted they would find it difficult recruiting players for the next campaign.

"There will be 12 teams in the top flight and the demand for quality players will be high," said Leung. "We haven't thought too much about our future direction yet, whether to form a quality side to challenge for titles. The management will sit down soon to plan the future."

Meanwhile, the government announced yesterday it would increase its financial support to First Division district teams from the HK$550,000 to a maximum HK$1 million next season.

There will be three district teams in the top flight next season - Southern, Tuen Mun and Yuen Long.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Ex-champions return from the wilderness