James Milner hoping to make it third time lucky when Liverpool touch down in Hong Kong this summer
Liverpool look set to return to the city for the English Premier League’s Asia Trophy this summer, and Milner will be keeping one eye on the storm forecast
James Milner has not had much luck when it comes to visiting Hong Kong.
With local favourites Liverpool looking set to return here for the English Premier League’s Asia Trophy this summer, the 31-year-old may indeed be keeping an eye on the forecast.
In the summer of 2004 aged just 18, Milner touched down in Hong Kong on his first pre-season tour to Asia, after signing for Newcastle for £5 million (HK$48.2m) from Leeds.
Having lost to the Thailand national team in Bangkok on his club debut, Milner and Newcastle were set to take on Kitchee SC four days later at Hong Kong Stadium, but things didn’t exactly go to plan ahead of the game.
“We were training, doing a session and then someone came over and said, ‘You’re gonna have to get back to the hotel’ – there was a warning that a storm was coming in,” Milner recalled in a phone interview with The Post.
With Tropical Storm Kompasu getting closer, the balls being used by the Newcastle players were flapping about in the wind amid a torrential downpour.
No doubt most managers would have hurried their players off the training pitch to safety in similar circumstances. Not the late, great Sir Bobby Robson.
“The gaffer, the perfectionist he was, wouldn’t let us finish the session until we got this particular thing right, so we kept doing it and doing it,” added Milner, laughing.
“The guy was saying, ‘You’re really going to have to go’, but the gaffer wasn’t having any of it. He wanted to finish the session and make sure we did right what he wanted us to do.”
The Newcastle players finally got back to their hotel, just in the nick of time.
“The place was still busy downstairs,” continued Milner. “Looking out of the window, we were on the 30th floor or something ridiculous, and the streets were still busy. All of a sudden the streets just emptied, and we knew it [the storm] was gonna hit. It ended up missing us by a couple of miles and hitting down the coast I think, but it was pretty crazy.”
It was a similar story when Milner came to Hong Kong with Manchester City in the summer of 2013 for the Asia Trophy.
“The weather has never been particularly great when I’ve been out there,” Milner said. “A training session with Man City as well, the pitch was soaked – we were doing a crossing session and had to do it on the volley because the ball was literally stopping on the pitch.”
City secured a damp 1-0 win in the semi-finals of the tournament against South China, on a quagmire of a pitch at Hong Kong Stadium – a fierce storm had hit the night before – with the match reduced to 40 minutes per half.
The final against Sunderland was in danger of being called off with near constant rain on the eve of the match, forcing the Premier League to take control of the pitch from local groundsmen. The surface was even covered in a plastic sheet to try to limit the damage.
Heavy rain continued to fall on an already-saturated surface during the match, with parts of the pitch resembling a bog, but City secured another 1-0 win.
“I’m used to it, to be honest. The weather isn’t that good here in England, is it?” joked Milner.
“But the passion that we get out there in Asia and the following, it’s a good place to go for pre-season despite the weather at that time of year.”
The Hong Kong Football Association is still finalising details with the Premier League for this summer’s Asia Trophy Event in July, but a source familiar with negotiations told The Post that five-time European champions Liverpool will be top of the bill.
Milner has yet to come to Hong Kong with Liverpool, who last toured here in 2007 when the city first hosted the tournament, but he was involved in the club’s pre-season tour to Thailand and Malaysia two summers ago after signing on a free from City.
“The love for football out there in Asia is amazing,” said Milner. “The airport is always full when you arrive, which is unbelievable. Sometimes you forget how many fans there are outside of England and how many people follow it.
“Liverpool in particular going out there, the fans are pretty incredible. It’s a good way for the club to give back and spread the brand of Liverpool Football Club. The club recognises that, going around that part of the world, bringing the club to them and helping them feel more connected than they would if they were just watching the games on TV.
“They want the fans to engage and be part of the club. Hopefully it shows how much we value their support and want them to be involved as well.”