No South China, no problem: Officials upbeat about Hong Kong Premier League
FA chief believes the average attendance will improve despite the former giants withdrawal from the top tier with big-spending R&F looking particularly strong
Senior soccer officials were upbeat that Premier League attendances will not suffer despite the absence of South China, the best supported club in Hong Kong.
The new season kicks off with champions Kitchee taking on runners-up Eastern at Mong Kok Stadium on Friday and Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak is confident fans will still attend this season even though South China are playing in the second-tier after their sensational withdrawal from the Premier League in June.
“South China were very popular in Hong Kong but other clubs are coming up quickly and they can pull in the fans if they can continue to play attractive soccer,” said Leung.
“The league opener between Kitchee and Eastern will definitely be a good game with both sides aiming [for glory] at the 2018 AFC Champions League. I would expect an attendance of more than 3,000 spectators.
“Other teams such as R&F, Southern, Tai Po, Pegasus and Warriors have also strengthened their squads and the Premier League will be very competitive. The average attendance for last season was not ideal at around 1,000 spectators, but we won’t expect a big decrease because Football Club have been relegated while R&F have put up a strong side for the new season. We should be able to maintain a similar number and then build up a foundation for future development.”
The chief was impressed by R&F, who have doubled their budget from last season after finishing second from the bottom of the table.
“They boast a Brazilian striker [Bruninho] whose transfer fee cost the club close to HK$40 million and I am sure fans will be eager to see a player of his class,” said Leung. “They have also secured some naturalised Hong Kong internationals and some quality foreign players who have played here before. They will be the team to watch.”
Former China international Wu Weian, player/coach of R&F, said Bruninho, who played in the Chinese Super League side in 2016 as well as for Danish Superliga side FC Nordsjælland, would add excitement to the Hong Kong league.
“He is a classy player but our ultimate target is to get him back to the Chinese Super League after he restores his confidence by playing in Hong Kong,” he said. “We are putting up a strong side and we hope the fans will come to support us.”
Unlike last season, R&F will use their training base in Guangzhou as their home ground for the new season and expect a minimum of 1,000 fans watching their home games.