Putting Hong Kong fans first and preparing for Kitchee crowds would have been just the ticket

Bedlam outside Hong Kong Stadium sees many miss Champions League kick off and more walking away in dismay

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 February, 2018, 2:09pm

A crowd of 13,591 watched Kitchee ship six goals to South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday night. It could, should and would have been more but once again Hong Kong’s sports fans were let down by a lack of preparation from officials.

While many supporters did not get into the ground until half an hour had elapsed – missing three goals in the process – many more decided to cut their losses.

Hundreds of hopefuls turned on their heels dismayed at the chaos surrounding the ticket office. The situation was not helped by police keeping the roads outside the stadium open and diverting foot traffic around barriers, resulting in a long walk for fans.

There was absolutely no reason for any of this to happen. It’s not like the game came as a shock to anyone. Kitchee were guaranteed a spot in the AFC Champions League when they won the Hong Kong Premier League last May.

Furthermore, this first home game has been at the forefront of football fans’ minds since the club announced the signing of former World Cup star Diego Forlan to spearhead their continental campaign, the same day that they confirmed they would play their first two home games in the group stage at Hong Kong Stadium. That was last month.

In the meantime, someone has been spending money to advertise the Champions League and tickets in MTR stations, with the ads guiding people to the Cityline website.

So why was there chaos outside the ground in the run-up to kick-off? Why are people reporting that there were only six ticket windows open to deal with the demand?

Why was the queue for tickets stretching hundreds of metres back up the road? Why were people with tickets in hand still taking 15-20 minutes to get in the ground and having to push in the queue to ensure that?

It’s not like it was Kitchee’s biggest game in their 87-year history or anything. Or that demand was foreshadowed when fans turned up early to queue for tickets ahead of Forlan’s debut league game at Mong Kok last month in order to ensure they got in.

So what was the problem? First of all, and this won’t be new to sports fans, was Cityline. The ticket agent’s website is notoriously flaky. Assuming that people didn’t persist with pressing F5 they will have settled on buying at the door – not normally an issue with Hong Kong football.

Some blame goes with the fans for not getting tickets as early as possible, either online or at the ground, but not meeting the demand in front of them goes with the Hong Kong Football Association, which has been approached for comment and has so far failed to respond.

Cityline website struggles to cope as tickets for Premier League Asia Trophy go on sale in Hong Kong

Maddeningly, this is not the first time there has been trouble with tickets, one way or another. Tickets for Argentina’s visit to celebrate the HKFA’s centenary were priced prohibitively and the Hong Kong Stadium was only half full for the visit of the 2014 World Cup runners-up and Lionel Messi on his way to being named the best player in the world.

Even when face value for tickets has been reasonable, the method of getting them has left much to be desired. Cityline’s website came under-fire last summer for the Asia Premier League Trophy. Fans struggled to buy tickets while touts managed to secure seats to sell on.

It’s all in stark contrast to the memories being shared this week following the passing of the star keeper of the 1970s Hong Kong league, Chow Chee Keong, when people reminisced over packed grounds and thousands walking up Caroline Hill Road going to the match. Instead, Tuesday night saw thousands walking away.

The end result was worse than the one on the pitch. There are a lot of people disappointed. Will they be back for the next game? The club, too, will feel short changed.

Will Diego Forlan signing pay for itself? Kitchee expect 20,000 fans at first AFC Champions League game despite ticket price rise

Hiring Hong Kong Stadium instead of sticking with Mong Kok Stadium is a much greater expense but if they can’t sell tickets to everyone who wants one then it is not worth it. They had stated they were hopeful of getting 20,000 in for this first game but they were let down by outside factors.

There was clear demand but it fell apart at the supply end of the most basic of economics equations. While thousands waited outside, two-thirds of the 40,000 capacity stadium sat empty inside.

It’s not like there aren’t solutions staring the HKFA in the face.

Hong Kong is at the forefront of this kind of thing. Whether that’s letting people swipe in on their Octopus, apps like Clockenflap’s, buying tickets online and printing them off, mobile tickets, there are plenty of options.

This doesn’t need a hi-tech solution. Everyone was happy to turn up and pay at the gate, even with the raised prices. Just open some more ticket windows.

Thankfully, everyone has another chance to get it right. Kashiwa Reysol on March 14. Though, history would suggest there’s more chance of Kitchee qualifying for the knockouts.