Hong Kong Premier League kicks off and here are nine reasons why you should watch local football this 2018-19 season
Goals galore, cracking atmospheres and easily accessible stadiums make for a great day out on the cheap
The Hong Kong Premier League returns for another season on Friday when champions Kitchee kick off against Lee Man Warriors under the floodlights at Tseung Kwan O.
This marks the fifth season of the professional league since it rebranded as the HKPL and it is set to be the best yet.
Here are the reasons why you should start watching local top flight football, aside from the sheer joy of watching live football in the flesh instead of on a screen.
It’s not as bad as you think
Hong Kong football has a bad reputation and while it’s true it is not as star-studded or competitive as the English Premier League, it’s a lot better than you think. Especially if you’re basing that on having never been. It is professional football and there are a lot of positives.
Firstly, you’ll see international footballers.
Last year former Manchester United, Villareal and Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan turned out for Kitchee, but the player of the year was Kristian Vadocz, who passed his way into the Hungary national side with his mastery at Mong Kok.
Vadocz has left Kitchee, although he is rumoured to be returning to Hong Kong, but the champs have signed former Liverpool and Juventus midfielder Mohamed Sissoko to replace him.
Plus, plenty of the goals are out of this world. Long shots and mazy dribbles abound.
Tickets for games can be as little as HK$60 at Lee Man. That is at least 90 minutes of action for your money – and unlike the cinema there’s no hidden costs if a cup game runs long. As for non-live action, many of the matches (Kitchee excluded now they are charging fans) stream for free on Facebook.
Dreams are doing deals on season tickets, as are most clubs.
With five games every weekend, there’s a chance to catch a match without too much effort. Or you could push to watch 450 minutes of football a weekend.
There will be goals
If there is one thing that the Hong Kong Premier League can guarantee then that is goals. Loads of them, in fact. Last season the average was 3.36 goals per game and it was 3.43 the season before. The only time it has (just) dipped below three per game was the 2.96 of the 2015-16 season. In the opening year of the HKPL it was 3.33.
Kitchee have the record win, 10-0 against Hong Kong Football Club in the 2016-17 season, but insiders are suggesting that could be beaten this campaign with the promotion of Hoi King to the top flight.
Hoi King finished eighth in the First Division last season, but made the leap after deciding to go pro.
There could be some historic scorelines in store.
Chan Yuen Ting on her experiences of being the first female football coach in the Hong Kong Premier League #FIFA4Equality
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There might even be a title race
Kitchee romped to the title last season, winning by 13 points. But this year promises to be different. Eastern, the champions of the 2015-16 season and the only other team to win the HKPL, have brought back coach Chan Yuen-ting.
The winner of the AFC’s female coach of the year, she has returned to the hot seat and is tasked with returning Eastern to the top.
The other title contender is big spending R&F, the sister club of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F, who have a budget that dwarves even Kitchee’s this season.
Expectations will be high on the mainland after splashing the cash.
Kitchee remain favourites for top spot but it should be a tighter affair – maybe even as dramatic as the season when Eastern won by a single point or when Kitchee pipped their rivals in the last game of the season to finish top in 2017.
It’s stress free
Unlike most events, you can decide to go on a whim. Just jump on the MTR to the stadium. Tickets are easy to come by and unlikely to sell out. Plus, once you’re in you can sit pretty much wherever, so you can go with as many or as few friends as you want. The fans are very welcoming and it is easy enough to embed with the hard core support of your chosen team, once you’ve chosen them that is.
There’s very little barrier – literal and figurative – between the players and fans. Plus some of the stadiums are football specific so you’re close to the action on the pitch as you can be off it.
Also, unlike the English system where it takes people great expense and equal effort to complete the full set of 92 grounds, you can tick off Hong Kong’s in a single weekend – although you’ll need a China visa to get over to R&F’s Guangzhou home base, making the HKPL one of a handful of leagues that crosses borders.
You can take your own booze
Like all of the fan-first football countries, you’re allowed to have a beer in sight of the pitch. In Hong Kong, though, you’re allowed to bring in your own as long as it is decanted. No glass bottles, so get yourself some plastic big enough to take your prosecco.
There will be bigger names coming
The AFC Champions League beckons for the champions and Kitchee will get a chance to qualify when the 2019 tournament kicks off next spring. Kitchee faced Korean serial champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors this year, while Guangzhou Evergrande were one of the teams Eastern faced the year before.