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Will the Premier League's Asia Trophy be back in Hong Kong any time soon?

After the fiasco in the previous tournament, the Lion City is well-placed to tighten its grip on the popular Premier League showpiece

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2015, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 July, 2015, 4:36pm

As he takes his seat in Singapore's new National Stadium for the English Premier League's Asia Trophy on Wednesday, the HK Football Association's head of football development, Paul Woodland, will undoubtedly be hoping all goes swimmingly for his counterparts there.

But if the event, featuring Arsenal, Everton, Stoke and a local XI, is a roaring success in its Lion City debut, Hong Kong's hopes of the tournament returning here any time soon will surely be hurt, especially after the fiasco last time.

The biennial event, a "chance for fans in the region to get a taste of the Premier League matchday experience"', to parrot their marketing gobbledygook, has been held six times, three in Hong Kong. "We find it an attractive place to come, primarily because of the fans, the knowledge, the logistics and the ease of making it work," Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore told me in 2013.

There seems no chance of the worldwide opprobrium heaped on our city in 2013, when the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was reduced to a dangerous quagmire by incessant rain and a burst pipe

With its high level of English, world-class hotels and infrastructure, etc, Hong Kong has been a much less stressful location to organise the event than Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Beijing, the three other cities to have hosted.

But Singapore matches - some might argue beats - Hong Kong in those regards. And with a retractable roof over their state-of-the-art 55,000-seat stadium and teething troubles over an initially sandy pitch seemingly resolved, there seems no chance of the worldwide opprobrium heaped on our city in 2013, when the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was reduced to a dangerous quagmire by incessant rain and a burst pipe.

We remember Andre Villas-Boas, then the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur, fuming as rumours swirled round the media room that he had angrily insisted his team wouldn't play, only to be convinced of the enormity of the PR disaster if 40,000 fans were to be told to go home.

Paolo di Canio, then Sunderland manager, branded it a "killer pitch", and Villas-Boas and Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini also admitted their concerns, sparking headlines in the British media and beyond that made Hong Kong, and by extension the Premier League, laughing stocks.

Scudamore insisted afterwards that the league wouldn't rule out a return here, but a sellout in Singapore - a friendly featuring Japan v Brazil last year and the recent SEA Games final between Thailand and Myanmar hit that mark - would surely have the league wondering why they should risk another disaster in Hong Kong.

Singapore mooted plans for their Sports Hub around the same time that Hong Kong did for our planned "Multi-purpose Sports Complex" at Kai Tak, in 2007. But while their 35-hectare site opened just over a year ago, pre-construction funding for ours - not to build, just to survey and plan - was only this month approved by the Legislative Council.

Now the jockeying among interested parties begins. We've already seen one argument in the Post from a concert promoter that the stadium should have a permanent roof to make it easier to host big-name musical acts, somewhat neglecting the fact that sun is quite helpful for grass pitches.

We've already seen one argument ... from a concert promoter that the stadium should have a permanent roof to make it easier to host big-name musical acts

And local sport powerbrokers are warning that the planning and bidding process to bring major events to the complex - a Youth Olympics or Asian Athletics Championships, for example - needs to begin now.

The Home Affairs Bureau aims to appoint an operations consultant in the coming weeks to help draw up a design specification that will then go out to tender. Issues like the retractable roof, removable pitch - where will it go when not in use? - and the "interface between the various facilities at the complex" will be considered and planned. They will work with stakeholders on such issues as above.

Construction is aimed to be under way in 2017 for completion in 2021, seven years after Singapore, but given the delays already, we won't believe it's open until we're sitting there watching through our cybernetic eye implants as Brooklyn Beckham's Alibaba Manchester Red Devils take on Thiago Messi's Tesla Catalonia.

Meanwhile, back at the stadium we do have, the HKFA insists the pitch - currently being reconstructed - won't be an issue again and they have been keeping the EPL up to date. "We are confident [the Asia Trophy] will return," says chief executive Mark Sutcliffe. Hopefully he's right, colleague Woodland returns from Singapore with some good news from the Prem powerbrokers, and we'll see the Asia Trophy back before our "MPSC" is ready. As with everything even tangentially related to Kai Tak, we're not holding our breath.