Hong Kong Soccer Sevens magic can bring out the inner child in all of us – with a few minor changes
Kids love the annual tournament at the Hong Kong Football Club, but the adults could be just as transfixed if organisers made some small tweaks
It will always be puzzling to see top-class football academies from around the globe playing in front of stands that are only ever two thirds full at Hong Kong Football Club.
The HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens is back in town, but once again the reception has been lukewarm, with attendance numbers failing to catch fire this weekend.
The seven-a-side round-robin tournament has all the tools to be a hit – famous football clubs like Rangers, Newcastle, Leicester City and West Ham are providing a glimpse of the future with the game’s potential new stars all on show in Happy Valley.
Just talk to some of the young players who come to Hong Kong for the Soccer Sevens; it’s not just a few games of football in the sunshine, but a rite of passage for these lads.
“It’s great for experience and I’m all for it,” said England legend Peter Reid ahead of this year’s tournament. “The game now travels worldwide with social media and experiences like this can only enhance them as players and people.”
If you can put down your pint and take a break from sunning yourself by the bar, you’re likely to witness a real treat.
The games are short and sweet, with two seven-minute halves akin to the format of the greatest sporting event the city has to offer, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.
With no offsides, it’s some of the fastest-flowing football you will see this side of futsal.
That is not to say nobody goes for the football; the Soccer Sevens is a delight for young autograph hunters and budding Cristiano Ronaldo aspirers.
As a 10 year-old boy, I was there too waiting in line to catch Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor for a picture back in 2004.
I idolised any young player who had featured in his club’s senior squad, or had even a hint of potential to go on and do so, and I’m sure there are still a lot of other kids like me.
These players may not be stars yet, but even meeting future middle-of-the-road Premier League footballers was a thrill.
I would always appreciate that Jack Grealish, David Bentley and Marc Albrighton made the trek to a scorching Hong Kong Football Club every year.
would very rarely disappoint and almost always interacted with young fans in what is a much more intimate event than the Rugby Sevens.
Yes, it’s great to sit in the South Stand at Hong Kong Stadium and throw yourself into the crazy blur of colourful costumes and dodgy decision-making.
But you can’t really go and get a selfie with Fiji’s hulking heroes, and sevens players are far more down to earth anyway – there’s no element of being in the presence of a future celebrity who will earn millions.
It has been roughly a decade since I last asked for an autograph, however, and I have been losing interest ever since.
It may also be a case of sour grapes as Danny McGrain’s Celtic academy side have stopped returning to the city, leaving a gaping Old Firm-shaped hole that has yet to be filled.
The kids will always want to go, but unless the organisers make changes, the adults will just keep doing the same thing they do every year: watch the kids watch the football.
How about holding the tournament at a different time of year, when it is not so hot and humid – you could have fried an egg on the pitch on Saturday.
The quality of football would greatly improve in cooler conditions, with players less zapped of energy, and more people would probably be inclined to sit outside for a few hours instead of intermittently ducking into the clubhouse for a sweet dose of air conditioning.
Or what about a simple half-time game to get the fans interacting? Imagine the half-court fan shots in the NBA, but instead you try to hit the crossbar and get a high five from Emile Heskey; little things to get spectators talking about the football, not about where to buy sun cream or the lack of meal variety (choose between a curry and a pie).
The playground area is a paradise for kids with inflatable obstacle courses and virtual reality video games, but how about throw in some toys for the adults? A bit of beer pong wouldn’t go amiss.
And why is it only the kids who get a space for a post-match kickabout on the training pitch? If I see a football, chances are it’s getting kicked, and I’m pretty certain many of the older faces in the stands would do the same.
Plus that drunk guy in the retro kit needs to put his money where his mouth is having spent the whole afternoon complaining about missed passes and open goals.
Maybe even a run a competition to play alongside some of the more famous names in the Masters tournament.
With a couple of minor tweaks and additions, the Soccer Sevens could be just as magical for the adults as the kids. Maybe next year.