For long-term football observers, Kenneth Kwok Kar-lok seems to be involved in every aspect of the game, from club (Yuen Long) level to the national squad to youth teams, though this is the life he has made huge sacrifices for. In a moment of clarity, years ago, he decided to devote himself to local football and to work towards improving the game in the city. Since then, he has pursued that passion with true enthusiasm and energy.
Kwok first shared his experiences at the recent Asian games in Indonesia and his time with the U23 men’s squad he managed. Under his guidance, Hong Kong qualified from a tough group, which included Indonesia and Palestine, though lost in the round of 16 to a strong Uzbekistan side.
“First, it was really a great experience for me, because when I first joined the Hong Kong team, these boys, who were born in 1995, were the first group that I coached, so they gave me a great initial impression. After working for the HKFA for five years, I finally had the chance to become the coach for the U23 side to bring them to a major tournament.”
Kwok comes from a family with true sporting pedigree as his father won a football gold medal for Taiwan at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo. 60 years on, Kwok was managing a Hong Kong side at the Asian Games in Indonesia. “It really was an experience for me, and talking about the Asian Games, it dates back to when my father was a professional player.”
For Kwok, it was like the circle of life from one generation to another, and he is proud to continue the family tradition.
“One of the reporters reminded me that it was exactly 60 years ago that my father won the football gold medal. It was a bit of a coincidence, but it was meaningful.”
Kwok was satisfied with his team and believes that these young players can gain even more experience and represent Hong Kong at the senior national team level.
“I believe we had a good tournament at the Asian Games, as we qualified again for the round of 16, just like in 2010 and 2014 . At the beginning, my target was like before. We kind of reached the target, but unfortunately we had to play a strong team such as Uzbekistan. Overall, I was really proud of my boys’ performance though and I look forward to some of the team members representing Hong Kong in two to three years from now.”
However, the next tasks for the HKFA representative teams are already under preparation.
“Two years later we will have the World Cup qualifiers and in another four years, we will have the Asian Cup qualifiers, so my wish is that within these four years, the U23 boys can have more chances to appear in the senior side.”
Kwok said the intensity of the final group game against Indonesia and the fervent home supporters was truly a memorable experience for him as a coach, despite Hong Kong’s eventual loss,
“The Asian Games were well organised and there were some competitive opponents like Palestine. We were happy that we managed to draw with them. It was also a great experience for the players and staff against the hosts Indonesia. It was a very intense atmosphere and the boys learnt a lot from the game.”
Sometimes to reach the top of your chosen profession, something has to give way and Kwok has made huge time sacrifices for his career.
“I work seven days a week and I watch many games and even youth games. I actually enjoy this a lot, as I have sacrificed so much to become a coach.”
Kwok has also shown the power of sheer hard work and persistence, as he has gone through the ranks of football to reach his ambitions with the backing of his family who have supported him all the way.
“I was working at the HKFC as an administrator before and I was thinking that I want to devote myself to the place I was born in and to help in the development. So I quit my job and became a football coach. Due to my family background, I am really hoping I can be the one to help raise Hong Kong football to another level and I need to thank my wife. We graduated together from the University of Hong Kong in Sports Science. She is also an athlete so she understands my job, as does my family, both on my father’s side and my mother’s side.”
Kwok also gave his views on Hong Kong’s chances of qualifying for the EAFF finals to be held in South Korea in 2019. As this interview was made before the tournament took place, it turned out that he rightly predicted the team’s success.
“I was with coach Kim at the last EAFF qualifiers and we barely lost the game to North Korea 1-0 in Mong Kok Stadium. At that time we were close to qualifying and I think this year, it will be a similar case, as North Korea will struggle playing outside of their homeland. When they play in Taipei, it won’t be as easy for them to adapt. Gary White has also worked really hard with the players and there is good communication. Like myself and coach Liu, we have all worked hard with his squad selection and also gave a lot of advice to him. I believe we have a good chance to qualify.”
Hong Kong football has seen many highs and lows through the decades and so it is reassuring that individuals such as Kenneth Kwok are still brimming with energy and commitment, as he works towards taking Hong Kong football to the next level.
The interview was conducted before the EAFF Football Championship qualifying round in Taipei.