Hong Kong Football Club will embark on a new professional era later this year after accepting a place in the expanded Hong Kong Premier League for the 2016/17 season.
Having finished as runners-up in the second tier for the last two seasons, Richard Ewart’s side will join the 11-team Premier League starting in August – subject to final approval from the Hong Kong FootballAssociation.
Hong Kong Football Club, who missed out on the 2015/16 First Division title by just five points last played in Hong Kong’s top division as an amateur team in 2010/11 only to be relegated after just one season.
“Last year we made a tough decision that we are not going up, but we are going to plan to be in the Premier League and the players need to have another good season and we need to look at whether we can play in the Premier League. We have spent a long time over the last 12 months to look at whether this is the right decision, we are under no illusions it will be tough, but we want to sustain ourselves in the league,” said Hong Kong Football Club Soccer Section General Committee representative Neil Jensen.
“Some teams will be paying huge salaries, but we want to do it our way. We have a strong youth programme and we want to have a go with it.
“It is a great achievement for the club that both the rugby and football teams are playing in the top-flight next season. The goal is to stay up, but we want to compete and give a good account of ourselves. The players have had some good results over the last two seasons, we have a lot of confidence in Richard as a coach, and we feel if we don’t do it now it will never happen. This is the time, there has never been a better time.”
Supported by shirt sponsor The Executive Centre, Hong Kong Football Club will face the likes of 2015/16 champions Eastern as well as established sides South China and Kitchee in the new Premier League season as Ewart’s side seek to match the achievement of the 1979/80 squad who are the only team in the club’s history to remain in the top-flight for two consecutive seasons.
“Assuming we can recruit well, with the core of the squad from this year, we are going to be competitive. The division is a complete grade higher and we will need to be fitter, we will need to be more disciplined in terms of our approach and our preparation and via our fitness regime, and if we can do that, we have the technical ability to be able to compete.
“The players are excited by the prospect and are excited by the challenge and I think they will make the sacrifices that are required, and I hope we can achieve our objective which is being there for next season.”
Ewart’s side lost only three of their 26 games in the 2015/16 First Division, amassing a positive goal difference of plus 45, while also testing themselves against Premier League sides Kitchee, South China, BC Rangers and Wong Tai Sin in friendly fixtures last season.
“The reason we feel relatively comfortable was our performance last season and also we took the opportunity whenever we could to play friendlies against top-flight teams and we acquitted ourselves well, albeit in a non-competitive environment,” added Ewart.
“But we know when we step out there later this year there will be a lot more at stake and the other teams will see us as three points in the waiting.”