At the “Premier Skills Asia Showcase” held in Mong Kok’s Macpherson Stadium, representatives of the four English Premier League teams (West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Liverpool) held training sessions with groups of youngsters from Hong Kong. Around the venue were legends such as John Barnes and Emile Heskey who proved to be fan favourites. Also in attendance was the head of the Hong Kong Football Association, Mark Sutcliffe, who shared his views on the upcoming Premier League Asia Trophy, the new HKPL season and of course, the weather and how it would impact the games at Hong Kong Stadium.
Of course many wondered if Hong Kong could be optimistic about the weather clearing up before the English teams took to the pitch, but either way Sutcliffe had faith in the pitch.
“That’s what we hope. The weather last week was good and we are hoping that this will continue. Obviously it rained very heavily, but previously I was down at the Happy Valley pitches and it seems to be getting better. The forecast for tomorrow (July 19th) seems to be quite good. To be honest, I am more concerned about the training venues, as these are serious training weeks or the EPL clubs. They want to come here and use it as part of their pre-season training. As regards to the stadium, I am less concerned due to the amount of money that the government has spent on refurbishment. The pitch specifications are good enough to deal with this volume of rain, so everyone has got their fingers crossed for a nice day. I think it is natural that people are concerned, because of what happened last time, but hopefully their concerns will not come to fruition tomorrow.”
When asked whether or not the success of the sold out English Premier League games would have a detrimental impact on the domestic game, Sutcliffe said that the two ‘products’ were different entities and that building up a love of football across Hong Kong was key.
“I see it as two completely different things. We have to build up the brand of our Premier League and we want to get more people involved in football, so we have to improve the product of the HKPL. We are never going to compete with the English Premier League, because their product is much better and the standard of the players is obviously higher, as it is the best league in the world, so you can’t really compare the two. The fact that we sold out the ground twice just shows the interest in the interest in football for one and secondly the interest in the English Premier League, which is partly historical, I think, and also partly a world wide phenomenon.”
Sutcliffe also went on to discuss the preparations being made for the upcoming season in the Hong Kong Premier League, which now has ten teams confirmed.
“The preparations are going well. We had a board meeting yesterday and we have confirmed the ten teams, so now we can get on with planning the schedule and organising the marketing and promotion side of it, which is very important in trying to attract new fans. The clubs themselves have a lot to do, particularly the new ones, in terms of generating a fan base, which is not necessarily linked to a geographical area. They have to encourage fans to support them. This year, we have decided on the number of teams quite a bit earlier, so it gives us a longer lead in.”
Sutcliffe also went on to mention how the loss of South China would influence attendances at domestic games, though he hoped that these fans would still attend Hong Kong Premier League games.
“It probably will lead to a drop in fan support, as South China are historically one of the most successful clubs in Hong Kong and historically have been one of the better supported teams, but that has kind of waned a little bit, so it may affect the crowds. It is a very disappointing decision from our point of view that they pull rank and I think it was unnecessary personally but anyway we are where we are and they are not there participating. We just have to hope that some of the SCAA fans will continue to watch the HKPL and maybe change their allegiance.”