Interview

Christopher Chan, Football Commentator: “What do football clubs in Hong Kong represent? Nothing!”

Chris Chan (foreground) and another night of the EPL

If you watch both global and local football in Hong Kong then you have probably seen Christopher Chan 陳祉俊 before.

Chan has been a football commentator and presenter for the best part of nearly two decades. Now, he is still going strong.

Love the English premier league?

Chan has been with fervent fans most weekends as he helps bring the best of the EPL to bars and living rooms across Hong Kong.

Awake at 3.30 am on a Wednesday morning cheering your team in the UEFA Champions League?

Chan is also there as a nocturnal owl and finishes work when everyone else is waking up.

Love HK football and want to debate how it can improve?

Chan can debate for hours on the ins and outs of the local game. 

Chris Chan loves football and has followed his passion and now has the enviable job as a football commentator and presenter. For all the glamour it brings such as meeting star players and travelling to famed football grounds, it is also hard work and requires huge sacrifices.

Photo: Chan with “Mixu” Paatelainen

Chan was happy to share his career path and how he managed to secure a job that a majority of football fans would love to have.

The Beginning

How did Chan start? Well, he literally won a football commentating competition.

“I started not straight out of university but it was one of my first two or three jobs. I joined Cable TV in 2003 which was an awfully long time ago. I was about two years out of college back then and I was really trying out different things to try to see what I can do.”

Photo: Chan at the start of his commentating career

The opportunity came about as, back then, Cable TV used to have this competition where they were recruiting openly for commentators. They would run a competition every two or three years. I was in one of the competitions and I won it and I got offered a job at Cable TV so that is how it started.”

Chan interviews Mikel Arteta in 2012 – “Mikel, do you want to manage Arsenal in the future?”

Chan said that he refined his debating skills at school and it was these skills that helped him to get his foot into the door.

“For me, it was quite natural as I did a lot of debating in high school and university so I was quite good with words and comfortable speaking in public. So that’s where it started really.”

Video: Legendary commentator, Andres Cantor on the Simpsons.

The competition was intense and there was no room for mistake or hesitation. Otherwise, you were out.

“The competition was held over a number of weeks. For the first round of elimination slots, they just put you in a room with a TV and all you needed to do was commentate. They picked 10 to 20 people out of 100s in the first round interview that day. What they did was they gave everyone a sort of a surprise commentary scenario!”

Video: The best from commentator, Peter Drury

Like all intense competitions, sometimes some extra hurdles were thrown in.

“The clip selected for me was a goal scored within the first 10 seconds. They were really testing out your reflexes and how you would respond to things happening on the screen.”

Chan’s ability to think on his feet paid dividends.

“I guess I did okay as I got into latter rounds and then the final round. They basically made the final round of competition into an one hour TV show where there were quizzes testing your football knowledge and then you commentate on a five-minute segment with little preparation and not even knowing who the teams are just to see if you’re up to the task.”

Video: Commentary Highlights from the Martin Tyler

 

Famous Commentators from the Past and How Do You Say “Greece” or “Egypt” in Cantonese? 

Chan said that once he won the competition, he was on his way to becoming a sports presenter following in the footsteps of  HK sports presenters like the legendary Lam Sheung Yee, the late Robin Parke and the late Brian Langley and Andrew Sams.

Videos: The legendary Commentator, Spencer Lam Sheung Yee and pioneering English Commentator, Brian Langley below

What training did Chan have to go through to become a full-time presenter?

“There wasn’t really a particular mentor but we had an intensive class where each week you go back to the TV station and then someone will talk about how to be a commentator. For example, a senior journalist would quickly get us up to speed about the things that you would not notice if you were not in the industry, like how to pronounce certain words. For example, for Cantonese speakers, there would be words that you never knew that was the correct way you say it,” Chan said. “Most people mispronounce these words in Cantonese, but you have to pronounce them right on TV as these things matter.”

Video: Commentary of a last-minute goal from a World Cup 2010 qualifier in 2009 between fierce rivals Egypt and Algeria. Algeria eventually qualified for World Cup 2010 after winning the playoff in Sudan

 

When I was Young, I’d Listen to the Radio – The Carpenters 

When Chan was a youngster, it was the medium of radio, listening to live games in England where spoken words magically transported him to the mythical venues of Highbury, Anfield, Goodison Park, Elland Road, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Plough Lane, Villa Park, the Dell and many other venues.

Famed commentators past and present, from both TV and radio, who have spun global football visuals into poetry, include the likes of Barry Davies MBE, the late Brian Moore, John Moston, Ian Darke, Tony Gubba, David Coleman OBE, Martin Tyler, Peter Drury, Jon Champion, Jim Beglin, Peter Brackley, Gary Bloom, Jimmy Hill and Des Lynam, Clive Tyldesley and many more.

Photo: From listening to the radio to fronting coverage of the English premier league for nearly two decades. With Cheung Siu Chung.

“I am still looking for my own style and it is always evolving.  When I grew up, I was very much attached to the live radio football broadcasts through the way I grew up. It was back in the colonial era where, every Saturday, you got the BBC football coverage from the BBC World Service. I think for me, that was my introduction to football commentary as every week you are listening to people talking about football.”

Famous television and radio commentators’ words from great games past are often imprinted into the minds and memories of all sports lovers. One stand out radio football commentator for Chan was Northern Ireland’s Alan Green.

Clip: Alan Green describes the final minutes of the UEFA 1999 Champions League final 

“When I was growing up, one of my favourite commentators was Alan Green with BBC Radio. He usually commentated for the really, really big games. Usually, though, he was a really, really passionate guy. Being on the radio you needed to be colourful to get capture people’s attention. When I started, I was nowhere as passionate as him as the medium (of TV) is a little bit different. I was doing commentary for TV and pictures really did a lot of the talking.”

Clip: BBC Radio highlights from the 2005 UEFA Champions League final

Chan was quick to compare the differences between commentating styles in terms of radio and television.

Video above: Radio coverage of Michael Thomas’s goal at Anfield May 1989

Video Above: Colin Firth and Mark Strong, in Fever Pitch, did not listen to Michael Thomas’s goal on radio, they watched it on TV. Based on the Book

“As a TV commentator, the role of the commentator is more like a secondary role, because the visuals are always what comes first and what captures the audience’s attention the most. I think, for the audio commentary, it is more like a supplementary function and it is to aid the audience with bits of information that they might find interesting, or useful. I would say I was quite reserved, in the beginning, and I am still quite reserved and I was told to be more passionate!”

Video: The best of Clive Tyldeley

Giving Back to Society: Commentating for the Visually Impaired

Chan has used his commentating skills to help give back to society and recently described an HK match for visually impaired fans for HK Blind Union.

“A few weeks ago, I actually described the Lee Man versus Eastern game for some visually impaired football fans. The visually impaired fans wanted to feel the atmosphere, they wanted to know more about local football so I did a match for them.”

Video: Bringing the joy of the world cup for all 

Chan had to change his commentating style and was happy to do so.

“It was completely different as you did need to describe everything and everything happening in the stadium and the things I saw with my eyes.”

Video: Football for all 

The idea is currently on hold due to the league suspension and Chan hopes the idea can continue once the HK season resumes.

Video: Football for all 

Video: Football for all 

“They started towards the back end of last season, I think it was an initiative that they they were planning to fully launch with funding from the Jockey Club but after one week, they had to stop due to covid.”

Video: Football for All

Presenting the English Premier League 

Photo: Chan and Jurgen Klopp

You will see Chan most weekends presenting and co-hosting the build-up to the English premier league matches. Chan was happy to describe his routine before going live.

Photo: Chan, rocking an England 1990 shirt, also uses his show to teach common English phrases.

“I think it depends on the match. For English Premier League matches, usually, there’ll be a pre-prepared document with all the statistics and background information on the relevant match. For me, the basic task is to read through the document prepared by the English Premier League so that would take less than an hour. With that preparation, I would feel comfortable commentating on a match but sometimes I tend to look for a little bit more in terms of stories regarding the fans, club and players.”

Video: Micah Richards and Roy Keane

Chan likes to find as much information as he can for upcoming matches.

“I’ll be reading all about the team and the players and looking at the previous matches and see how they how fared so I guess it would take three or four hours maybe. It’s hard to pin down the exact time during the week as it all adds up.”

Chan has travelled the world and met football stars past and present but it is the greatest job ever? 

“Yeah, I guess it is a bit of fun as I get paid to watch football!”

Video: Jacqui Oatley On Being The First Female Commentator on Match of the Day And Paving The Way For The Future

 

The Downside of Being A Football Commentator: Late Nights and Online Abuse

Being a commentator is hard work and there is little room for error and with the time differences, Chan has had to become ‘nocturnal’ especially during the champions league.

“There are also the slight inconveniences of having to wake up in the middle of the night every now and again. This season has been particularly bad as you have champions league matches late night six out of the last eight weeks. Every week, we do more than one match so it could two or three games on Tuesday, Wednesdays or Thursdays and it can be quite draining physically and I am still feeling the effects of it.”

Video: Mean Tweets 

Photo: In the commentary booth 

“I am glad the group stages of the Champions League are finally over!” Chan, who had practically lived in a different time zone and altered his sleep patterns, said.

Are Commentators Biased?

Sometimes, Chan is accused of being biased and the other downside of the job occurs; abuse on social media.

“I mean on social media, people can send you messages anonymously and I have gotten abuse messages before and the only thing to do it is to ignore it but you see it with other commentators too regardless of their team preferences. For some ex Hong Kong professionals on TV, they really don’t have a preference for certain teams or support teams but they will still get accused of being biased. It is normal and you will always find some commentators being accused of being biased towards a particular team.”

Chan is a huge Liverpool fan and as a professional has had to reign in his love for the reds though he said the only time, he lost his composure was when he commentated on Liverpool’s 4-0 comeback win against Barcelona in the Champions League. 

Video: Was Chan as calm as LFCTV’s Steve Hunter and John Aldridge during the 4-0 comeback?

“On most occasions, I am able to, at least I feel like, I’m doing a good enough job of being impartial. I think the only time I wasn’t able to really contain my emotions was Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Barcelona. It was in the middle of the night and to see the whole match unfold as a fan and commentator, it was a strange feeling as I was almost trying to reign in my emotions although it was really hard.”

Videos: Commentator, Gudmundur Benediktsson, of Iceland, is definitely not biased

 

How Do you Become a Football Commentator? 

Chan gave advice to would-be commentators in what is an already highly competitive industry.

“It depends on whether this person was looking for a role in traditional media outlets or online as people can now create their own media. If you want to go via traditional media, it is very hard because it is probably quite saturated and then I think the whole industry is now stagnating as back then, HK was expanding into new channels.

Video: Barry Davies, legendary Commentator and tips on how to be a commentator

When I joined Now TV, it was the year when they started to broadcast every single match every single week so obviously, you can see that the demand for core commentators was rising back then.”

Video: Italian Commentary from last few minutes of World Cup 2006 Semi-final (Italy – Germany)

Traditional sports media is now saturated so those doors are increasingly difficult to open.

“Now, given that competition in the local media scene especially as TV stations have been dwindling, I think it’s harder to get in, but there are still a few ways to do it.

Video: More tips on how to become a commentator

To be honest, I think it’s kind of a closed job, especially in the  TV stations again unless you are a professional in the football industry or at least have the relevant knowledge. I know of people of have sent their samples to bosses and sometimes it works but I am not sure now as the market has reached the point where we have enough live commentators.”

Video: Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Martin Tyler

 

How to Break into the Sports Media Industry?

Chan’s best advice? Try and create content on blogs, youtube and podcasts.

“As technology is so accessible right now, if you are a podcast owner or blogger then it has never been a better time if you are good or very controversial as you will get an audience.

Chan Expands into YouTube

Chan stills find the time to have his own youtube show with Cheng Siu Chung and Yau Kin Wai.

“I have a weekly youtube show and it slowly getting traction and I do it with three professionals and we talk about everything around the world of football and we started in the summer. I am doing it with two former HK footballers of the year, I am doing it with Cheng Siu Cheung and Yau Kin Wai.”

 

Why Liverpool and Why is the 1988 FA Cup Final Special?

Chan also founded the Facebook page, Liverpool  Kop End – HK, where he and fellow Liverpool fans gather and share ideas and experiences.

Photo: “Barnes and Rush delighted that they modelled the kit so well”. Chan liked the 80s Liverpool kit and that was that! 

“When I grew up, I obviously knew nothing about football and the only time you get to watch more global football being played ‘live’ in Hong Kong was the FA cup and Liverpool were always there.”

Video: Build up to the 1988 FA Cup final featuring Saint and Greavsie and Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno

Like all young football fans, he may not have 100 % known what he was watching but he was hooked and he loved Liverpool’s kit.

If Chan was introduced to the game in the 90s, would the “Spice Boys” look have hooked him? Photo: Pinterest

“I didn’t realize that the Liverpool team was actually any good, to be honest though, especially as a kid back and these guys were in red jerseys and thought it looked quite cool.”

Chan’s first live TV experience watching English football was when the ‘Crazy Gang’ beat the “Culture Club.”

“My first live match on TV ever was the 1988 Liverpool versus Wimbledon which Liverpool lost and it was in the build up to the game that I decided that Liverpool would be my team and that was it and there was nothing rational or emotional. It was purely based on their kit.”

Video: Post Game Interview from 1988 FA Cup Final with “Crazy Gang” –  Vinnie Jones (Pre-Hollywood + X Men), Lawrie Sanchez, Dennis Wise, Dave Beasant, Sam Hammam, the late Don Howe and Bobby Gould

 

The State of The Game in Hong Kong 

Chan also loves the local game and shared his views on how Hong Kong football could possibly improve and if it could realistically improve as football, as a business, was so unsustainable.

Photo: Chan during a past lunar new year tournament

“My heart always tells me there’s always a way to improve but my head, on the other, tells me that it is not likely, to be honest. Back in the days like the 70s and 80s, and before my time; teams like Seiko or Bulova, from what I know, were running on a deficit but they weren’t profitable businesses at all even though the so-called glory years, it was never sustainable as a business.

So how can you really expect the industry to do well not when it is all about surviving as every team is running at a loss and it’s not an insubstantial amount as Hong Kong’s got teams with budgets of 15 $20 million in the year and you get crowds, at most 2000, which is, which is amazing”

If your total annual attendance is less than some team’s one-off league match game numbers then there is trouble and it does not bode well at all.

“I was reading that this time last year that the whole season, attendance of the matches was something like was 30,000+ for the entire season which is unbelievable.”

Video above: Presenting on Serie A – James Richardson and Peter Brackley  and Kenneth Wolstenholme

Structural Issues 

Chan says there have been structural issues with the HK game for decades and there are so many factors at play.

“There’s no one single reason for the decline and you can say anything you want about the HKFA or local football but problems are really, really deep way back down and can be traced back to the so-called glory days. The clubs weren’t sustainable from day one and always survived on benefactors and so-called bosses. I think we’ve gone to a point where it’s probably, from my point of view, and this is very sad, beyond repair.”

Chan stressed that at least some teams aligning themselves with regional districts could provide some sense of belonging and community.

“Maybe if there is some ‘light’ in terms of a football club operation being linked to a community as we have some teams like Lee Man who are trying to build some community links in Tseung Kwan O and Pegasus in Tin Siu Wai so this is a way forward for Hong Kong league clubs.’

No Fans so No Fun

Hong Kong is a small place and it is hard for clubs to build a huge fan base and Hong Kong games themselves do not attract many fans so the league will only suffer.

“The biggest problem is it’s so hard to build a fan base. Nobody would want to support a multi-millionaire’s little ‘pet interest’  and I just don’t know how else to put it.  Why would I want to support say, Lee Man, as a normal football fan? There is no reason! If they are based in Tseung Kwan O then that would be at least one reason as people live in that area.”

Chan says a total lack of football identity is hindering the game in Hong Kong.

“If you look at football clubs around the world, it’s always about extension of identity and values; clubs like Saint Pauli or Athletic Bilbao.”

“What do football clubs in Hong Kong represent? Nothing!”

Chan said the HK football bosses needed to look further and somehow make the game more sustainable otherwise the game would only decline further.

“To be a sustainable business you need fans to come and pay tickets. This is not a recent phenomenon (low crowds) as some of the bosses don’t really think about running the club as a sustainable business. The people who are active inside the industry running the teams also don’t see it as they want someone to invest or to pour money into clubs so they can keep their jobs.”

Finding your passion in life and pursuing it is rare but Chris Chan has found his and can safely say that he loves his job.

Liverpool Kop End – Hong Kong: https://www.facebook.com/LiverpoolKopEnd

Patreon page: patreon.com/chanfootball

Facebook page: facebook.com/chanchechun

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