League

Eastern District plot Premier League path

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Chan Siu-ki, Peter Man and Chan Wai-ho will headline the squad of an ambitious First Division team who seek to be promoted in the next three to five years. The identity of the team is not who you think…

Rare are the lower division teams who desire to play in the Premier League. Rarer still, are the lower division district teams who seek to join the top flight.

One team looking to buck that trend are First Division club Eastern District.

Last Monday, the 14th, it was revealed that Eastern District will aim to be promoted into the top flight within the next three to five years. The plans were revealed as part of the team’s funding application to the Eastern District Council’s Working Group on Recreation, Sports, Arts and Culture and Development.

Representatives from the Eastern District Sports Association – the organization who have assembled a team to represent the district since 2002 – were asked to testify at the Working Group’s public meeting on the 14th. The EDSA asked for a $200,000 grant from the District Council which will be used to subsidize various expenses including the salaries of assistant coaches, training ground rentals and player registration fees.

The club’s desire to be promoted will surely grab headlines but club management testified that their immediate focus would be to provide quality training to players under the age of 16. The team hopes to groom a talented core of youngsters who will eventually play for the club in the top flight. To further this goal, Eastern District will also look to send their top young players abroad for training.

Explainer: Why did the Eastern District Sports Association send representatives to testify at a committee meeting?

In the wake of the pan-democrats’ landslide victory in the District Council elections last year, there has been more scrutiny of district representative teams than in years past. Several districts which had not previously reviewed their relationships with their district teams on an annual basis, have begun to do so this year.

In July, the District Councils of Yuen Long and Tai Po notably revoked the authorizations of their representative teams – Yuen Long FC and Tai Po FC, respectively – despite the fact that both clubs had recently competed in the Premier League. The bold actions taken by the two District Councils have perhaps signalled to all other district teams that no club, no matter how big, are untouchable.

Eastern District’s Working Group had placed a tender for teams willing to represent the district, but the Group received only one application, which was submitted the Eastern District Sports Association.

The purpose of Monday’s meeting was, among other items on the agenda, to vet the EDSA’s funding application and to approve the authorization of the team to continue on as Eastern District’s repetitive.

Goldbert Chiu won Best Youth Player awards in 2001-02 and 2002-03. He is now the vice-chairman of the Eastern District Sports Association. (Credit: Now TV)

Goldbert Chiu, vice-chairman of the EDSA, spoke of his experience as a former professional footballer in his bid to convince Councillors that the team was in good hands. He articulated the EDSA’s commitment to fielding a team that residents could be proud of, and mentioned that Hong Kong football legend Chan Wai-ho would suit up for the team in its upcoming First Division campaign.

In a subsequent interview, Chiu confirmed that the club were also close to agreeing with another local legend, Chan Siu-ki. However, he downplayed the timeline for promotion as the club would need to solicit more investors before they are able to compete at the professional level.

Both additions will bolster a squad who were fifth prior to the First Division season’s cancellation. Eastern District’s roster of players already include former Hong Kong internationals Peter Man and Lee Wai-lun, as well as former professionals To Hon-to, Liu Pui-fung, Li Ka-chun and Chow Ka-wa. The club also boast Brazilian striker Léo who was tied for second in the Golden Boot race with 12 goals in 11 matches.

In the end, the Working Group voted in favour of advancing the funding proposal. The Eastern District Council must give its approval at a later date in order to finalize the funds. The club expect to operate on a budget of $750,000 next season after they receive their annual allotment of $550,000 through the District Football Teams Training Scheme.

Councillor Tat Cheng told reporters that although there were no expressions of interest from other teams to represent the District, he accepted that the pandemic likely had part to play. He agreed that having such a star-studded team would be beneficial in the short term, but Cheng cautioned that he would judge the team’s future authorizations on their ability to advance young players into the first team.

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