The PFAHK held its first training session on Monday for unemployed footballers to maintain their sharpness. Amidst news that Tuen Mun have suspended plans for promotion, their hopes of finding work are dwindling.
The numbers of unemployed footballers has increased in recent years as the number of teams in the Premier League has decreased due to market conditions. In light of this, the newly established Professional Footballers Association of Hong Kong have organized open training sessions for players who want to maintain their sharpness in the event that they are contacted by top flight clubs.
25 players attended the PFAHK’s first session on Monday, including various former Happy Valley and Pegasus players, as well as Hong Kong international Sandro. The players association had posted an invitation on Friday for any footballers who are free agents and are eligible to play in Hong Kong.
Coach Kenneth Kwok, who is out of work following Pegasus’ demise, led the sessions and expressed to reporters that he felt a moral obligation to help the players.
“This group of players is actually very competitive but unfortunately, they’re out of work through no fault of their own,” he said. “Everyone is doing what they can. The coaches are volunteering their time, the players are training without pay and they must bring their own equipment and water.
“Many of the players who attended today’s session have not trained in three months, but they all want to continue their careers. Look around at the 20-odd players who came out today and all of them are quality. Every offseason, we lose players to early retirement because their former clubs, such as Dreams, Yuen Long, Tai Po – and this year, Happy Valley and Pegasus – decided to fold.
“So, I want to lend them some support. In the future, we may arrange some friendlies against Premier League or First Division opposition. If the players play well and our opponents are interested in them, then we’ll do our best to assist. The important thing that they all want to keep playing. I don’t want to see their talents to go to waste.”
Kwok noted that there were 12 under-23 players at Monday’s session, some of whom stood a good chance of making the Hong Kong U23 squad in late October for the AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifiers.
“Look at Tse Ka-wing, Lai Pui-kei and Marco Cheung,” he noted in particular. “They’ve all been a part of the Hong Kong youth setup in the past and have the ability to make the U23 squad.”
Application for relief funds to open next week
PFAHK co-founder Kam Wai-ming revealed that the Football. All In Challenge charity tournament held last month raised $300,000 after accounting for administrative expenses. He added that the association are still deliberating over the exact amount of relief funds to be distributed to each player, which will be done through International Social Service Hong Kong.
The PFAHK’s other co-founder, Chan Chi-hong, said he hopes to announce the eligibility criteria as soon as next week, but indicated that relief would be distributed to free agent players based on the length of time that they have been unemployed. Other factors, such as the amount of money each player was still owed by Pegasus or Happy Valley, would also be considered.
Neither Kam nor Chan denied that players would need to pay a $300 fee to become a member of the PFAHK before being eligible to apply for funds.
At Monday’s session, Kwok encouraged players would apply for relief during this difficult period. “Some players may be introverted, and they’ll wait to be contacted by clubs or they’ll want to see how things play out first,” he said. “My advice to them is to just go ahead and apply for assistance. No one will discriminate against you if you ask for help.”
Tse Ka-wing: Tuen Mun not likely to promote
Among the players who attended Monday’s training session were goalkeeper Tse Ka-wing and centre back Andy Wong Ho-yin, both of whom featured for Happy Valley in the past season.
Tse, who – despite being 21 years of age – has played for three clubs which have either folded or self-relegated, admitted to reporters that although his career had faced its ups and downs, he never expected to arrive at a point where he could not find a club.
“I don’t want to retire or change professions,” he stated, unequivocally. “I’m only turning 22 next month. If I’m forced to walk away from professional football at that age, I’ll be inconsolable for a long, long time because there are so many career goals that I haven’t achieved yet, including representing the Hong Kong senior team.”
Recently, it has been reported that Second Division club Tuen Mun have been in talks with several free agents as part of an eleventh hour push to promote into the Premier League. Happy Valley head coach Pau Ka-yiu is one name who has allegedly been in contact to lead the Dolphins, should they go up.
However, Tse poured cold water over this possibility, claiming that he had been informed over the past few days that the club could not secure sufficient sponsorship to assemble a squad. With the number of Premier League teams remaining at six in all likelihood, the keeper candidly said that he would try to his best to maintain his fitness in hopes of receiving a call up to the U23’s in October.
“I’ll see if there are any clubs who are willing to offer me a short-term contract and if not, I’ll see if they’re at least willing to let me train with them,” he confided. “I’m not considering First Division opportunities at the moment because the number of training sessions are limited, and the quality isn’t comparable to the professional level.”
Tse’s former teammate, Wong, expressed his delight to be back on the pitch after three months away and thanked the PFAHK for arranging the session so that he could maintain his fitness.
“Today’s session was focused on maintaining possession, passing and ball control, with 7 on 7 mini-matches at the end,” he said. “Kenneth said that he would try to organize high quality sessions and he hoped that we would work hard to stay fit off the pitch.”
The centre back claims that he has been keeping close tabs on each Premier League club’s squad. “I’ve been following the news and I’m still hoping to get an offer from a club. But I understand that it will be difficult in this current market,” Wong conceded.
Unlike Tse, Wong said that he is prepared to drop down to the First Division and vowed to use the opportunity as a trampoline back to the top flight.
Both players confirmed that they will go back in front of the Labour Tribunal on Friday after the local players on Happy Valley’s squad informed the Tribunal that the club had yet to pay them.
Training sessions to continue
Monday’s session, which took place on an artificial pitch at the Football Training Centre, was the first of many sessions for free agents.
As announced by the PFAHK, sessions will take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next four weeks. Any player who is a free agent and is eligible to play in Hong Kong is welcome to join the sessions, and participation in last season’s Premier League is not required.