League

Lee Man awarded district team status by Sai Kung District Council

Lee Man

Four years into a relationship with Tseung Kwan O, Lee Man will tie the knot on a long-term commitment to the region. The Bees intend to settle down in Sai Kung and raise children in the district to become footballers.

UPDATE: Sai Kung District Council have voted to authorize Lee Man as their district team on 1 December. The authorization, which will be subject to annual review, gives Lee Man priority in selecting Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground as their home ground for Premier League matches. The vote was 15 in favour, with three abstentions.

The article below was written prior to the vote.

Through their marketing over the past four years, Lee Man have vigorously marketed themselves as Tseung Kwan O’s team. Even as the team were forced to play at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground last season, club chairman Norman Lee vowed on social media that the Bees would improve their place in the table in order to return to Tseung Kwan O.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fond and perhaps this adage is true at Lee Man with the club’s decision to formally apply as Sai Kung District’s representative team. The application signifies a bold intent by the Bees to take their relationship with the region to the next level.

Testifying at a meeting of Sai Kung District Council’s Community Building and Social Innovation Committee on 24 November, Lee Man head coach Chan Hiu-ming attempted to make the case for his club to receive authorization to represent the district. Although the district is current represented by a team formed by the Sai Kung District Sports Association – who have also applied to continue their representation – Chan argued that the club did not see the SKDSA as a competitor, but a partner.

The District Council had earlier laid out four criteria upon which authorization would be determined after councillors voted last month to put the right to representing the district out to public tender:

  1. Past results for the teams involved
  2. Whether the team will commit to using Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground if they should reach the Premier League
  3. Whether the team will co-ordinate with local groups and schools in the district to promote community building
  4. Plans set forth by the team to organize regular youth football activities

In response, Lee Man wrote in their application that the club already use Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground as their home ground and intended to change their name to “Tseung Kwan O Lee Man” in the near future. During testimony, Chan confirmed that the club had secured the rights to use Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground for the next two seasons.

Furthermore, the club intend to use their status as a Premier League team to “increase awareness of local football” and to market their home matches as a “community event” so that “more residents will be drawn to the stadium on match days and enjoy the atmosphere of live sporting events.” Lee Man pledged to use their knowledge and expertise as a professional outfit to establish “various levels of youth teams and cultivate young talent” in such a way that residents will be “proud to join the team and perhaps play for Hong Kong one day.” As proof of concept, Chan told councillors that in the club’s brief history, two of its players – Cheng Siu-kwan and Yuen Ho-chun – had received call ups to the national team.

Lee Man set goals for next four seasons

In its application to the District Council, Lee Man’s stated goals for the next four seasons include winning trophies, competing in Asian competitions using Tseung Kwan O Stadium as their home ground, increasing average attendance at home matches to over 1,000 and establishing multiple levels of academy teams within the district. The Bees could qualify for Asian competition as early as 2021, depending on whether the club can take the place of R&F in the AFC Cup playoffs and whether North Korean teams continue to be banned from the competition.

Chan told the Committee that he did not see Lee Man and the SKDSA as competitors. (Credit: inmediahk)

When questioned about the potential name change, Chan asked councillors not to focus too much on the change. “This is name change is only cosmetic. If we cannot develop roots in the district, then changing the name is meaningless,” he reasoned. “Clubs with no regional backing are simply representative of that region in name only.

“In recent years, many non-district teams have lacked true home support and many nearby residents don’t even know when the team play. The way for district teams to avoid this problem is by using a home ground from within their district and building the club’s presence through community events. Only through these means can district teams gradually build a groundswell of support.”

As a sign that they intend to lay roots in the district, Lee Man wrote in their application that it is standard practice at the club to arrange for players to live in Sai Kung. The Bees added that when the first team is not training at the Football Training Centre, they are allocated to use Po Tsui Park in Tseung Kwan O by the government.

Chan: We’re not trying to cannibalize the SKDSA’s team

Lee Man’s annual budget, as stated in their application, is $23.1 million for all operating expenditures from the first team down to the club’s marketing activities. In comparison, the SKDSA’s budget is only $467,500 as the club currently competes in the Third Division. During the meeting, councillors raised concerns about the competitiveness of the bidding process as one club had much greater resources at their disposal than the other.

In response, Chan’s claimed that there was no conflict between the two groups. He believed that both Lee Man and the SKDSA could co-operate to achieve a win-win situation for both parties, depending on the outcome of the process and whether the Council wished to provide co-ordination to the two groups.

Lee Man will remain at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground until at least the end of the 2021–22 season. (Credit: Lee Man)

“There can be a complementary and mutually beneficial partnership,” said Chan, explaining that the two clubs served different ends. “Players can still choose to join the SKDSA’s academy if they want. We’re not trying to drive (the SKDSA) out of football. We’re only adding an additional high-performance platform for them so that, if players in the SKDSA’s academy excel, they can earn a place in the Lee Man academy and eventually, the first team.

“Additionally, we can offer Sai Kung coaches opportunities to develop their skills via the networks that we have and by allowing them to come visit us at training to observe how a professional outfit is run. We can also help create and develop more coaches this way.

“There’s no competition, as far as I’m concerned, and both Sai Kung District and Hong Kong football will be beneficiaries of this setup.”

Councillor Zoe Leung, chairwoman of the CBSIC, asked Chan whether the club would give priorities to Sai Kung residents in team selection. The coach responded negatively, citing Barcelona as an example of a club where not all of the players are natives of the city. Nonetheless, he promised that at the development level, his first priority would be to draw talent from Sai Kung District.

Chan ended by assuring councillors that regardless of the Lee Man’s league placement in years to come, the Bees will continue to select Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground as their home. However, should the club be granted district team status, Lee Man would automatically receive priority to use the ground.

Due to time constraints, the CBSIC did not vote on which club to authorize as the district’s representative and the decision was delayed until a later date.

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