Tai Po and Yuen Long will pull out of the 2020-21 season, dealing a blow to the local football scene. In spite of this, two First Division clubs appear ready to replace them.
They say that dreams don’t last forever. All dreams, no matter how good or bad, will fade. The lesson in this, is to cherish the moment and appreciate it for what it is, even if, in the long run, it won’t last.
For two district clubs, their dreams have turned into nightmares today. A dual announcement by Tai Po and Yuen Long that neither club would participate in the 2020-21 Premier League season, shed more light on the harsh reality of professional football in Hong Kong. Both clubs had already withdrawn from the current season due to lack of funds, but today’s announcement signifies that neither club expects to have the funding to continue on in the top flight long term.
It’s another reminder of the sobering truth of the Premier League where outside of the top clubs, sponsorship sits perpetually on shaky ground. Clubs are beholden to sponsors who are only able to commit on a one-year basis. The clubs themselves do not have much in the way of savings, relying instead on steady cash flow to pay salaries. This has meant that any delay in the receipt of sponsorship fees will result in salary arrears.
After Tai Po and Yuen Long’s decision to pull out, Southern will remain as the only district team in the top flight next season.
Chan Ping: “Our hands are full with trying to recover sponsorship fees”
Reigning champions, Tai Po, became the first district club in 56 years to win a top flight title last season after clinching the title with one match to spare, a mere 13 months ago. Since that time, former head coach Lee Chi-kin as well as a majority of the squad have moved to Eastern, and the club’s former benefactor Gary Choy has stepped down from his role as chief financier. At the beginning of the season, the club switched to mainland-based company, HONGDA, as their main sponsor.
The club began to run into debt after HONGDA failed to disburse its sponsorship fees on time, leaving players to receive their February salaries in mid-March. Choy would later lend the club $2 million, however, this amount was only able to cover the salaries of players who agreed to leave the club early, and only 60% of March’s salaries for players who remained. In light of these problems, the Greens announced their withdrawal from the rest of the 2019-20 season, as well as the 2020 AFC Cup, on 29 May.
Salaries for the coaching staff have yet to be paid since February. On the day that Tai Po withdrew for the current season, the club’s head coach and director of football, Fung Hoi-man, told that media that he would step down in order to reduce the financial strain on the club. This week, assistant coach Ivan Kurtušić announced that he would also resign, wishing the club the best in dealing with their “financial problems”.
Is time to move on!! Officially resign from coach position in Tai Po FC!! Thank you Tai Po FC for great period we have…
General Secretary Chan Ping revealed to the media that HONGDA has not, as of yet, given a definitive answer as to when their sponsorship fees would be paid. “Right now, our hands are full with trying to recover our sponsorship fees,” he said. “We’ve informed the Hong Kong Football Association that we will not participate in next season’s Premier League.
“The club have spent multiple seasons in the top flight and won several trophies, including last season’s league title. But running a professional club is hard, and it’s even harder during a pandemic. Even if we can attract new sponsors, it won’t happen until July.”
It is believed that more than 20 players are still owed back pay by the club.
Chan claimed that it would be up to the HKFA to decide whether Tai Po would play next season in the First Division. This, however, would not be the first time that the club have gone down after winning a trophy. In 2012-13, the Greens won their first Senior Shield, besting Citizen in the final, only to be relegated on the final day of the season.
Number of clubs still yet to be determined
Following Tai Po out the door were their New Territories rivals, Yuen Long. The Tangerines, against all odds, captured the 2017-18 Senior Shield, ending a four decade trophy drought at the club. However, of the four clubs who withdrew from the current season, Yuen Long have been the least transparent in communicating their thought process with the public, leaving fans and press to rely on leaks.
The HKFA confirmed that at least eight clubs would participate in the 2020-21 Premier League season, with those clubs being R&F, Kitchee, Eastern, Lee Man, Southern, Happy Valley, Pegasus and Rangers. At eight, this would be the smallest field of clubs in the top flight since the Premier League began in 2014-15.
But, according to at least one report, multiple First Division clubs have inquired about applying for promotion. One such club, Resources Capital, lead the First Division table until the cancellation of the season, and have previously announced their intention to apply for promotion. The club’s head coach, Ho Shun-yin, did not provide much of an update today, telling the media that the Pink Ribbons were awaiting word from the HKFA on the status of their application. In the meantime, he stated that the club would begin the process of applying for an AFC Club License, as required under Premier League regulations.
In addition, one other club is also believed to be interested in joining the top flight. Rumours suggest that the club in question sat mid-table in the First Division, prior to cancellation. It is said that a benefactor with experience in running a top flight club, before the establishment of the Premier League, intends to reemerge onto the professional football scene.
The HKFA will hold a meeting with club representatives next Tuesday to discuss the schedule for the resumption of the season. The 2020-21 season is expected to commence in late November.