North District boss fans promotion speculation

North District

There may be 11 teams in the Premier League next season as North District chairman Chu Ho-yin confirms that the club are preparing a bid to join.

First Division club North District have begun preparations for life in the Premier League next season. The club concluded its season on Sunday with an emphatic 4-1 victory over fellow district club Wong Tai Sin, sealing a third place finish in the league.

After the match, Chu Ho-yin, president of North District, spoke to reporters and confirmed rumours that the club intend to promote into the professional ranks.

“Every year we ask ourselves whether we want to go up because it’s a big step for us to go from the First Division – which is an amateur league – to the Premier League, which is professional.” Chu revealed, “It will be a challenge for us to build a squad.”

The North District boss admitted that the team would need to attract sponsors who can help with the transition to the top flight. Currently, North District’s budget is over a million dollars, but the chairman stated that this would be insufficient in the Premier League.

“We want to fund raise at least $5-6 million because any less would mean that we would struggle,” said Chu, who stated that the club were not approached by the HKFA to promote. “But it’s not just about finding the money – it’s also about sustainability. We don’t want to play a season or two in the Premier League and then self-relegate.”

North District have had an up and down season in the First Division. The club had six of its matches postponed during the season due to various reasons – more than any other club in the league. After winning their first four matches to start the year, the club won only one out of their next eight. At several points in the season, North District dropped to as low as seventh in the table.

However, the Northerners took advantage of their games in hand and were able to make up ground on their rivals above them in the table. The club ended their season on a seven-match unbeaten run and finished third after the victory over Wong Tai Sin in the season finale.

Assistant Pau Ka-yiu (left) with head coach Johnny Choi (right) (Credit: North District)

Earlier, there had been speculation about whether Central & Western or Kowloon City, the two teams who finished above North District, would be interested in promotion. But Kowloon City had said before the season that they were not likely to promote before the 2024-25 season, whereas Central & Western are unlikely to promote next season due to two main factors. Much like North District, the club needed to secure sponsorship and to be sure that enough players in their squad would continue with the club if they were to promote.

In the past, North District have declined to promote because of the same reasons. When the club surveyed its players about potentially joining the top flight, they discovered that a majority did not wish to leave their stable, full time jobs in order to play as professional footballers.

Without an adequate number of players remaining with the club who could play at a Premier League level, the club would face a similar challenge as Hoi King did in the run up to the 2018-19 season. The club, which had finished eighth in the prior season’s First Division, frantically scrambled to sign 25 players in the summer window – seven of whom were brought in on loan from Kitchee – on a limited budget in order to compete in the Premier League.

In addition to the player situation, Premier League rules require head coaches in the league to hold an AFC ‘A’ License or equivalent. At present, it is not believed that North District head coach Johnny Choi holds such a license, but assistant coach Pau Ka-yiu could be asked to take over the reins in his place. The assistant, who has an A License, has previous coached in the Premier League with Happy Valley and Tai Po.

When asked on Sunday, Pau claimed that the did not know of the team’s plans for next season and referred such questions back to Chu. However, he agreed that it would be difficult to convince the players to leave their day jobs and the club may only be able to retain them on a semi-professional basis.

“Every club wants to promote, especially district teams,” Chu said. “If we do promote, it will be a joyous occasion as it will be a historic day for (North District). For all the years that we’ve existed, we’ve never played in the top tier. After being in charge of the club for so many years, I’ve always hoped that such a day will come.

“But we still lack resources and experience, so I want to wait until we’ve got those things secured before I make a formal announcement.”

Should North District’s promotion bid be approved by the HKFA’s board of directors, the number of teams in the Premier League is expected to be 11 – baring an unforeseen turn of events. The last season in which the league was at 11 teams was during the 2016-17 season, which was also the last time that the league had an odd number of teams.

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