The start of the Premier League campaign will be pushed back a week due to delays in the arrival of foreign players. Meanwhile, players who have yet to find work in the top flight are expected to drop down to the First Division.
Due to ongoing travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the clubs reached a compromise with the Hong Kong Football Association last month to delay the start of the Premier League campaign until 14 November at the earliest. Although the season would begin on 24 October, the HKFA agreed to schedule only Sapling Cup matches for the first three weeks of the season. Four clubs – Rangers, Happy Valley, Pegasus and Resources Capital – had asked for a delay due to complications in the arrivals of their foreign players.
However, in consideration of the fact that several clubs are still awaiting their full compliment of foreigners, the HKFA has reportedly informed clubs that additional Sapling Cup matches will be scheduled between the 14th and the 20st of this month. The league campaign is now not expected to begin before the 21st.
The arrival of foreigners has been complicated by travel restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the virus. Visitors cannot enter Hong Kong without proof of permanent residency or other documentation such as a work permit, and the approval process has been slow during the pandemic. Upon arrival, foreigners must also quarantine for 14 days, a problem which has disrupted the preparations of a number of clubs.
Whether fans will be allowed to attend league matches once the campaign begins remains an open question. The HKFA have applied to the government to reopen stadiums in a limited capacity but approval has yet to be granted.
The HKFA are also expected to announce the schedules for the first half of the lower division seasons later this week. The Third Division – which will once again consist of 16 teams – will kick off first, with the first matchday understood to be 15 November. The First Division –which will consist of 15 teams this season – is expected to follow on the 22nd, and the Second Division – with its 14 teams – will begin its season on the 29th.
Former Premier League players find homes in the First Division
As the Premier League has shrunk to eight teams this season, so too have the number of players who can call themselves ‘professional’. With fewer teams come fewer jobs and as such, many players who are out of contract have contacted First Division clubs either to train with or play for as they look to stay fit.
Sham Shiu Po, who were bottom of the First Division last season before cancellation, have strengthened their squad, signing former Premier League players Hui Ka-lok, Yim Kai-wa and Leung Sing-yiu. They are also close to inking former R&F winger Lo Kong-wai. Between the four players, Sham Shui Po will have added over 200 matches worth of top flight experience to their squad.
Eastern District, who are rumoured to be Sham Shui Po’s opening matchday opponents, have signed former professional Chan Wai-ho and are close to signing another retired professional in Chan Siu-ki. The club have stated that their goal is to promote into the Premier League within the next three to five seasons.
In addition, Lai Hau-hei, Siu Chun-ming and Li Hon-ho have all reportedly signed with various second tier clubs.
It expected that the quality of the First Division will increase substantially this season as clubs continue to add former players from the top flight.