Reigning champions withdraw from Premier League

Tai Po

Head coach and director of football, Fung Hoi-man, resigns as Tai Po withdraws from the Premier League and AFC Cup over an inability to secure short term funding.

Perhaps it’s a sign of times. Perhaps it’s resignation.

Perhaps it’s a little from column A and a little from column B.

Tai Po announced today that they would withdraw from all remaining matches in the 2019-20 league campaign as well as the 2020 AFC Cup, yet few can say they were truly surprised. It has been a long and winding road for the Greens who, just a short year ago, became the first district team in 56 years to be crowned champions of Hong Kong.

In mid-April, there were leaks in the Tai Po ship that HONGDA, the club’s main sponsor, did not pay their full sponsorship fee in time, leading to a late dispersal of February’s player salaries. The leaks appeared to have been patched when honorary chairman Gary Choy extended a $2 million loan to the club in late April. However, that amount was only enough to cover 60 percent of salaries owed to players for March.

In the statement published by the club today, Tai Po claimed that after a month of negotiating with their sponsor, the two sides could not reach an agreement on any payment of sponsorship fees in the short term. Therefore, the club claimed that they “no choice but to notify the Hong Kong Football Association on the 29th of this month that it would withdraw from the Premier League and all remaining events this season.”

The club’s official statement on withdrawal. (Credit: Tai Po)

General secretary Chan Ping told the media, “The sponsors have no cash flow at the moment. They said they wouldn’t be able to pay us until mid-July. They say they want to continue sponsoring us next season but first they have to help us clear out any arrears so we’re not holding our breath.

“Before I made this decision, I told the players to be prepared. Now, we’ve arrived at our last resort.”

While Tai Po will not face penalties for withdrawing from the Premier League, the Greens may be liable for a fine from the Asian Football Association as a result of pulling out of the AFC Cup.

Fung Hoi-man: “I resigned to protect the players”

Tai Po’s former head coach and director of football, Fung Hoi-man, spoke to the media today to confirm that he had stepped down, and also to clear the air over the circumstances of his resignation.

“In past few days, some people have maliciously accused me of ‘absenteeism’,” he said. “I have been remained silent to avoid unnecessarily conflict but as these voices have gotten louder, I cannot remain silent anymore.

“Two to three weeks ago, I took the initiative to resign because I wanted to reduce the economic strain on the club. I hoped that by resigning, I would be able to protect as many players’ livelihoods as possible. The basis of my decision has always been about looking after the players so I can’t understand why there have been so many attacks against my character.”

Despite that the fact that the Premier League will not return until 15 August at the earliest, most clubs have already reached agreements with the players they intend to use in the restart. Fung admitted that it would be difficult to find new clubs for his former players at this stage, but he resolved to try to save as many jobs as possible.

“So, I have two jobs at the moment: One is to help the club and the players co-ordinate the payment of arrears. The other is to help players find their next club. To the latter point, I’ve already ben in constant contact with other clubs and I’m going to help as many players as I can because ultimately, they players need to make a living.

“At the moment, there’s no news. I hope everyone understands that the current market is poor so it’s difficult to find new clubs.”

Fung reiterated that he intends to arrange a trial for Sun Ming-him and a few others in South Korea.

Fung (left), who resigned his positions at the club, will still assist in helping his former players such as Sung Ming-him (right) find jobs. (Credit: HKFA)

2020-21 Premier League participants still uncertain

At present, only R&F, Southern, Lee Man, Kitchee, Eastern, Happy Valley and Pegasus have confirmed their participation in next season’s Premier League. Rangers continue to be on the fence about their plans, seeking additional subsidies from either the government or the HKFA.

In regards to Yuen Long and Tai Po, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay said on Thursday that the would give both clubs two more weeks to decide their fate. He also confirmed that the HKFA had received Resources Capital’s application to promote into the top-flight.

Chan admitted that Tai Po’s outlook was not positive without new sources of funding. “As for next season, we are now trying to find sponsors,” he said. “Tai Po’s monthly salary payroll is over a million dollars but HONGDA says that the pandemic has greatly affected their cash flow. They’re not intentionally withholding funds from us so right now, all we can do is help the players to seek assistance from the Labour Department.”

Foreign quota to remain the same

It was revealed on Wednesday that one Premier League club had submitted a proposal to change the foreign quota. At present, clubs are allowed to register five foreigners of any nationality in addition to one additional Asian foreigner plus one Chinese, Taiwanese or Macanese player, whilst only a maximum of four could appear on the pitch. The proposed change would’ve allowed clubs to register six foreigners of any nationality, whilst allowing a maximum of four to appear on the pitch plus one Asian foreigner.

However, at the board of directors meeting on Thursday, the proposal was voted down. In explaining the decision, Pui stated, “There are clubs who believe that it will affect youth development (if an extra foreigner is allowed on the pitch). Because we all want to enhance youth development, we have to go step by step.

“There are some clubs who believe that playing more foreigners will attract more fans to the games but in the past, we’ve allowed six to seven foreigners on the pitch and we haven’t seen an uptick in attendance. So, our philosophy, as it relates to foreigners, will remain ‘quality over quantity’.”

Ken Ng, president of Kitchee, disagreed with Pui’s explanation and the decision of the board. “Our position is that if you could add an extra foreigner, the standard will increase,” he said. “But the caveat is that, in our opinion, the proposal should’ve been adopted on a one-year basis.

“Given the pandemic and given the need to attract more fans to the stadiums, doing something like this to generate excitement would’ve been a noble idea.“

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