First Division League Cup Winners Tai Po confirmed that they would rejoin the Premier League next season and expect to retain half their squad. Runners-up Sham Shui Po also confirmed their promotion, although they are still securing the necessary funds.
Tai Po captured the First Division League Cup on Sunday afternoon after overturning an early deficit to win the match 2-1. Centreback Chan Kong-pan scored two goals – one in each half – to lead the Greens to their first trophy since winning the Premier League in 2018-19.
The match attracted an unusually large crowd by lower division standards as over 600 fans flocked to Kowloon Bay Football Pitch to watch the match. An unofficial live stream of the match provided by Channel C HK drew over 2,000 viewers at its peak.
After the final whistle and the awarding of the champions medals to the Tai Po players, attention turned to the topic that had been the overarching theme of the day’s match: Promotion to the Premier League.
In late May, Tai Po general secretary Chan Ping and chairman Peter Lam announced that the club would apply for promotion, claiming that it would be a “wasted opportunity” not to promote. On Sunday, the two men once again confirmed that the Greens would be going up and provided details about their plans for next season.
“The core of the team will consist of younger players, but Chan Kong-pan, Chan Hiu-fung, Chris Annan and (captain) Sze Kin-wai will stay on to lead them. We expect that at least half the squad will be back,” Lam said, adding that the club’s budget for next season will be set at around $8 million. “As for foreigners, we will sign two Brazilians who haven’t played in Hong Kong before but the rest of the squad will be up to the coaches.”
On the coaching front, Chan confirmed that former Lee Man assistant Li Hang-wui, who was present at the match but did not take questions, would be hired as the head coach next season. The secretary had previously disclosed that current head coach Chan Yuk-chi would be unable to lead the team next season due to his day job as a school teacher.
Earlier, Chan had openly stated his desire to bring back former Tai Po assistant Kenneth Kwok, but his overtures appear to have been unsuccessful. Kwok had initially signed a short-term deal in April to become a special assistant at Taiwan Premier League club Taiwan Steel until the end of June, however it is unknown whether he will remain with the club.
The hero on the day, Chan Kong-pan, could not help but shed tears when he spoke to reporters about his two goals.
“Of course, I’m happy because not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would score two goals today,” an emotional Chan said. “But I’m not the reason why we won today. It takes an experienced squad of players to become champions.”
Although Lam had revealed that Chan would remain with the club next season, the defender was non-committal when asked about his intentions for next season.
“I’m still thinking about it and I haven’t given them a final answer. I’m currently a full-time football coach now so I’ll have to see if we can work around my schedule.”
At the other end, Sham Shui Po players laid on the pitch, devasted, after the final whistle as the club fell short of winning its first trophy in their 20-year history. The club left a classy message on their Facebook page hours after the match, congratulating Tai Po on their victory, while acknowledging their own “inexperience” and “failure” to use their first half lead to their advantage.
Yet, despite head coach Ko Chun-kay’s earlier statements that he would not guarantee Sham Po Pui’s promotion to the top flight unless they were to win the League Cup, he revealed that the club had already informed the HKFA last week of their intention to promote. Additionally, he told reporters that both he and assistant coach Poon Man-tik would continue to lead the team next season.
“Our coaching staff will discuss arrangements for next season soon, and hopefully the budget will allow us to sign our players to full-time contracts. Our priority is to keep as many of our own players as possible, but we know that there are rival clubs who are interested in poaching some of our players,” Ko said.
The coach stated that the budget for next season would be $5 million, but he acknowledged that the club are still working to fundraise the full amount from sponsors. He admitted that many of his players have full-time jobs and expected half of the squad to depart as the club cannot offer high salaries.
“You can’t expect players to stay on and play for less than minimum wage just because they love football or they love the camaraderie. That’s impossible,” Ko conceded. “I don’t have any ambitions for next season so I think $5 million will be enough to cover the entire season. We want to build a proper district team, one that the people of Sham Shui Po will know about.
“But no matter what our eventual budget is, we will always pay salaries on time and in full, and we will always give our all on the pitch.”
To that end, Ko stated that the club will apply to use Sham Shui Po Sports Ground next season and hoped that the club will create a festive atmosphere on matchdays.
“If (the HKFA) don’t give us Sham Shui Po Sports Ground next season then we’re not going up,” he joked. “But I hope we can set up multiple booths outside the stadium on matchdays like a carnival, and make more people aware that there’s a match happening that day.”