League

Woodland: “We hope to play closed door matches at Mong Kok Stadium”

Photo: HKFA

The Hong Kong Football Association held another meeting with Premier League clubs on Monday afternoon, February 24th, to brief them on the latest developments. Afterwards, HKFA CEO Paul Woodland spoke with the media and gave several updates on the situation.

Around 20 representatives from various Premier League clubs, including some head coaches, attended the meeting held at the HKFA’s headquarters in Ho Man Tin. After the meeting, no representatives elected to speak to the media, however, CEO Paul Woodland was available for comment.

“After our meeting with the government last Tuesday, everyone has been working hard to find a solution,” he relayed. “The government responded last Friday and said that they would give us an answer as soon as possible.

“I believe there will be news this week. If we don’t hear from them by Tuesday or Wednesday, I will follow up.”

Although earlier in the month, there was news of a possible boycott by clubs as well as talk of possible withdrawal from the league, Woodland claimed that all clubs remain committed to finishing the season and returning to their respective stadiums.

“First, we hope to play closed door matches at Mong Kok Stadium or Hong Kong Stadium. As soon as the situation permits, we hope to reopen the doors to fans.”

Clubs want subsidies from the government

Last Friday night, the Legistlative Council approved a $30 billion coronavirus relief package in a rare unanimous vote.

On Monday, Woodland confirmed that he had written to the government to apply for relief funds on behalf of the clubs. He explained that the subsidies would cover various costs including the loss of match-day revenue, security costs, referees’ wages and various other administrative costs.

It is believed that clubs currently pay a $20,000 per match fee to the HKFA for every match held at the Football Training Centre.

HKFA Cup rescheduled

The HKFA Cup Round 1 matches which were supposed to have been held on February 22 were postponed on Wednesday afternoon with no new date announced. Woodland gave an update on the situation, stating that the matches are now tentatively scheduled for the March international break.

“The FTC is a good training ground but by no means is it a good match-day venue,” he admitted. “At the end of the day, these matches determine qualification for Asia, so the venue is important.”

Woodland added, “Both pitches (at the FTC) have seen continuous usage so I’m concerned about quality.”

During the broadcast of the Kitchee-Pegasus match on Sunday, pundit Lee Tak-nang revealed that the grass pitches at the FTC were designed to handle no more than 10 hours of use per week. Due to the need to complete the Sapling Cup group stage, both pitches will see at least 32 hours of combined usage over a three week period.

No private venues – for now

Despite complaints about the FTC as well as the closure of government venues, the HKFA has not approached private venue operators about renting their facilities.

“At the moment, we don’t intend to do this,” Woodland told reporters.

“We need venues that meet AFC approved regulations. Take King’s Park for example – their facilities may be even worse than the FTC.

“As well, our clubs want to play on natural grass.”

The HKFA plans to meet again with clubs on March 2nd, but will remain in contact in the meantime.

King’s Park Sports Ground has been used by Premier League clubs for training. (Credit: Google Maps)

World Cup qualifiers beckon

Speaking about Hong Kong’s two World Cup qualifiers next month, Woodland said that the HKFA would prepare as if both matches would take place at their scheduled locations.

In January, Iran security forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet near Tehran. The Asian Football Confederation responded by rescheduling all Champions League matches involving Iranian clubs to away matches. Earlier on Monday, Iran confirmed that 12 people were dead due to the coronavirus and at least 61 were infected, although it is speculated that both numbers are underreported.

The national team is set to play away in Iran on March 26 before playing at home on the 31st versus Iraq.

“I haven’t discussed this with (national team head coach) Mixu (Paatelainen) because I haven’t received any bad news so we will travel as planned,” Woodland said.

Due to the ongoing epidemic, China announced that they would play both of their March World Cup qualifiers in Buriram, Thailand. It was rumoured earlier that Iraq had requested that its tilt with Hong Kong also be moved to a neutral venue.

However, Woodland confirmed that Iraq have already submitted their squad list and passport information to the HKFA for processing of travel visas.

“They seem to be willing to travel to Hong Kong. They’re not applying for a neutral venue anymore. What we’re concerned about is whether we’ll have a stadium to play in.”

If government venues remain closed, the HKFA will have no choice but to apply to the AFC for a neutral venue. Woodland reluctantly admitted, “Of course we don’t want to (lose a home match) but this may happen.”

Paatelainen is expected to announce his preliminary squad on March 9.

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