Amateur side All Black FC took on invincible 1st Division leader Happy Valley on Tuesday night, December 18th, at Kowloon Tsai Park, in a more than competitive friendly that also served as a good reminder of what role football could and should play in our society. While the match ended 2-1 for the Premier League aspirants, All Black made use of this opportunity to gain more match experience and build camaraderie in the Hong Kong football community.
For those who perhaps have not heard yet of All Black FC, the club is mainly made up of asylum seekers and ethnic minority players in Hong Kong, who play and train under the All Black banner as a means to form a tight-knit community in a city that, for all its glitz and glamour and progress, remains very much behind in the discussion of prejudice and human equality. Barred from playing in the local leagues due to their legal status, All Black FC have achieved remarkable results in friendlies against fellow amateur sides as well as Hong Kong Premier League outfits. One of the founders, Medard Koya, and coach Daddy instilled in their players that football can bring more to their lives beyond their marginalized status, and it was them who stood on the touchline guiding the team against Happy Valley that night.
The match seemingly garnered remarkable attention online, as many locals turned out at Kowloon Tsai Park to watch the two teams on a chilly Tuesday night for a late night kick off. Both sides started brightly, with the action seesawing from box to box, and it looked certainly more like a competitive league game than a sleepy friendly. The determination and might of the All Black players were more than equal to the guile and speed of their counterparts in green. The All Blacks might have even slightly outdone Happy Valley in chances created, but also in chances spurned. Within the opening 15 minutes, they had four shots on target, compared to Happy Valley’s single attempt, with players seemingly just missing the finishing touch on the night. Both teams flowed and jostled, with the momentum never staying on one side for long. This is Hong Kong grassroots football at its finest, and every pass, interception and shot was met with “oohs” and “aahs” from the spectators. However, at half time, the score was still nil-nil.
The second half began just as frenetically. All Black worked hard on and off the ball, but it was Happy Valley who first got on the score sheet. HVAA maestro Mahir Karic sent the ball into the box, and a defensive error resulted in an own goal. Two minutes later, Karic scored a peach of a goal directly from a free kick outside the box to put Happy Valley two goals in front. It should be pointed out that Happy Valley did take the game very seriously and basically fielded most of their regulars, including Ndue Mujeci and former international Lee Chi-ho.
Meanwhile, the Greens had tightened up the middle of the park and were starting to read the attacking runs of All Black, but despite the setback, coach Daddy’s men never gave in. After a blistering run down the left, following a defensive error, All Black winger Ousmane made no mistake to pull one back for his team. Sadly, the score line would remain as such, as on the stroke of eleven, the pitch floodlights went dark and unceremoniously ended a highly entertaining game between two excellent sides. Nonetheless, when put in perspective, All Black showed a performance that would put them easily on par with a lot of other 1st Division sides. Happy Valley have so far scored 43 goals in 12 games, while only conceding 7. So the closely fought 2-1 appeared to be a proper challenge.
We all watch and play for different reasons. Teams like Happy Valley play for silverware and promotion to the top tier, while All Black FC seek to unite Hong Kong under a banner of inclusion and tolerance through participation in sport. We, as fans, watch and play for the highs and the lows, for the struggle and the glory. That is is why football is a beautiful game.
All Black will face their next challenge on December 22nd, when they take on Pegasus FC in a friendly game at Kowloon Bay Park at 11 am.