Philip Lee: “I Have Loved Rangers Football Club since I was a Teenager”

Philip Lee is an Asian football legend and a name who is synonymous with the growth and development of the game in Hong Kong.

Lee is the current CEO of BC Rangers 標準流浪. Lee has been in the fascinating position of witnessing both the rise and decline of Hong Kong football and has a treasure trove of memories to share with fans who are eager to delve deep into the history of Hong Kong football.

Lee kindly took the time to share all his past (and present) experiences and how he became tied to Hong Kong Rangers for such a vast majority of his life. He first explained how Hong Kong Rangers were modeled on Glasgow Rangers and was founded by a Scottish forward thinker, Ian Petrie. It was at Rangers that young talented players  like Kwok Ka Ming were discovered.

“Rangers was founded in 1958 by a Scottish expatriate from Glasgow named Ian Petrie. He named his club after Rangers. It was the first Asian football club with a modern football club management system. In the early days, the club could not compete with the bigger clubs financially so Petrie relied on young players and the team was known as a breeding ground for young players. Kwok Ka Ming was the best known player discovered by Petrie in the 1960s.”

Hong Kong Rangers were the first club in Hong Kong to bring in overseas players to grace the domestic league.

“In 1970, the club recruited three Scottish professional players to Hong Kong.They were the first European professional players to play in the Hong Kong league thus opening a new chapter in Hong Kong’s football history. The first batch of great players included Derek Currie, Walter Gerard & Jackie Turner and then the likes of Ian Taylor, Joe Brennan, Jimmy Liddell to name a few. More players were to follow in the 1980s such as Steve Paterson, Jimmy Bone and Tommy Nolan.”

Lee has been in charge of Rangers for over thirty years now and says both he and Rangers are motivated to develop new generations of players.

“Since 1988, I’ve taken over the ownership from the founder, Mr. Ian Petrie. In that time period,  I have led the club from the lower division to the top of HK premier League within three years. Throughout these years, HK Rangers have maintained their core mission: that is recruiting and training elite youth football players and providing star players to the Hong Kong Football Representative Team. Everyone must have a goal or dream which is their stimulus for their eternal development and well-being. Thus,  developing youth elite football players has driven me to stay in the Hong Kong soccer field for such a long time.”

Hong Kong Rangers may not be able to compete financially with other teams in the HK Premier league though they have structured themselves in a way that they have a constant pool of talent which can be promoted to the first team.

“Rangers have had more than 50 years of history in Hong Kong and also have a brilliant record in promoting youth football development. Many local famous football stars have come through our ranks. We’re not only running a HKPL team, but also 3 Elite Youth Teams, 3 Youth Teams joining the Jockey Cup League and a Women’s Team.

We even set up a Soccer Academy mainly run by Lo Kwan Yee and LAM Ka Wai, and empowered kids to play and to act as a pool of new talent for the first team. All teams provide support, resources and playing chances to potential youth players. I have been running this club for almost 30 years and still to this day, promoting youth football is the thing I love most about my work.”

“Recently, Hong Kong has developed quite well at grassroots football level, and even won the AFC Silver Award last season for grassroots development. Many parents in HK encourage their children to join football training but for fun only so there remains a big gap between elite football and grassroots football.

The younger generations generally like a comfortable life and wish to earn a living by earning money fast and living a fast track life while aspiring football players are performing harder and aiming to win  bonuses and rewards. This trend is not just in HK as many Asian countries are also facing a similar phenomenon, e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, etc.”

“Currently, the HKPL is nothing more than a symbol, one that cannot attract more funding and sponsorship from other sources. The attendance at local HK games has continued to be poor.

Professional football needs monetary support and an independent hierarchy for the long run. Other than technical and administrative support, the HKFA needs to develop a better framework for upgrading players’ cognition, education and social development, which in turn can benefit youth players’ ultimate future development in their careers on the pitch and off the pitch.”

 Lee reflected on the sad and gradual decline of domestic football and how Hong Kong used to dominate Asian football before many other nations caught up in terms of professionalism and then roared past.

“HK was really good in football in the 60s-70s, and was positioned as number 1 in Asia and was named as a “football Empire” in the Asia Pacific.

HK had a lot of skillful players, especially attackers, who had brilliant 1 vs 1 technique; even the HK defenders had powerful tackling skills, of which the attackers were scared of them. Their skills were not easily obtained and  relied on their intelligence and hard work.”

During the 80s, HK were still located in the upper football rankings in Asia, even though we gradually slipped downwards in the FIFA rankings. Nevertheless, we could win against some foreign Asian countries, e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, etc. Some of our players were even invited to play in other Asian countries and even in Europe! Still, football was fantastic in HK back then and many matches played in HK Stadium were full of spectators.”

 Lee also lamented the well-meaning intentions of the much-vaunted Project Phoenix and how some further suggestions to further improve the game have fallen on deaf ears.

“Ten years ago, Project Phoenix (HK Government funding) injected a big lump sum of money into football here, but we feel that the resources have not been used appropriately and football clubs have insufficient support from the HKFA.

We  have already suggested some ideas: lowering the cost of running matches, for example helping with match expenses or hosting “double header” matches (2 matches in succession at one venue); striving to find match venues and training grounds together with the HK government and to attract more people to watch the games; a players’ Insurance Scheme, which would provide more protection and benefits to the players and more financial resources to support youth teams in the long run.”

The lack of financial stability in HK football has seen potential players seek alternative careers and remains an issue.

“We also suggested a players’ wages protection scheme with the HKFA and HK Government, i.e. a basic monthly salary which would attract local youth players to pursue a career in football.”

Lee was disappointed to learn that these well-meaning ideas from those who know the game best had fallen on deaf ears or ignored.

“These proposals have sadly fallen on deaf ears. Recently, 3 years ago, the HKSAR Government also injected financial resources to develop elite youth football via HK Football Association (HKFA) to the HKPL Clubs. However, it is still disappointing that the initial proposal has been changed on the way to its implementation.

HKFA invited a lot of non-HKPL Clubs to join the elite youth training so their players have no clear target for further promotion  and their coaches are not keen on elite youth training, especially in the area of football skills. Finally, our financial resources have been lowered, which affects our long-term development goals in elite youth football.”

Rangers are a friendly and open club who welcome fans from all around the world.

“We welcome anyone who has an interest in supporting Rangers! We encourage fans to communicate with us via our official website or Facebook page with their support, whether it’s both emotional and verbal support (for example, writing to encourage our players, coaches or staff, player birthdays, post-match comments, etc.), or financially by their attendance at games or by purchasing merchandise. We’d like people to bridge the gap with their home country and HK Rangers by distributing news about the team across the world!”

For Lee, Rangers is a passion and a ‘love’ which has lasted a lifetime.

“I have loved Rangers football clubs since I was a teenager. This is a long term relationship, from admiring Rangers until I owned the club. Rangers are part of my life. It can be said that Philip Lee signifies the name, heart and soul of Hong Kong Rangers.” – Facebook

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