The annual lunar new year football cup is set to be cancelled yet again thus depriving Hong Kong football fans of yet more live football.
The tournament used to attract national teams every Lunar New Year. Although as club fixtures have increased and international calendars have piled up, the tournament has sadly diminished in both prestige and stature.
Hong Kong fans sometimes reminisce and look back through the years to see some of the national teams, famed clubs and star names who flew into Hong Kong during previous Lunar New Year tournaments.
One of the biggest clubs to come to the Hong Kong tournament were England’s Aston Villa. The then ‘Claret and Blue’ Villains, a lifetime away from both Prince William and Tom Hank’s professing their devotion to them, had recently been league runners up to Liverpool in the 1989/1990 season.
Villa’s then-manager, the highly respected late Graham Taylor (a legend at both Watford and Villa) had taken up the England manager’s role so the late Dr. Jozef Vengloš took the manager’s hot seat at Villa Park. Villa had lost in a third-round FA Cup replay to Wimbledon on January 9th, 1991 so an invitation to attend the HK Malboro Cup 1991 was accepted.
The four participating teams in 1991 included the Hong Kong League XI, the Thailand National Team, Aston Villa and FC Dynamo Moscow.
Video: HK League XI take on Thailand in the Lunar New Year Cup 1991 Semi-final
The first round of matches were played at the old Hong Kong Stadium on February 15th, 1991 and saw HK defeat Thailand 2-0 while Aston Villa defeated Dynamo Moscow 1-0 with Tony Cascarino scoring the winner.
Both the third-place playoff and final were played on February 18th 1991 with Dynamo defeating Thailand 2-0 to clinch third place. The Hong Kong League XI teams of the past could match both national teams and clubs and Aston Villa would soon become a famous scalp. This Aston Villa team had a young Dwight Yorke and the likes of Tony Daley, Paul McGrath and Gordon Cowans (David Platt was in HK but was injured?).
Video: Hong Kong League XI take on Aston Villa at the old HK stadium
Aston Villa took the lead with a headed goal from Tony Cascarino though soon Hong Kong equalized with a poachers goal from Dale Tempest in the 34th minute. The game ended 1-1 in full time but came to life in extra time when Leslie Santos and Tim Bredbury took advantage of the tiring visitors and scored the winning goals.
Video: Extended highlights – Hong Kong League XI take on Aston Villa at the old HK stadium
Hong Kong had claimed a famous victory and would repeat it in the following year’s tournament when they defeated then Yugoslavia’s Partizan Belgrade on penalties.
Football presenter, Chris Chan, was in the crowd, for the Villa game, at the old Hong Kong stadium. Chan says it was by far his favourite Hong Kong football memory and he remembers storming the pitch at the end of the game!
“It was 1991 and the Lunar New Year cup. I think it was 1991, where Aston Villa came to Hong Kong and Hong Kong league XI just beat them. It was amazing! It was a full house at the old Hong Kong stadium and no one gave Hong Kong a chance! Aston Villa had their full team as they they went out of the 3rd round of the FA Cup and the date of the FA Cup 4th round was the same time as the Lunar New Year in 1991.”
No one, back then, gave the HK League XI a chance against one of the most traditional names of English football.
“Villa were out of the FA cup so they flew over to Hong Kong. Dwight Yorke was in that team and after Aston Villa scored, everyone thought Villa would thrash Hong Kong but somehow, Dale Tempest equalized and the match went extra time then Leslie Santos and Tim Bredbury scored. The HK fans went crazy and everyone rushed the field at the final whistle. It was amazing. It is my favourite football memory and I thought nothing would beat that and Liverpool winning the Champions League was close.”
Villa legend, Neil Cox, told the Birmingham Mail, about his experience in Hong Kong. At the time, Cox has just signed for Aston Villa from Scunthorpe and pretty much had to jump onto a plane upon signing.
“I went back (to Scunthorpe) the next day (after signing) and I had to get the train back to Birmingham because the club were flying out to Hong Kong on my first day and I was on that trip.
We’d got back to Villa Park and it was full of snow. We did the running up the Holte End, trying to get fit and then we were told, ‘Come on then, we’ve got to go the airport. We got our stuff, I grabbed these two envelopes thinking, ‘Ah, these must be my tickets! I went to the ticket desk and got told, ‘Yeah, you’re first-class’ and I was thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, I was playing against Halifax four months ago and now I’m on a first-class flight.
Then the boys went, ‘Coxy, come over, we’re having a beer!’ I thought, ‘I’m 19, shall I sit and have a beer with them? I’ve got to be one of them, I’m going to have to.I said, ‘I’ve just got to get some money out’ and, in one of the envelopes, (the club) had given me some spending money. It was about £1,000. I’d only been on 110 quid at Scunthorpe!
So I said, ‘I’ll get these lads’ and so we were having a few beers before we get on the flight and then we had two weeks in Hong Kong playing games against Dynamo Kiev and the Hong Kong national team.
Villa had just been knocked out of the FA Cup third-round and I was in Hong Kong for two weeks playing and sitting having a beer with Paul McGrath. Everyone was so friendly. David Platt was there and he really looked after me.”
The Hong Kong league XI win over Aston Villa was significant as it paved the way for the greatest era of the tournament as national teams started to accept invitations to compete in Hong Kong.
Video: Tom Hanks is a huge Aston Villa Fan
Thus, the tournament evolved from having clubs sides from Argentina, the former Yugoslavia, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, China and South Korea to have full international teams gracing both HK and Mong Kok stadiums. The tournament has probably seen it heyday though those lucky to see matches during the golden era will cherish specific memories.
Aston Villa and Hong Kong have always had a loose connection through the decades and this started when ex-Aston Villa and England star Tony Morley played a starring role for old school favourites, Seiko. Villa legend, Gary Shaw, also came to Hong Kong and played for Ernest Borel in the nineties.
This unique connection continued, through the years, as Aston Villa consistently sent teams to the Hong Kong Soccer sevens and emerging stars, like Jack Grealish, gained more vital experience which served them well in the long term.
Video: Jack Grealish, in 2014, in Hong Kong
The Good Doctor’s Advice for Hong Kong Football
The late Dr. Jozef Vengloš and Hong Kong would go full circle as he returned to Hong Kong as a FIFA representative who was tasked with observing the local game and providing advice on how the domestic game could improve.
“’There are not enough league matches at the moment. You have to play more if you’re to improve,” he told the SCMP back in 2000. “First Division games are being played at a fairly slow tempo, and the speed of players is also slow.”
The good doctor, with his intricate knowledge of the world game, had some advice for Hong Kong football but sadly, it seems some things never change.
Famous Aston Villa Fans
Video: Tom Hanks takes the time to follow Aston Villa and their results
Video: Benjamin Zephaniah, Actor and Poet
Video: David Bradley, Actor
Video: Prince William
Recent Lunar New Year Cup Video Highlights (From clips available)
1992 Competition – Winner: HK League XI
(HK League XI, Partizan Football Club, Steaua București, BSC Young Boys)
1993 Competition – Winner: Switzerland
(HK League XI, Japan, Denmark U21, Switzerland)
1994 Competition – Winner: Denmark
(HK League XI, Denmark, Romania, United States)
1995 Competition – Winner: Former Yugoslavia
(HK League XI, Former Yugoslavia, South Korea, Colombia)
1996 Competition – Winner: Sweden
(HK League XI, Poland, Sweden, Japan)
1997 Competition – Winner: Russia
(HK League XI, Russia, Switzerland, Former Yugoslavia)
1998 Competition – Winner: Nigeria
(HK League XI, Nigeria, Iran, Chile)
1999 Competition – Winner: Mexico
(HK League XI, Mexico, Egypt, Bulgaria)
2000 Competition – Winner: Czech Republic
(HK League XI, Czech Republic, Mexico, Japan)
2001 Competition – Winner: Norway
(HK League XI, Norway, Paraguay, South Korea)
2002 Competition – Winner: Honduras
(HK League XI, Honduras, China, Slovenia)
2003 Competition – Winner: Uruguay
(HK League XI, Uruguay, Iran, Denmark League XI)
2004 Competition – Winner: Norway
(HK League XI, Norway, Sweden, Honduras )
2005 Competition – Winner: Brazil
(HK League XI, Brazil)
2006 Competition – Winner: Denmark
(HK League XI, Denmark, Croatia, South Korea)
2015 Competition: Winner – New York Cosmos
Photos found here: https://www.offside.hk/photos/ny-cosmos-win-lunar-new-year-cup/
2017 Competition: Winner – Auckland City
(Kitchee, Seoul FC, Auckland City, Muangthong United)
2019 Competition: Winner – Shandong Luneng
(Shandong Luneng, HK League XI, Sagan Tosu, Auckand City)