Hong Kong FC - Looking to grow on the global stage
Hong Kong Football Club has a history that stretches back more than 100 years. The club promotes itself as one of the top sports clubs in Asia - and it's not difficult to see why.
Hong Kong FC can boast the type of facilities that many clubs can only hope for and hosts major international sports events and touring sides.
As a private members' club, Honk Kong FC has almost 3,000 full members and is used by approximately 7,500 people. In 1995, the club moved into a brand new 64,000 square metre purpose-built home.
Total Football editor Mark Roach asked Neil Jensen, the Soccer Section Chairman at Hong Kong FC, about the club and its ambitions.
How big is Hong Kong Football Club in Hong Kong, and in Asia?
The club’s mission statement is ‘to be recognised as one of the leading sports clubs in the world’. In a country where space is at a premium, it is impossible not to be impressed by the facilities on offer at this club.
How would you sum the club up?
A multi-cultural, vibrant and sociable facility joined together by its love of sport with a family atmosphere.
How popular is football in Hong Kong?
People would say that Hong Kong is a rugby town due to the rugby 7’s, which is huge, however the reality is that football is ‘the sport of the people’ in Hong Kong.
Is there a big interest in the Premier League and other European leagues there?
It’s huge. Every Premier League game is shown live, although as you can imagine, a Saturday 3pm game (normally 10 or 11pm here) becomes like a kid in a sweetshop. You tend to flick between 6 or 7 games, see none of the best parts and end up downloading Match of The Day off the internet the next morning to relive it - all part of the fun I guess. Other European leagues are featured but the Premier League is definitely the most popular.
How would you summarise your role as Soccer Section Chairman at Hong Kong Football Club?
Well we have football from tots all the way through to adults with over 1,000 players using the facility. Nobody (including myself) is paid so we give our time up for the love of the game, which is how it should be. We have a committee that I chair, which covers all of the teams that play football at the club including juniors and male and female adult teams. Ultimately the committee and myself serve the members and are elected on an annual basis.
What else do you do apart from your role with Hong Kong Football Club?
I arrived here in 2004 working for one of the UK’s largest banks, having previously spent 4 years in Dubai. I was born and raised in Whitley Bay and am therefore a proud Geordie but left the UK in 2000. I blame my mother for all of this. When applying for a job with the bank in 1988 I was stuck on the question, “Are you prepared to be mobile for the job?” My mother said that I should answer yes, because the bus station in Whitley Bay went just about anywhere...
Having ended up running the bank’s sales and marketing for Asia, I left them a year ago after 23 years service and now specialise in international mortgages and UK property on an independent basis.
Membership of the club is pretty exclusive – what are the requirements for becoming a member?
Anyone looking to become part of the club needs to be able to offer their services – whatever that skill may be – to the club on a 4-year commitment. In most cases it is on what the club would call a ‘sports preferred’ membership and the individual would be monitored over that time. If you research Hong Kong Football Club online you will understand why it is hugely oversubscribed and that such restrictions need to be applied.
How many football teams does the club have?
It starts from around age 4 and the junior leagues go until age 14. The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) now has a youth pathway system and we have teams in at U-13, 15, 17 & 19. We have 3 teams in the Yau Yee League, which is popular amongst the expatriates and then 2 teams in the HKFA league, with a 1st team that competes at the very highest level, albeit on an amateur status against professionals.
Your first team won promotion to Hong Kong’s First Division last season and played against the likes of Nicky Butt and Mateja Kezman, what was that experience like for the team?
We ended up being relegated, however the fact that so many of the players ended up being snapped up by other teams on professional contracts and our first team coaches – Tony Sealy and Paul Foster – were runners up as coach of the season, was testimony to the effort that was put in and they were certainly not overawed.
How strong is the league in Hong Kong?
The 80’s & 90’s were the halcyon years here and summed up by the fact that England’s final friendly prior to Euro ‘96 was against a Hong Kong Golden Select team (narrow 1-0 win for England) and shows where we were – remember the dentist chair? We actually have 7 of that HK team still playing at the club, albeit on a social basis these days. Back in the day, it was normal to see crowds of 30,000+ at games, however this has dwindled to a fraction of that amount in recent times. There is a resurgence however, with the recent appointment of Gordon McKie as CEO of the Hong Kong Football Association – previously Chief Executive of the Scottish Rugby Union – is testimony of the commitment of the HKFA to bring the crowds back to Hong Kong football.
China and Russia seem to be attracting some of the world’s best players – do you think Hong Kong can do something similar?
I guess it all comes down to money. This is the main hub for Asia and anything is possible in my view.
Tell me about the Citibank Hong Kong Football Club International Soccer 7's tournament that you will be hosting in May.
This is possibly the world’s premium 7’s tournament, which has been held at the club in May every year since 1999. It is a unique opportunity for amateur teams from around the world to test themselves against the very best. Over the years we have had the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Rangers, Celtic, Ajax, Boca Juniors, Aston Villa, Arsenal and more, not to mention local league teams. In fact the 2011 final was won by local team Kitchee against Liverpool. We also have a masters tournament, which again features touring teams as well as famous players from the past.
Tell me more about the Masters tournament - when is that taking place, and which players are taking part?
There have been many famous names played here over the years including Jurgen Klinsmann, Andrew Cole, Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid and more. We have also been privileged to host the likes of the late Alan Ball, John Motson, Graham Taylor and Peter Reid amongst others as speakers at our annual Sportsman’s Dinner.
You are well connected in Hong Kong, who are some of your best football contacts?
Asia is becoming big business in the football world due to the opportunity for sponsorship, which was evidenced by the fact that the Barclays Asia Trophy pre season tournament in July 2011 was held here, featuring Aston Villa, Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and current HK League champions, Kitchee. On that basis and with the soccer 7’s, we have some very high profile individuals passing through on a regular basis.
Hong Kong are currently 168th in the FIFA world rankings – what can you do to compete on an international stage with the likes of Korea Republic, China PR and Japan?
Inevitably, these things normally come down to investment and this is starting to happen here in Hong Kong. The framework now in place to nurture young talent here in Hong Kong is starting to pay dividends and continued interest and support will inevitably improve performance and ranking.
For more information about Hong Kong Football Club, you can visit the club's website at www.hkfc.com.hk