Wednesday, 17 May 2017

I see a bright future for Hong Kong football

It is only natural that most fans and the media focus on what is happening now in the HK Premier League and the performance of the HK Representative Teams. These are very important facets of the work carried out by the HKFA and will always be in the immediate spotlight.

However I think it is only right and proper to highlight the excellent work going on in other areas and how these will impact on the future.

In recent years under Project Phoenix initially and more recently through our new Strategy, Aiming High, we are doing excellent work transforming the governance and management of the HKFA. At an operational level we are now better structured, have more resources and have improved our systems and procedures massively. It’s not just me saying that either; in 2015 the AFC awarded us the ‘Developing Member Association of the Year Award’. We have improved year on year in the LCSD Annual Inspection. But it’s not this aspect of our work I want to focus on now because the internal workings of the HKFA are of even less interest to the public and good governance and management should be a given.

What I want to focus on in this blog is the enormous work being done to prepare the players, officials and coaches of tomorrow. Aiming High sets out plans for improved systems and structures of football development covering; grass roots football, youth development, talent identification, high performance football, girls and women’s football, coach education and referee development. Thanks to the additional resources being provided by the Government and the HK Jockey Club we now have a team of highly competent and motivated football professionals leading all of these areas.

Within the Technical Department we have a good blend of expatriate people including our Head Coach and Technical Director (Korea), Head of Football Development (England), Grass roots Football Manager (England), Strength and Conditioning Manager (England), Academy Manager (Spain), two Elite Development Managers (Japan and Spain). These people are imparting knowledge to increase the knowledge and skills of our local coaches and players. This enhanced capacity building is part of a deliberate succession plan and should ensure a sustainable legacy for Hong Kong football. We already have local people heading up our Competitions team, Women’s Football, Futsal, Coach Education and Refereeing.

The Hong Kong Football Curriculum (which is available to everyone involved in Hong Kong football and is on our website) has been produced by this group of experts and provides a toolkit to develop the players of the future. I commend it to you. The curriculum provides an age-related training methodology for player development in terms of skill acquisition, tactical awareness, physical conditioning and mental preparedness. It is an excellent and ever-evolving resource.

When we have so many people doing so much good work it is very difficult to give anything other than a snapshot. The list below is a microcosm of a concerted and massive development programme being delivered by the HKFA:

Grassroots Football
  • ·         Enhanced and expanded summer scheme with over 10,000 kids
  • ·         District Forums and Seminars being held
  • ·         Increased supervision of District Coaches
  • ·         Expanded training programme focused on the ‘Golden Age’ (6 - 12)– more kids playing football with development pathways
  • ·         More festivals, games days and competitions

District Training Programme and Youth Leagues
  • ·         Expanded District training programme (more frequent training)
  • ·         Expanded youth league (more age groups and matches)
  • ·         Introduction of ‘Divisions’ to enable the best to play against the best
  • ·         International invitational tournaments for our Academy teams (boys and girls)

Women’s and Girls Development Programme
  • ·         Regional training for U11, U14 and U18
  • ·         More training sessions for elite squads
  • ·         More leagues and competitions (junior and senior)
  • ·         More training and playing opportunities for our representative teams

NB Prior to Project Phoenix girls and women’s football was not part of the HKFA. Development work was virtually zero.

  • ·         Significantly increased inter schools competition
  • ·         New University Futsal League
  • ·         Establishment of HK Futsal League
  • ·         More training and competition for elite players (male and female)

Sports Science
  • ·         Individually prescribed training programmes for elite players
  • ·         Development of strength and conditioning benchmarks
  • ·         Introduction of GPS technology
  • ·         Coaches workshops and update of coach education syllabus
  • ·         Referee testing programme
  • ·         Work with University on nutrition intervention

Coach Education
  • ·         Full restructure of HKFA Coach Education course and syllabus based on best practice
  • ·         More courses being offered including ‘A’ Licence course in progress (first one for a long time)
  • ·         Introduction on minimum standards for coaches at various levels
  • ·         New points system for Continuous Professional Development
  • ·         Regular briefings to HKFA registered coaches

  • ·         Introduction of ‘young talented referee academy’, (472 people benefitted so far)
  • ·         More referees being recruited, trained and assessed
  • ·         Better fitness training
  • ·         More AFC/FIFA referees, instructors and assessors

I could go on but believe me the work in these areas is extensive and coordinated. People following Hong Kong football may not even know that we are working in these areas. Like I said, these activities and programmes often go ‘under the radar’ but believe me they are the bedrock of our work and they are crucial for the future of football. Before Project Phoenix and Aiming High the HKFA didn’t have the resources to carry out these activities. It barely had enough funding and staff to manage the old first division, the three amateur leagues and the occasional international match. The transition and transformation has been seismic.

We are lucky to have a team of people who are happy to dedicate their time and expertise whilst not being bothered about the limelight. To me they are unsung heroes and heroines! I am grateful for and in awe of their competence and ability. We are also indebted to the HK Jockey Club for providing partnership funding to allow us to provide these enhanced opportunities.

I am also delighted to report that our new Football Training Centre at Tseung Kwan O is coming out of the ground and will in the future alleviate one of the most acute problems in Hong Kong football, the lack of facilities. That project has been on the drawing Board for many many years and it is only down to the dedication and hard work of the current management of the HKFA that it is finally coming to fruition. In the near future our elite players as well as community users will be able to train on purpose built, well maintained and dedicated facilities. This will make a real and huge difference in terms of player development, coach education and referee training. In other words we will be able to do even more development work!

I hope this blog has highlighted the amount of resources, effort and determination that the HKFA is putting into improving things for the future. The results may take some time to materialize. After all it takes a long time to develop excellent players, coaches and officials – remember the 10,000 hour concept.

The work I have done in firstly writing the Government’s strategy, Dare to Dream, then in preparing Project Phoenix and more recently in writing and implementing Aiming High has been a labour of love for me. I will always be proud of what collectively, myself and my brilliant colleagues have achieved. What is happening on the pitch now in 2017 is not a result of these recent initiatives, it is still to some extent a legacy of what came before, which was too few resources, no clear direction and very little player development. That’s why it would be wrong to judge the HKFA simply on what is happening now in professional football or in international competitions such as the Asian Cup. I believe we are making progress in these areas too but the real results will not happen until the excellent development work has had time to work itself through the system.  

Please take a look at these links which show some of the good work being undertaken and I believe some of our stars of the future.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO May 2017

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Credit where Credit is Due

Congratulations to Kitchee for winning the 2016/17 BoC Life HKPL. It has been a long, hard-fought campaign and, as predicted in this blog a few months ago, the league went down to the very last game. It was fitting that the two top teams met to decide which one was going to be the Champion. It was a great afternoon at Mong Kok with a good atmosphere. What was most pleasing for me was that it was a sell-out. That shows that there is demand for local football and that we are making progress. As ever congratulations to my colleagues for yet more fantastic organisation. Thanks too to our sponsors BoC Life for their continuing support and for enabling us to improve the league in line with people’s expectations.

Having said that, it was disappointing to note that the behavior of many of the players, still leaves a lot to be desired. We had the usual time wasting, feigning injury, brandishing imaginary yellow cards, dissent on the pitch and from the dugout etc etc. This has got to stop because it is pathetic, embarrassing and ruining the game.

It goes without saying that whichever team comes out on top over the course of a whole season deserves to win. Kitchee has won the league on merit. They may well go on to win the treble this coming weekend and that would be a huge achievement. It is a commendable performance by any standard and reflects a well-run and purposeful club with excellent infrastructure and a solid Head Coach. Recently, I have been accused of many things by the Kitchee management which to be honest is of no concern to me in writing this blog or at all for that matter. As far as their football is concerned I have been consistent in saying that they are the standard bearers for Hong Kong. I fervently wish we had many more teams with their drive and commitment.

Despite what some people may think, I have no allegiance to any team in Hong Kong; I want them all to be successful. I have no favourites and am completely impartial. I am genuinely delighted that whoever wins our league has a chance to participate in the top tier AFC competition. I hope that if our prevailing AFC MA rankings are high enough and if Kitchee receive the AFC CL Club Licence, that they will play in the group stages of the 2018 AFC Champions League and be successful. I will support them all the way and I know my HKFA colleagues will do likewise. The fact that they will have achieved entry into the group stage on merit this time as league champions will make it even more satisfying for everyone. Of course it won’t make it any easier and as we have seen this season with Eastern, there is a massive gap in quality for them to overcome.

In that respect, I would like to offer some sympathy to Eastern who have been at the top of the league for most of the season. I witnessed firsthand the devastation they felt after the match. It has been a difficult time for them this season and I am sure that competing in the continental competition has taken its toll. Moving up to a new level and competing in domestic and regional competitions at the same time is a tall order. I have no doubt that Kitchee will find it tough too but it is a stepping stone for Hong Kong football. All stakeholders including the media should remember that and give our teams as much support as possible.

As another BoC Life HKPL season comes to a close, I reflect on the fact that the standard at the top has again improved but that the league as a whole is not strong enough. We must continue to strive to grow the sport as a whole here in Hong Kong to make the league more competitive and more sustainable. Progress in the ‘professional’ aspect of football in Hong Kong is slower than I would have liked, especially compared to other aspects of the sport which have made great strides forward. Over the next few months we will be preparing for the BoC Life HKPL 2017/18 season and we will be working hard to see how we can make things better.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO

Monday, 13 March 2017

Could this be the Turning Point for Women’s Football

The Hong Kong Women’s Senior team beat Singapore yesterday in an international friendly match at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground. The 2-0 winning score line does not reflect the brilliance and dominance of the Hong Kong team. I am serious when I say that it was one of the best team performances I have seen in my time in Hong Kong. If it hadn’t been for the athleticism of their goal keeper, the woodwork and a dubious off-side decision the score would have been at least 5-0, and it would have been deserved.

From start to finish the Hong Kong team played with composure, skill and confidence. The passing was accurate, the movement off the ball excellent and the style of system of play consistent and effective. As well as the great teamwork, what impressed me most is the level of improvement in both individual skill and the physical fitness of the players. It is clear that there has been a lot of work done. I am so pleased that the passion and hard commitment has paid off. I told the coaches and players after the match that they should be proud of themselves. Hong Kong should be proud too.

There was a good crowd to witness the match which was fantastic and I could tell from the reaction that they were as impressed as I was. The support for women’s football in Hong Kong is getting stronger all the time.

The HKFA is committed to girls and women’s football and I personally think it is equally important to boys and men’s football. There is huge potential here and although we are starting from a low base, our Women’s Football Manager, Betty and Head Coach, Chi together with the other coaches and the players have done a brilliant job in developing both the grass roots and high performance football.

In the past girls and women’s football in Hong Kong has not really been taken seriously and they have often been given the worst pitches to train on at the worst times and in the worst places. In spite of that their commitment and drive has never wavered. Yesterday perhaps gave a glimpse into the future. Women’s football is often described as the fastest growing sport in the world. It is time Hong Kong capitalized on this demand and interest.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to women’s football development and thank you in particular to those involved yesterday. You gave me memories that will stay with me forever. It was an amazing performance.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, March 2017    






除了男子足球外,香港足球總會一直致力發展本地女足,因為我們很清楚當中蘊藏著的巨大潛力。女子足球經理黃若玲 (Betty) 、女子代表隊主教練陳淑芝連同一眾教練及球員對於本地女子草根及高效足球的發展實在功不可沒。





Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A Lot to Play For

It looks like it might go down to the wire!

Rivalry is a great thing in sport. Think Liverpool v Manchester United, Barcelona v Real Madrid, Borg v McEnroe, Prost v Senna, Coe v Ovett, Ali v Foreman, Fischer v Spassky etc etc, the list is endless. The point is, rivalry makes sport much more thrilling and exciting. No-one wants to see one team totally dominant like Celtic; currently 27 points clear at the top of the current Scottish Premiership.

The emerging sporting rivalry between Eastern and Kitchee is becoming more acute and therefore more intriguing and compelling. Earlier this season Kitchee gained some bragging rights by beating Eastern in the final of the HK Senior Shield. A lively crowd of over 6,200 reflected the intensity and increasing significance of the match-up.

At the time of writing, things are close at the top of the 2016/17 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League, very close in fact. Eastern are 6 points ahead but Kitchee has a game in hand and arguably the easier run in. I think it could go down to the wire and by that I mean the very last game of the season on 6th May. They are playing each other in that match and it is a mouth-watering prospect – potentially a winner takes all scenario.

Being crowned Champions and picking up the winners cheque together with getting one over on a close rival is prize enough, but this year there is even more at stake. The winner of the 2016/17 BOC Life HKPL will in all probability gain an automatic entry into the group stage of the 2018 AFC Champions League (subject to our AFC ranking when places are allocated). Ironically, Eastern’s participation in the CL group stage this season makes their domestic title aspirations a little more difficult because the CL games come thick and fast. As we have seen already they are physically and mentally draining encounters. Playing more often at a higher level can only be good for Hong Kong football in the long term but will this make the difference in this season’s title run in? Only time will tell.

I would not like to bet on the outcome of the 2016/17 BOC Life HKPL right now and there are bound to be twists and turns in fortune between now and the end of the season. As far as I am concerned the rivalry between these two top teams can only be good for Hong Kong football. May the best team win!

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, March 2017




體壇一直以來不乏宿敵的存在。正如利物浦與曼聯、巴塞隆拿與皇家馬德里、波格與麥根萊 (網球)、保魯斯與冼拿 (賽車)、科伊與奧韋特 (跑步)、阿里與福爾曼 (拳擊) FischerSpassky (國際象棋)等等。宿敵之間的較量令運動變得更刺激及引人入勝,沒多少人會對壟斷的情況感太大興趣,就好像蘇格蘭超級聯賽暫時於榜首以27分遙遙領先的些路迪一樣。



擊敗宿敵奪冠封王的一方除可獲獎金外,更將以201617年度港超聯冠軍身份自動晉身至2018亞冠盃分組賽 (根據先前決定參賽名額時之香港於亞足聯的排名而定)。諷刺的是,現時正在出戰亞冠盃分組賽的東方龍獅正因為頻密的賽程與強烈的比賽強度,令到要分身兼顧本地聯賽增添不少難度,從對上兩場的亞冠盃賽事更讓我們體會到亞冠盃對體能上及心理上的要求及消耗。於高水平賽事中參賽一方面可令香港足球發展獲益良多,但另一方面會否令本季之港超聯的冠軍爭奪帶來變數?季尾自有分曉。




Thursday, 2 March 2017

No Pain, No Gain

I am proud that a team from Hong Kong is playing in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Also let’s not forget that we almost had two teams competing, following Kitchee’s brave performance in the qualification phase.

Playing at this level marks real progress and is a stepping stone to where we want to be (one of the top countries in East Asia) but make no mistake the step up in terms of quality and intensity of football is huge. The difference between the HKPL/AFC Cup level and the AFC CL is a gulf.

This was exemplified perfectly by Eastern’s recent baptism of fire against Guangzhou Evergrande away from home. As I sat in the stand watching as the players walked out before the match, the adrenaline was flowing, I wondered what it must be like to play in front of 38,000 people and in such a hostile atmosphere. I was joyful and hopeful at the thought of a Hong Kong team competing at that level but also fearful for what could lie ahead. After all, Eastern were up against a team reputedly worth US$400m, who are serial winners of the CSL, have a World Cup winning Coach and are previous winners of the competition. David v Goliath was a much more evenly matched contest by comparison.

Almost immediately after the kickoff my fear turned to dread. Seldom have I seen a dream unravel so quickly. From where I was sat the sending off was harsh but it became apparent that it was going to be a long hard night. I was just thinking that things couldn’t get any worse when the second player was sent off for a second bookable offence. The game was effectively over and ‘damage limitation’ became the only viable game plan. Symbolically it then started raining heavily and because I wasn’t under cover I got soaked. I refused to let my mood become as black as the sky because I kept reminding myself that a team from Hong Kong was out there on the pitch competing at the highest level in Asia. I felt warm inside.

9 v 11 was never going to be easy especially when playing against better players who are on a HK$3m bonus per goal! (Ultimately the bonus pot was larger than Eastern’s budget for the whole season). I think the team did well to keep the score down to 7-0 with the goalkeeper again making some great saves, including one from the penalty spot. He was arguably the ‘man of the match’.

What impressed me most was the attitude of the coach and players in defeat. That is the true mark of quality. Their heads were held high and they vowed to use it as a learning experience.

Last night playing at home to Mong Kok against Kawasaki Frontale provided evidence of this good team spirit and also that Hong Kong clubs deserve their place in this competition. Eastern created a chance in the first 30 seconds and came out confident, positive and fast. The capacity crowd made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. This is what it’s all about! Passion, noise, intensity – I love it and so do the people of Hong Kong. Champions League football was one of my goals when I came here and collectively we have achieved it.

Eastern played well and to their credit rather than being traumatized by their experience in Guangzhou, they seemed galvanized and determined. The reality is they could have won. Granted they had a man advantage for most of the match but let’s not forget that the team from Japan have much more experience and are arguably man for man better players – for now.

What impressed me most was that immediately after the game I went to congratulate the coach on gaining the first ever point for a Hong Kong team in the Champions League. She looked at me and said ‘We should have had three’. Great attitude and it augurs well for the future.

There will be more tough nights ahead in this campaign and hopefully in future competitions too. There is truth in the old adage ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ or to put it another way…no pain, no gain.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, March 2017


一分耕耘 一分收穫


這亦正正標誌著我們於足球發展路上的進程以及目標 (成為東亞地區最高足球水平之一)。當然,要一步登天到達亞冠的水準及強度是極具難度的,而港超聯或亞協盃本身之水平與亞冠亦存在非常大的距離。










Tuesday, 24 January 2017

When the Going Gets Tough!

I would say that we had a ‘dream’ draw in the World Cup Qualifiers. Some would say that we have been given a ‘nightmare’ draw in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. Certainly I don’t think any of the teams we have drawn (DPR Korea, Lebanon and Malaysia) would have been our first choice in their respective pots. Travelling to DPR Korea and Lebanon will be difficult and the opponents will be tough. Malaysia are no pushovers either as we know from experience. All four teams will fancy their chances of getting to the finals, especially DPR Korea who clearly start as favourites to win the group. The DPR Korea Head Coach has the distinct advantage of working with his players on a full time basis.

We got a flying start in the World Cup qualifiers and this gave us momentum in the competition. This time we have Lebanon away first up (March) followed by DPR Korea at home (June), neither of these will be easy fixtures to say the least. We’re going to have to be at our best to get results from these games.

Right, that’s enough negativity. The draw has been made, we know the magnitude of the task and qualifying for the finals (UAE 2019) remains our goal. I know we can do it. So we start the hard work, right here, right now. I have already communicated with Coach KIM and when he returns tomorrow we will plan our strategy. All of the qualification matches fall at the end of each 10 day FIFA match-day period so we can arrange some friendly fixtures and training camps to enable us to prepare properly.

We have a great team spirit and work ethic and everyone will fight for Hong Kong. The whole team is determined and passionate. Furthermore, I know our loyal fans will give their support and this means a lot to the coaches and players in particular.

If and hopefully, when we qualify, we will know that we have done it the hard way rather than relying on an easy draw. As the saying goes….when the going gets tough, the tough gets going! Go Hong Kong

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, January 2017

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year

Another year has flown by; I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! It’s been another busy and successful year for the HKFA with some notable achievements.

2017 promises to be even more eventful and exciting. Some highlights will be:
l   The opening of the long-awaited HK Jockey Club HKFA Football Training Centre in July
l   The Asian Cup Qualifiers starting In March
l   The Asia Trophy (hopefully in July)
l   The AFC Champions League throughout the year

To my mind these high profile events and matches are no more important than the development work we do and I look forward to further growth and improvement in our grass roots programmes, youth training, all representative teams, futsal, girls and women’s football, referee development, coach education course etc.

I could not do the work I do without the help and support of my tremendous colleagues here at the HKFA. We have a great team of professional and passionate people and I would like to thank them for all their efforts and hard work. I would also like to thank the Board and the many Committees we have for their direction and commitment. Once again 2016 has been characterized by teamwork and it would be remiss of my not to thank all of our partners and stakeholders including the Government, the Jockey Club, commercial sponsors, partners and suppliers, clubs, players, coaches, referees, the media and fans. Together we are all determined to make Hong Kong football successful. It is my privilege to be part of that team. Happy Christmas to each and everyone of you.

I am excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2017 and give you my word that I will do everything I can to continue the upward trends in Hong Kong Football.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, December 2016