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


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一分耕耘 一分收穫


我為有一支香港球隊於亞冠分組賽內競逐而感到驕傲,而事實上傑志於外圍賽的精彩表現令香港差點便有兩支球隊同時躋身分組賽階段。

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。

這亦可從上月東方作客廣州恆大之賽事中反映出來。比賽當日坐於看台的我看著球員於開賽前步出球場的一幕時感到熱血沸騰,不斷想像球員於38,000名觀眾前以及作客的惡劣氣氛下作賽會是何等感受。當時我對香港球隊終可於高水平之賽事上競賽感到喜悅以及充滿希望的,但同時亦憂慮賽事之進程及結果。畢竟,東方正與一支據說總值超過4億美元、於中超連年稱霸、由世界盃冠軍教頭領軍並曾經奪得亞冠殊榮的球隊對賽,如要形容雙方之差距,最貼切的莫過於「大衛對巨人」了。

開賽不久後我的憂慮隨即變成事實。從我的位置上觀看,該紅牌判罰似乎略嚴,這亦令比賽變得更艱難,而第二面紅牌的出現更是雪上加霜。當時那一刻結果彷如已成定局一般,而唯一可做的似乎是盡量減少失球。那時剛巧開始下起傾盆大雨,而坐在沒有遮蓋位置的我亦全身濕透,不過當我想起球場上正有一支香港球隊仍在於亞洲最高水平之比賽中拼盡作賽時,我不但沒讓自己的心情變得如天色般陰沉,反而感到溫暖。

足球場上911從來不容易,更何況對手是一支實力更強橫的球隊,並為著每一球淨得球可獲得港幣300萬的獎金而戰。我認為東方已盡全力將失球減至7球,而守門員葉鴻輝亦再次多次作出漂亮撲救,包括一記12碼,我認為他值得當選全場最佳球員。

最令我印象深刻的是教練及球員於落敗時的正面態度,昂首地視之為珍貴的學習經驗。

昨晚返回旺角大球場主場迎戰川崎前鋒的比賽,正好體現這良好的團體精神,亦再次證明香港球會足以立足於這項賽事之中。東方出場時充滿自信及積極態度,甫開賽30秒已製造了埋門機會,全場爆滿的氣氛及聲勢更是無法比擬的。激情、吶喊打氣聲、緊張程度,這正正是我以及香港人所喜愛的!亞冠是當初我到這裡的目標,而憑著各方的努力及付出,我們終於做到了!



東方並沒有受第一場於廣州時的落敗所打擊,反而變得更堅定及充滿鬥志。事實上他們差點就能取得勝利,姑勿論於比賽大部分時間多踢一人,對手川崎前鋒畢竟是一支經驗更豐富、球員質素更勝一籌的球隊。

令我印象最深刻的是,完場後我立即上前恭喜主教練陳婉婷獲得香港球隊於亞冠賽事中歷史性的第一分,她答道:「我們應可全取三分的。」她的積極態度令未來充滿憧憬。

分組賽尚未完結,而多場更困難及充滿挑戰性的比賽將接踵而來。正如老生常談的一句說話,「一分耕耘,一分收穫」。


香港足球總會行政總裁薛基輔
一七年三月

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