Friday, 18 September 2015

HKFA Progress Report: Strategy and Finance

It’s quite a while since I blogged and there has been lots happening. To get the ball rolling again I have prepared a presentation for you to download which is an overview of our strategy and funding.
It contains a review of Project Phoenix and our new Strategic Plan, Aiming High – Together. The presentation illustrates how Project Phoenix has been the catalyst for the further development of football in Hong Kong and has led to us being able to secure more funding. In April this year we started a new five-year funding cycle with the Government (HAB) worth HK$25m per annum and in June we commenced a five year programme with the Hong Kong Jockey Club worth HK$120m. The HAB money will be used to fund payroll costs and other overheads of the HKFA as well as contributing to specific activities linked to the delivery of the strategic plan. The HKJC money will be used for football development activities including youth coaching and leagues, girls and women’s football, grass roots programmes, futsal, refereeing, coach education etc. We are delighted to be working with the Jockey Club and grateful that they have seen that our strategic direction and implementation plans are strong enough to command this level of support.

We also receive funding from the LCSD which pays our representative teams training and competition expenses. The level of support we receive has increased since Project Phoenix and again we are grateful for that. It enables our 12 teams (football, futsal, men, boys, women and girls) to be better prepared for international competitions. This again is a key part of our strategic plan because good performances at the elite level encourage participation at all levels.

The HAB, HKJC and LCSD money is therefore to cover what I would call ‘software’. I am particularly excited to confirm that the long-awaited and desperately needed Football Training Centre (hardware) has also moved a step closer with the award of capital funding from the HKJC Charities Board and the release of the land at Tseung Kwan O by the Government. We can now move forward on this project and I hope we can be playing on new pitches some time in 2017. The link between software and hardware is clearly shown within our plan. Everyone knows we need more opportunities to play on good quality facilities. This milestone is a very important one and its potential impact should not be under-estimated.

It’s fair to say that not everyone agrees that Project Phoenix was a success but no-one can deny that it has transformed the HKFA and provided a springboard from which we can make steady progress in our quest to raise the standard of football in Hong Kong. I was astonished to realise that with the original Project Phoenix money together with the additional funding I have mentioned above, the HKFA will be investing an additional HK$500m during the period 2010 to 2020. The majority of this is yet to be spent, over 80% in fact and therefore Project Phoenix was only the early part of the journey. The hard work starts now. We must use this money wisely and really make an impact on local football. All stakeholders must truly Aim High – Together for the benefit of football. I look forward to making the vision reality.

Mark Sutcliffe September 2015     

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hong Kong 2, Qatar 3

It would have been a brilliant comeback but sadly, it was not to be. What I would like to say first and foremost is that the fact that we are disappointed to lose a match like this shows just how far we have come in a relatively short period of time. Qatar won its last match 15-0, they are ranked in the top 100 and 57 places above Hong Kong. At the end they were hanging on and their Coach was pleading for the final whistle.

We all feel a bit flat today which is not surprising but looking at things objectively we should be pleased and proud of how well our team played and how they gave a fright to one of the better teams in Asia. We have made great progress recently and the fact that we could come back at the end speaks volumes about both the team spirit and the improved physicality of our players.
I don’t want to dwell on the referee’s performance because it is a difficult job and we all must accept that at times we take the rough with the smooth (some decisions undoubtedly went our way against China). I must say however that the decision to penalize our goalkeeper for delaying clearing the ball was a bit harsh. I have rarely seen this decision made and never without issuing a warning first. It was almost inevitable that it lead to the first goal. But let’s focus on the positives. 

It would be remiss of me not to mention the crowd and the support given by the Hong Kong fans. When I turned up at Mong Kok two hours before kickoff there was already a large crowd and a palpable buzz around the stadium. From start to finish the fans were magnificent and I know this gives a huge lift to the players. It’s a cliché but it is like having a 12th man on the pitch. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in football at the moment which is great and we at the HKFA must try to capitalize on this. I am sure the match against China in November will take this to a higher level altogether.

I think it is obvious to everyone, it certainly is to me, that the Hong Kong Representative Team is getting better. This potential was always there but the fact that it is now coming to the surface is really encouraging. What I’m more excited about however is that there is more to come. The changes we are introducing to the structure of football and the pathways for talented players will improve things in the future. Things will get even better when we have our own dedicated Football Training Centre and more sophisticated sports science support.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hong Kong football at all levels is on an upward trajectory. If we continue to build on this momentum the many football fans in Hong Kong will have many more great performances to cheer.

Mark Sutcliffe September 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

China v Hong Kong 3rd September 2015

I don’t think my nerves will stand too many nights like last night! But what a performance. I was so pleased for Coach KIM and his team of coaches and players. The match statistics show that it was a pretty one-sided match (as you would expect against a team ranked 73 places higher) but our team worked so hard to maintain parity. Yes, we rode our luck at times, especially in the first half when the woodwork came to our help four times. Having said that we defended with courage and discipline and we kept a very organized shape throughout. There were some fantastic goal line clearances and our goalkeeper made some outstanding, I would say, world class saves.

China will be frustrated and disappointed not to have won but that’s the beauty of football; you have to put the ball in the back of the net. They had 90 minutes to do so and they failed to score. They were off target on many occasions and towards the end were reduced to shooting from long range. Initially it looked like they were a bit complacent thinking that they could score at will. As the game wore on I was surprised that they were so one-dimensional. Even though they made a number of substitutions they didn’t vary their shape or system and the transition from defense to attack was very pedestrian. This made it a bit easier for our team to defend. With about 20 minutes to go, I actually started to relax a bit because I didn’t think China could score.

In some ways I think last night’s performance was arguably as positive as Hong Kong’s victory against China in 1985. No disrespect meant to that outstanding team but China takes football much more seriously these days. Some of their players are paid more individually than our entire squad put together!
I would also like to pay tribute to the Hong Kong fans. They battled hard to simply buy tickets and get to the match! As ever their support was phenomenal and their behaviour was exemplary. I hope they remember the night for a long long time. Last night I was as proud of the fans as I was of the team.

I look forward now to the return leg to be played here in Hong Kong on 17th November. We still don’t know where the match will be played but in my opinion it would be a travesty if it was played anywhere other than the HK Stadium. This is one of the biggest and most important football matches to be played in Hong Kong and only our main stadium will do it justice. As many people as possible should be given the opportunity to watch the match and to support the team.  

I will finish with once again paying tribute to our fans and the Hong Kong team. It was an inspired brilliant performance. However, we must be realistic and keep our feet on the ground. In a few days we play against Qatar and they beat Bhutan 15-0 last night. It is sure to be another nerve jangling experience!

Mark Sutcliffe