Monday, 30 November 2015

Football Training Centre – Tseung Kwan O (Progress Report)

Introduction and Context

I have been asked to write a blog about the FTC – so here goes.
A FTC for Hong Kong has been in discussion and planning for a considerable period of time, over a decade in fact. There is no question that it is desperately needed as a dedicated base for football development activity across Hong Kong.
As identified in the HKFA strategy, the development of football in Hong Kong is being compromised by a lack of quality footballers, coaches and officials. The ‘peripatetic’ nature of facility allocation and use at the highest level of the sport is detrimental. A dedicated, exclusive and purpose built facility would provide significantly better opportunities for the training of players, coaches and officials and be a catalyst for the long term systematic improvement of football.
There is also a lack of accessible good quality football facilities in Hong Kong at the District and Regional level. Additional pitches with ancillary facilities at Tseung Kwan O could fill the gap within the Sai Kung District freeing up existing community facilities for general public use.
The HKFTC would be the ‘nerve centre’ for football in Hong Kong and be the catalyst to drive and improve the quality of football. The centre would be a major asset in the development of players, coaches and referees.
The vision and aspiration for the FTC is as follows:

·         The home of Hong Kong Football and the centre for football training, education, learning and career development. 
·         The training base for all Hong Kong national and junior teams and would encompass the training of coaches, referees and administrators.
·         The HKFTC will create a legacy for future generations of football in Hong Kong.
·         A High Performance Centre for Elite footballers in Hong Kong
·         A community football centre
It is important that the FTC is not seen as an isolated project. It is in fact a key part of the football development strategy. This development was a key recommendation of Project Phoenix. The new five-year strategy, Aiming High - Together reinforces the need for the centre which will provide football with the infrastructure it needs to train and educate the footballers, coaches and officials of tomorrow.


The core of the revised plan is six football pitches (three natural turf and 3 artificial). These will be supported by associated infrastructure including; access road, fencing, floodlights, car park and temporary buildings to house changing rooms, showers, toilets, offices, classroom, gym, storage etc.
The temporary nature of the buildings means that this is seen as a phase 1. A future phase 2 is envisaged which would include more permanent structures and additional pitches (subject to land availability).

Progress of the Scheme

The HKFA submitted an application to the HKJC Charities Trust in March 2015. On 27th April the Charities Trust approved the application and awarded the HKFA a sum of HK$133 million for the development of the TKO Football Training Centre. This included the HK$102.7m previously awarded in 2005 and a new award of HK$30.3m. The HKFA received a letter on 28th May confirming the award and setting out the conditions that will apply. The HKFA has subsequently confirmed its acceptance of these terms.
The HKFA intends to operate the facilities through a newly established subsidiary company and the Board of the HKFA has agreed to underwrite the operating deficit of the centre (estimated to be circa HK$3m per annum). A multi-stakeholder Steering Committee will be established to oversee the development and construction. A specialist Project Manager will be appointed to assist. 
The project Steering Group of the Government’s Landfill Revitalisation Scheme has agreed in principle the release of the land. The HKFA met (23rd October) with a Government Inter-Departmental Working Party to identify key issues and to confirm the various roles and responsibilities of each relevant Government Department. This was a useful first meeting.
The HKFA has also met with the MTR Corporation in view of the proximity of the site to the Lohas Park MTR station and to discuss ways in which access to the facilities can be incorporated.
The HKFA has prepared tender documents for the appointment of a Project Manager (PM). The role of the PM will be to advise the HKFA on all technical matters and to liaise with Government Departments and other stakeholders. The PM will also be responsible for preparing tender documents for the construction project and for the appointment and subsequent supervision of design and build contractors. The PM position has been advertised in accordance with the HKFA procurement policy and ICAC advice on procurement and it is hoped that an appointment will be confirmed in December.       

The proposed Football Training Centre is fundamental to the delivery of the Strategic Plan. Additional pitches are desperately needed at all levels but particularly for the training and development of elite players. Recently the project has moved a number of steps closer with the award of a capital grant from the HKJC Charities Trust and the allocation of the land by the Government. The HKFA has started to meet with the various stakeholders, in particular a Government inter-departmental working group. A PM will be appointed in the near future and will commence work as a consultant to the HKFA in January. 
If all goes to plan the facility will be ready by mid to late 2017.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO November 2015

Friday, 20 November 2015

Hong Kong V China Footnote

I note with concern and disappointment that the mainland tabloid Global Times has criticized the behavior of the Hong Kong fans and called for FIFA to impose ‘severe penalties’ against the HKFA. I would like to make a few observations about this:

·         Firstly they are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Most observers agree that the vast majority of fans from both sides behaved impeccably and that generally it was a good natured, if lively crowd. At one point both sets of fans even participated in a Mexican wave. Any negative behavior including booing the anthem and jeering opposing fans was actually limited in scale and took place before the match. During the match and afterwards there was no trouble at all.
·         The Global Times fails to recognize that the negative behavior referred to above was largely incited by the ridiculous CFA poster campaign. It may also have been exacerbated by the rather arrogant statements made by certain members of the China delegation before the match that they would be going home with three points. That was disrespectful and unsporting. Maybe the fact that some humble pie was necessary after the match has led to this latest stance. I wonder, would they be demanding this action had they won the match?

·         Personally I don’t think it is appropriate for a newspaper to be seeking to influence FIFA, they should report the news, not try to create it. One of the things that sickens me most when watching a football match is when players try to persuade the referee to caution an opponent. This is tantamount to the same thing.

·         I believe the Global Times is state controlled. Article 17 of the FIFA statutes confirms that ‘Each Member (Association) shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties’. Perhaps they should be a bit careful in this regard. Fortunately I have no doubt that FIFA will make its own decisions (which I accept could be a further sanction) and will simply ignore this petulant request.

I also believe that the CFA has lodged a complaint with FIFA about the alleged ‘ghost’ goal. Seriously, what is the point? The match is over, get over it, the result is not going to be changed. Hong Kong was on the receiving end of an abysmal decision in our recent match against Thailand. We could have complained but we didn’t. Similarly we could have complained about the fact that one of the China players was only booked and not sent off for a cynical and clearly premeditated horror tackle on Jaimes McKee in the first minute. We could have complained that our goal was disallowed when their goalkeeper fumbled the ball and fell over, we didn’t. I can understand why they are upset about the decision but this is football. As I stated in my previous blog, if you are going to play sport you have to accept that occasionally you will be given harsh and sometimes incorrect decisions.

That’s life.

The poet Rudyard Kipling put it more eloquently than I can when he wrote…”If you can meet Triumph and Disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same……you’ll be a Man, my son”.

Mark Sutcliffe,  November 2015        

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Phoenix has Risen

I want to start with a bit of context. In terms of land mass China is nearly 9,000 times bigger than Hong Kong. It has a population almost 200 times the size of Hong Kong. The China football team is ranked 61 places above Hong Kong (November FIFA Rankings). The number of professional clubs, players and the resources at their disposal similarly dwarfs Hong Kong football.

Despite these advantages they could not score a single goal against us in over three hours of football. This is a remarkable performance. To me these two draws are at least as big an achievement as the 1985 victory because let’s be honest, in those days football in China was, at best, embryonic. There was no professional league in China until 1994, whereas Hong Kong had had one for decades.
I’m not going to talk about the disallowed goal when it appears that the ball crossed our line. There is no goal line technology at Mong Kok so we will never know for sure. These types of incidents happen from time to time and if you are involved in football, indeed all sports, you have to accept that you have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve got over (just) Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, so China will have to get over this, as I’m sure they will when the rawness is gone.

Our team rode its luck in the away match (China had 40 attempts on goal) and I have made that point in a previous blog. Last night I thought it was much more even and although they had more possession and hit the woodwork, so did we and we had a goal disallowed too. We could easily have nicked it at the end when their goalkeeper came up for a corner leaving their goal wide open. A Hong Kong win would have rubbed salt in the wounds and at the end of the day I think a draw was a fair result.

I must pay tribute to Coach KIM, the other support staff and, in particular, the players. They played as a team and fought with spirit, determination and skill. The new players have come in and made a difference – the Chinese were right not to underestimate the multi-cultural nature of our team. The players may have different backgrounds but they have one thing in common, they love Hong Kong and are prepared to play their hearts out. I was proud of everyone involved.
Yet again the crowd was magnificent. The atmosphere was electric and the noise incredible. The relationship between the team and the fans is very strong and this has certainly contributed to our recent improved performances.

I believe that the recent improvements are symptomatic of the general development of football in Hong Kong. It is no accident or coincidence. Rather it is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Through our work here at the HKFA we are trying to create sustainable structures and an environment where talent can flourish. Success in international sport is not rocket science but it does require a vision, strategy, the alignment of resources and lots of hard work.

Whilst the great performance of our team is undeniable, there is no room for complacency. We must remain grounded and continue to work towards even more improvement – there is still a long way to go. What we have to do now is use the momentum we have generated and capitalize upon it. We must translate the success of and enthusiasm for the representative team into other areas of football in Hong Kong including the Premier League.

When the draw for the WCQ was made and we were in pot 5, who would have thought that with one match left we would be in second place with a chance (albeit an outside one) of qualifying as one of the top 12 teams in Asia? I’m looking forward to the Qatar match; we have already exceeded my expectations and anything positive from here is a bonus. I know our team will be ready and willing to give everything.

Mark Sutcliffe, November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Hong Kong Stadium Pitch - Update

About 10am on Saturday morning I started getting messages that the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was worse than it was before. I thought people were joking. Unfortunately they weren’t. I went to the stadium myself at about 11am and was shocked by what I saw. I had fully expected to go to the rugby and see a perfect pitch and to be writing in this blog how frustrated I was that our game against China next week wasn’t going to be played at the HK Stadium. Instead I had to agree with LCSD that there is no way the pitch would recover in time. Indeed it looked like it hadn’t ‘recovered’ from the last rugby 7s held in March. So instead of asking ‘why is it not possible for a pitch to recover in 9 days’? I found myself asking ‘how is it possible to spend 7 months and HK$100m and still end up with a pitch that is virtually unplayable’? It is no good blaming 50 ‘vigorous’ games of rugby, the sad truth is that the pitch was cutting up badly in the first game.

Believe me, there is no way that the pitch could have sustained a 15 a side game of rugby, it would have been ripped to shreds. I am relieved that this weekend’s rugby 7s tournament effectively acted as a ‘test’ event. If it had been untried and we had played against China on it next week, goodness knows what would have happened. When the pitch was bad during the Barclays Asia Trophy it was apparently the Football Association’s fault for scheduling too many matches and the rain’s fault for …er…. raining. Now it is apparently a problem with the ‘heat’ in September. Surely the excuses are running thin now, in fact almost as thin as the grass cover on the pitch.

In retrospect it appears that the decision to play the match against China at Mong Kok is the right one but of course not for the right reason. I remain very concerned about the HK Stadium pitch because it is supposed to be the home venue for one of our Premier League teams and we also want to use it for other upcoming matches such as the Lunar New Year Cup in early February. I am not interested in excuses any more, we just need urgent assurances that there is a longer term solution to what is obviously a problematic situation.

Mark Sutcliffe, November 2015