Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Another year has literally flown by! It’s incredible to think that this is my sixth Christmas since taking up my position in 2012. It makes me laugh now to recall the countless people who told me when I first started that….”you won’t last six months!”

In my Christmas message two years ago I reflected on how 2015 had been a disastrous year for FIFA and I looked forward to a time when it would have a new President and a reform programme. Last week the HKFA hosted a FIFA Summit which was Chaired by the FIFA President Mr Gianni Infantino. There were 15 Member Associations present and we were all consulted by FIFA on some of its future programmes and had an opportunity to question FIFA representatives on a range of topics. This refreshing and inclusive approach simply wouldn’t have happened under the old regime. The fact that this event went virtually unnoticed is also indicative that the ‘new’ FIFA is more interested in doing business than it is in boosting egos through self-promotion. The HKFA is already receiving more than five times as much funding from FIFA than two years ago. There has been a swift and remarkable change at FIFA and I congratulate them for it and wish them a Merry Christmas!

As ever 2017 has been an eventful year. As you can see from the picture the long-awaited and much-needed Hong Kong Jockey Club HKFA Football Training Centre is nearing completion. It’s going to be delivered a bit later than we expected due to some adverse weather and technical challenges but it will be worth waiting for, I can assure you of that. This is one of the final recommendations of the original Project Phoenix to fall into place and I can’t help feeling somewhat emotional when I walk around the site and see what has been finally achieved. With a lot of hard work visions can become reality.

Another highlight was the Premier League Asia Trophy which took place in July. The weather tried to spoil it like it had in 2013 but not this time. The new pitch at the HK Stadium performed beautifully and two full-house crowds were thrilled by some of the world’s best players. I will never forget the sea of red and the passionate rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Another very emotional moment to savour for me as a Liverpool fan.

I can’t cover all of the activities and programmes that we provide here in this short blog but suffice to say that I am immensely proud of all of my colleagues and the tremendous job they do. The HKFA staff share a passion for football and work extremely hard. I would like to thank them for all their efforts and successes. And thanks too to our Board, Committee Members and other stakeholders and partners. Collectively we strive to make Hong Kong football better. It’s not an easy task but as they say, ‘the path of true love never runs straight!’

2018 will see the operational phase of the Football Training Centre, Hong Kong teams participating in the AFC Champions League (good luck to them), the culmination of the Asian Cup qualifiers and the World Cup, to name just a few. It’s going to be another busy and exciting year.
Once again, thanks to everyone for their support. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Looks like we will have to do it the hard way!

We always said that it would be difficult to qualify for the finals of the Asian Cup UAE 2019 - given the draw we were given – and so it has been proven.

Now we have to travel to North Korea next March and win! That sounds improbable but I believe we can do it. In some ways it is better to go for a victory with nothing to lose rather than playing for a draw (which is what we would have needed had we won by two clear goals last night).

My confidence stems from the fact that for the first 40 minutes we were clearly the better team and created some really good chances against the group leaders Lebanon. Unfortunately the game turned on one incident just before half time. I have said many times in this blog that referees are fallible human beings who make mistakes. I have watched the incident many times now and whilst I can see why he awarded a penalty (just) I am still mystified as to why he even thought it was a foul worthy of a straight red. I think most observers would agree that the officials made a mistake.   

The significance of that decision is wide-ranging. Putting to one side the psychological effect that it could have on a young player and the fact that it reinforces poor behavior by rewarding an overreaction by the attacking player, it directly affects our chance of qualification for a major competition, one that we haven’t qualified for since 1968. For a ‘developing’ Football Association the difference between qualifying and not qualifying for a regional tournament is massive. Qualification would be a benchmark for the undoubted improvements we are making. Failure to qualify gives ammunition to the sceptics who say we are making no progress. Furthermore it has a detrimental effect on our FIFA ranking and also on the eligibility of our Clubs to play in regional club competitions like the Champions League. So these factors impact materially on the development of the sport here in Hong Kong. Qualification to the finals would be a massive boost to the sport and could determine whether or not funding partners continue to invest in football. It is that important and it is therefore frustrating when to some extent it hinges or is at least influenced by a poor decision.

I am not exaggerating the significance of the situation and given that, now must be the time to introduce Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for important decisions relating to goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity in international competitive football matches. There is so much at stake now that we can no longer rely on fallible human beings. I sense a consensus moving in this direction too and a number of trials are currently taking place. VAR is only a matter of time.

And whilst we are on the subject, let’s also introduce retrospective action for diving (as has been done in the English Premier League). Diving is prevalent in Asia as was exemplified the other night. One dive was so obvious that I actually laughed out loud (however the player wasn’t even booked). Some of these players must train in a swimming pool! Regular readers of this bog will know that I abhor time wasting, feigning injury, diving, simulation etc. It is beyond me why a team would do that when they have already qualified and are winning a match against ten men. I’m sad to say it but I just think that this sort of behavior is so engrained now, it’s become habitual.

So we re-group, lick our wounds and use the disappointment as a motivator for our last match. We have improved so much recently and as I say looked the better team in the first 40 minutes when it was 11 v 11. Whatever happens I am proud of our team’s performance in these qualifiers and I am sure we can still go through to the finals. We will give it our best shot anyway you can be sure of that.

A word on the booing
Quite frankly it’s getting a bit tedious. The fans who boo have made their point now and I’m pretty sure that if there hadn’t been such interest shown by the politicians and in particular the media, it would have stopped a long time ago. I can’t read most of the papers here but the ones I can read have stopped reporting on the football and are solely interested in the crowd behavior before the match which of course just encourages more booing. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, which I am sure the media knows and relishes. Last night one media outlet even had the temerity to broadcast the anthem live on TV from inside the stadium despite the fact that they had no accreditation to do so. They were not the approved broadcaster and should not have been showing a ‘live’ feed. It’s disgusting really that a so-called professional organisation believes it is OK to infringe the regulations so blatantly.

Another sad trend is what I will call the ‘orchestrated anti-booing rent a crowd’, people who are apparently paid to come and oppose those who are booing. I don’t know who these people are or who is paying them but they are clearly not there to watch the football. They have no understanding of the game and even less interest. Last night I watched as they sat through the entire Lebanon anthem. Personally I find it more offensive to disrespect someone else’s anthem than your own. Someone should teach both groups some manners. This situation is a sad indictment on Hong Kong. Our beloved game is being hijacked (to the obvious delight of the media) as a political tool by both sides in a polarized, fractured society. It’s very sad that the action on the pitch is now seen by many as secondary to what is happening off it. Please if you’re not bothered about the football, just stay away.

The HKFA will wait to see what action is taken against us by the AFC, for it is us that will be penalized once again.

When I came to Hong Kong one of my objectives was to arrange more matches for the Hong Kong Representative Teams and that is what we have done. We have done this because we want to improve the standard of football in Hong Kong and also to give the fans some more interest and excitement. Considering what has happened recently, I think we could be forgiven for not hosting too many international friendly matches at home in the near future. There are no competitive matches lined up so we could just have a hiatus with no games if we wanted. However, we will continue to arrange matches to give our players experience and to reward the true fans. We will not give up and we will not allow negative interests to win. Football will prevail.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO November 2017

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The HKFA Says ‘NO’ to Match Fixing

Match fixing is a threat to the integrity of our sport and the HKFA takes it very seriously. To illustrate this point we recently ran a series of workshops for all HK Premier League and 1st Division teams. The workshops were presented by Sportradar our integrity partner. Sportradar is an international Fraud Prevention and Monitoring Company that specializes in identifying fixed matches and match fixers. Sportradar has a contract with the AFC to monitor all 1st and 2nd tier league matches across all 47 Member Associations of the HKFA. In addition to that the HKFA has a separate contract with them to monitor our Reserve Division and to present the workshops to players and officials.

Sportradar has very sophisticated betting monitoring systems and they follow over 550 legitimate betting sites and over 5 billion data sets daily. Mathematical algorithms trigger alarms if betting patterns deviate from the norm. I won’t go into detail but basically their systems are so robust that many match fixers have been convicted on the basis of their evidence.

If we receive an alert from Sportradar regarding an ‘ESCALATED’ match i.e. one that has been fixed, the information is routinely passed to the law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong. As recent arrests and previous convictions prove, there really is no place to hide anymore. If you fix, you will be found out, reported and investigated. As our players, coaches and officials heard from Sportradar at the briefings, being found guilty of match fixing will lead to an automatic life ban from football as well as more serious consequences such as imprisonment.

The emphasis of the workshops was on education and prevention. More often than not players are the victim and they are ‘hooked into’ this type of thing by unscrupulous criminals. Once involved in this type of activity it is almost impossible to back out because players (and their families) are blackmailed and threatened by people who had previously pretended to be their friend. Players and officials were taught how to recognize an approach from match fixers and what to do if it happens.

Match fixing is a world-wide sports problem and not just football. However Hong Kong football is identified as being particularly susceptible because Asia is the heart of the problem, players are paid relatively poorly compared to some other places and our matches are offered by betting sites all over the world.

The figures involved in betting on sport are mind-boggling and are the route of the problem. The world-wide sports betting market is worth 12.9 trillion HK$ per annum. That’s 12.9 million million or 12,900,000,000,000! Of that 7.8 trillion HK$ is bet on football, 70% of which is in Asia. It’s illegal to bet on HK football in Hong Kong however, the HK Premier League attracts global betting of HK$1.8 billion each season, that’s HK$25.6m per match! And that’s only the regulated betting market. Estimates vary but the unregulated betting market (including under the table betting in Hong Kong) is estimated to be worth at least as much again. Perhaps it’s time to legalise betting on HK football in HK so it’s easier to monitor and so a percentage of the revenue could be used to combat the problem, but that’s a discussion for another time.

It’s no wonder that with such vast sums involved, match ‘manipulation’ attracts the criminal fraternity. With over 65 ‘in-play’ bets, you don’t even need to fix the result. You can bet on the total number of goals, the half time score, the number of corners, the number of bookings etc. There was even the famous case of an English international being paid to ensure there was a throw in during the first minute of the match. It failed by the way.

This problem is not going to go away so the HKFA must be vigilant and proactive. We believe that the partnership with Sportradar and the compulsory workshops demonstrate our commitment to combatting match fixing but more importantly to protecting our players and officials.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO November 2017           

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Congratulations to Wai Ki

A few months ago I wrote a blog stating that I thought girls and women’s football in Hong Kong had turned the corner. We have had another example this week and many congratulations go to Hong Kong Women’s Representative Team player Wai Ki for getting a professional contract with Brisbane Roar in the Australian W – League. This is a fantastic achievement and I wish her well. Over the last few years I have taken pride in watching her and others in her cohort developing from players with enthusiasm and potential into really talented footballers. In that blog I highlighted how we had dominated the match against Singapore. Wai Ki was brilliant that day. I am so pleased that the girls and women are doing so well because their passion for the game is as intense as any male, as is their dedication and hard work.

This success is all the more remarkable when you consider that it’s only about five years ago that the HKFA took over the responsibility for girls and women’s football. We now spend many millions of dollars on developing this side of the game. To some people it’s not important but to me it is fundamental. Girls and women have just as much right as boys and men to play football and they derive an equal amount of benefit and pleasure from playing. Girls and women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world and Hong Kong is at the forefront of this change. The phenomenal success of Coach Chan Yuen Ting and Referee Gigi Law are just two examples of Hong Kong’s preeminence.

Most of the credit for this transformation must go to our Women’s Football Manager, Betty Wong. She has been involved in football for a long time and I was delighted when she decided to join us fulltime in May 2013. Since then she has established girls youth leagues, a women’s league and HKRTs at U12, U14, U16, U18 as well as further enhancing the senior women’s team. Betty has done an amazing job and we are lucky to have her.

I hope that Wai Ki is the first of many ‘exports’ to professional women’s leagues because she will undoubtedly develop even more by training and playing at a higher level. This can only be good for us moving forward. It will not be easy for her either personally or professionally and we should give her as much support as possible.

When I eventually look back on my time in Hong Kong I know that the growth of the women’s game, and the improvements we have made, will be one of the things that gives me most satisfaction. Good luck Wai KI, do yourself and Hong Kong proud.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO September 2017

Monday, 11 September 2017

So Near But Yet So Far

Football is a game of fine margins. I am writing this on the plane back from Malaysia the day after our Asian Cup Qualifier. It was always going to be a close game; the last two matches against Malaysia also finished 1-1. To be honest the first half was a bit uneventful with both sides trying hard, making a few mistakes and not really creating many clear cut chances. However, the second half was anything but dull!

We took the lead early in the half with an excellently crafted and finished goal but we were unable to hold onto the lead for long when they scored a somewhat fortuitous goal four minutes later. It was unlucky for us that the ball deflected into the path of an unmanned player in the box from a blocked shot, and he was left with just our keeper to beat. If I was being harsh I might ask why he was allowed so much space in such a dangerous area and this is something that we will have to work on.

After that the game was very open and entertaining with end to end action and both teams created good chances. Then came one of those fine margins on which games turn. We had a nice little interchange of passes and Alex made a well-timed run into the box with just the keeper to beat (which he did) only to be given off-side. My initial instinct told me that he wasn’t off-side and I believe the replays show that he was in fact on-side when the ball was played. As readers of my blog will know, I don’t criticise referees and this was one of those genuine mistakes that happen from time to time. We created enough chances to win the game anyway including one glorious open goal!

There was more drama to come when in stoppage time Alex was fouled in the box and the referee rightly awarded a penalty. At that point the behaviour of the Malaysian coaches and players was very disappointing. OK, it was the heat of the moment but their players surrounded and berated the referee for several minutes which is unacceptable. Taking a penalty at 1-1 in stoppage time is a pressure situation and the unnecessary delay and unsportsmanlike behaviour can only have made the situation worse. Perhaps that was the plan. Full marks to Sandro for having the courage to step up to take the penalty and full marks to their keeper for making a good save. We just missed from the rebound confirming again that small margins determine the outcome of matches. At the end of the day those two points dropped could make a difference in terms of qualification. It could have been, and arguably should have been very different.

To be blunt there were disgraceful scenes at the final whistle with their Coach, his assistants and a number of the players virtually assaulting the referee. The fact that the Coach could not control himself influenced the other team officials which in turn incited the crowd. It was shocking to see the referee being escorted from the field of play in a barrage of verbal abuse and missiles. Imagine their behaviour if the referee had actually made incorrect decisions against them. If anyone should have been upset it was us because of the earlier incorrect offside decision. The AFC must take some action to prevent this sort of thing happening again and to give support and protection to match officials. Yet again I was left dismayed and angry at the behaviour of people who should know better. It was embarrassing for my hosts from the FAM who at least had the courtesy to apologise to me later.

I said in a previous blog that we were given a tough draw and that it would be difficult to qualify. It still looks that way and three points would have been very handy - it could so easily have happened too if it weren’t for those fine margins. And so the overriding mood in the camp last night and this morning was one of disappointment. Although frustrating we must remember that it’s not over yet and we will continue to fight for qualification.

In typical sensationalist style I note that some of the media are calling for Coach KIM to be sacked. That’s pretty disgusting and disrespectful. It also shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation. Coach KIM has a contract which runs until next summer. His salary is paid for by the Government. If we were to sack him (even if it were justified, which it is not) we would have to pay him six month’s salary in compensation. We would not be able to replace him because the Government would not agree to pay KIM’s compensation and the salary of a replacement. So we would not have a coach for the remainder of the Asian Cup qualifiers - how sensible would that be? So everyone should just shut up and get behind Coach KIM and his team. He is not going anywhere unless he, himself decides it is time to leave. The HKFA will decide on his future at the appropriate time. I hope that ends the ridiculous speculation.

Another issue that seems to generate a lot of debate is the use of ‘naturalised’ players. I know KIM is acutely aware that his selection of so-called ‘foreign’ players is not universally popular. Most countries in most sports have ‘naturalised’ players and we should remember that it is more difficult for a foreign player to become eligible to represent Hong Kong than it is in virtually any other country. Someone who has been in Hong Kong for at least 7 years (plus the time it takes to get a passport) and given up their original nationality should in my opinion be welcomed and accepted. The resentment even seems to apply to those players who were born in Hong Kong or have lived here since they were toddlers. I can’t understand the attitude myself.

I don’t get involved in selection matters but I have told KIM to pick his best team from people who are eligible to represent Hong Kong.  If we want to be successful, that in my opinion, is the only policy to follow. In time things will change anyway, as the standard of local football gradually improves. The ‘local’ players who represented Hong Kong in Malaysia played very well especially the two young substitutes Wong Wai and Tan Chun Lok. I went to the two recent interport matches against Macau last week, which we won. Again the ‘local’ players did very well and showed huge promise. It is very encouraging.

The future for ‘local’ players is looking bright which is great and what we all want. We should not forget however that ‘foreign’ players and coaches have been instrumental in helping these local players to develop and improve as happens in most places around the world. This is especially true of one Mr KIM who has devoted most of his professional life to helping Hong Kong football. It’s about time more people got behind him and all of the Hong Kong players irrespective of where they were born.  

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO September 2017

Monday, 31 July 2017

What will Football look like in 25 years?

In 25 years time I will be 80 years old (if I’m lucky) and hopefully, I will be sitting in my ‘man-cave’ somewhere with a beer watching football, probably via some form of virtual reality. The question is; will the game be recognisable compared to the one we watch today? 

Since the extant Laws of Association Football were codified in 1863 they haven’t actually changed that much. The International Football Association Board (IFAB), established by the four UK ‘home country’ associations, assumed responsibility for maintaining the laws in 1886 and they were joined in doing so by FIFA in 1913. Many people are surprised to find out that there are only 17 Laws of the game and since the original codification, only minor amendments have been made. So for example, astonishingly yellow and red cards were only introduced in 1970! The ‘back pass’ law has only been part of the game since 1992. These were controversial amendments at the time but are now simply accepted.  

The IFAB credits itself with a ‘major revision’ in 2016/17 describing the amendments as ‘far-reaching and comprehensive’. Really? How many changes can you name? ‘Minor tweaks’ would perhaps be a more accurate description.

It’s amazing really that so little has changed in over 150 years. More amazing when you consider how much else has evolved during that period of time in virtually every other aspect of our lives.  
However, I sense that the pace of change is set to increase. The ‘new’ FIFA seems more inclined to innovation and is more influential on the IFAB. The potential introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a good example. Incidentally, I was staggered to see Maradona quoted on the FIFA website as ‘laughing and smiling’ about how his infamous ‘hand of God’ goal would have been disallowed if VAR had been around in 1986. FIFA, answer me this, since when has blatant cheating been a laughing matter? Condoning this sort of behaviour is not helpful (even if the incident was 31 years ago and yes, I am still bitter about it).

A few years ago I was a luddite (traditionalist) and didn’t want to see VAR, fearing that it would disrupt the flow of the game. I believed we had to accept that referees were human and would make mistakes but ultimately fairness would balance out over the course of 90 minutes. I have changed my mind now partly because we have seen it used to good effect in most major sports and goal-line technology has been used successfully. Furthermore there have been many incidents that have changed the course of a match such as Thierry Henri’s deliberate handball against Northern Ireland, Luis Suarez’ ‘save’ on the line against Ghana and Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany. All of these were World Cup related matches, and with so much at stake now it is difficult to argue against VAR. Limited use of VAR for major issues such as goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identities is being trialed which so far has been a success. I am sure it will be implemented into the Laws come the World Cup in Russia.

IFAB has said that individual Football Associations can use their discretion to introduce other changes at the ‘grassroots’ level such as yellow card ‘sin bins’, extra substitutes, rolling (return) substitutes (especially for injury assessment) etc. I think this is a good direction and wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some of these progressions brought into the Laws governing top flight football.

Regular readers of my blog will know that one of my biggest bugbears in football is time wasting. It is so irritating. It is only a matter of time until the ‘stopwatch’ system is introduced. It works perfectly well in futsal, rugby, basketball etc and I can see no reason why it should not be adopted in football. If the clock stops every time the ball is not in play then it would immediately eradicate all of the time-wasting antics. I have heard that, based on current research, this may be two x 30 minute halves! That just shows how much fans (who pay for 90 minutes) are being short-changed at the moment. In my opinion 40 minutes per half (as in rugby) would be better.
Let me just throw out a few more ideas.

The pace of the game has increased dramatically and it is now much more difficult for referees to keep up with play, to spot all infringements and to make decisions whilst under fatigue. Why not have two referees, one in each half? There are three referees in basketball and goodness knows how many in American Football.

Another thing that works well in rugby is the fact that only the captain is allowed to speak to the referee. That, coupled to the ‘sin-bin’ would stop the petulant dissent. 

Another more radical idea would be to reduce the number of players on the pitch to 10 or increase the size of the goals. Why do I say that? Here are some interesting statistics for you. The average number of goals per game at the world cups held between 1930 and 1958 was 4.27. The average since 1958 is 2.6 goals per game. Between 2010 and 2014 the average number of goals per game in the top divisions in England, Spain, Germany and Italy never exceeded 3 across the whole season. No-one wants to watch a boring nil-nil match. When I was growing up the playing formation was 2-3-5. Now it’s 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 and usually ends up as 5-4-1 or even 6-4-0. The average size and athleticism of players, and goalkeepers in particular, continues to increase and yet the goals remain a quirky 8ft x 8 yards or 2.44m x 7.32m. A 3m x 8m goal or fewer players (meaning more space) would make things a lot more exciting.

Our sport has to evolve and move with the times. I don’t advocate wholesale change but rather regular, iterative ways to make the game more entertaining and exciting whilst removing the less appealing aspects such as time-wasting, simulation, diving, dissent etc.

If I get to be an octogenarian I hope I will be able to watch a game of football that has retained its core principles and inherent ‘beauty’ but also one that has used Law changes to good effect. Time will tell.

Mark Sutcliffe - CEO 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Premier League Asia Trophy

I’ll be honest with you. One of the main reasons I have stayed in Hong Kong longer than the three years I originally thought I would, is because of what happened the last time we hosted the Asia Trophy in 2013. As has been well documented, that was an embarrassing farce and personally bitterly disappointing.

I don’t like failure, so there remained unfinished business for me for which I wanted to make amends. As soon as I heard that the Premier League was considering bringing back the Asia Trophy to Hong Kong in 2017, I was determined to exorcise the ghosts of 2013 and make this event the best ever. It is enormously satisfying to say that I think we achieved that goal.

An event on this scale is a massive logistical exercise, and requires a huge amount of planning from a lot of personnel. The Premier League employs some wonderful people who were great to work with. The four clubs were excellent too, both on and off the pitch. I must also pay tribute to the Government for their help and support, not in least by terms of preparing the playing surface. My colleagues here at the HKFA have been immense, putting in time and effort way above expectations. This time it has been a privilege to be involved, and to help to make the tournament a world-class celebration of the sport we all love.

The action on the pitch was terrific while the level of skill and competition was intense – this was by no means just an exhibition. Of equal importance is the community engagement that takes place during the week and the legacy programme. Hong Kong coaches, referees and young players benefitted enormously from the experience and expertise of professionals from the clubs and the Premier League. The HKFA will use the legacy funding wisely to invest in the future of Hong Kong football.

The most gratifying thing is that the event showcased the huge demand and passion for football in Hong Kong. The atmosphere in the full stadium was simply electric. If only we could harness some of that enthusiasm for local football. Capitalizing on that interest is probably our biggest challenge here at the HKFA.      

We can now put the episode of 2013 behind us, and let’s hope we never see the phrase ‘killer pitch’ in the media ever again! The PLAT 2017 was a stunning success and will always be one of my career highlights. I hope the PLAT 2017 created some unforgettable memories for football fans.

Thank you to everyone who was involved.

Mark Sutcliffe - CEO

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。