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


  1. Hi Mark,

    It seems like R&F will continue to participate in HKPL next season (2017–18). There is speculation that R&F still wants to play their home matches in Guangzhou.

    By reviewing the figure of attendance of league matches this season, R&F is one of the teams with the lowest attendance number. I believe it is related to the competence level of the team and the match venue. Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground (SSW) is too far for many people.

    I have some ideas about reconsidering the requirement of match venues and player registration for R&F, that will help the competence level and the attendance.

    Match venues:

    I assume that R&F is required to continue to play all matches in HK. Shing Mun Valley Sports Ground (SMV), which is used in 2013/14 HK D1 League, seems to be a more reasonable venue for R&F.

    Most of the Hong Kong domestic football clubs refuse to use it as the home ground, but R&F should have no preference for the home ground allocation. Compared to SSW, SMV seems to be more convenient for transportation, and its location is nearer the geographic center of HK.

    Player registration:

    Foreign players can be conditionally allowed for R&F to increase the competence level of the club. My idea of the condition is that R&F is required to use 1 more Hong Kong local player if they use 1 more foreign player.

    e.g. If they have 1 foreign player on field, they have to use 4 (3+1) HK local players on the field.
    Then the maximum will be 4 foreign players on the field with 7 (3+4) HK local players.

    Hope the new Competition Committee will have a consideration on these ideas when deciding the rules of next season. Is there a plan on changing these requirements for R&F?

    Best Regards,

    1. Hi Tony,
      I agree that there is a need to review the current player registration rule on R&F. It is obvious that the team they field this season is not strong enough.

      Always good to have more local players to train full time at good facilities, but their Chinese players would get much less playing time if your suggestion were put in place.

      Surely R&F have to improve their standard of play and generate more fan support.

      I guess they would find it easier to agree on two extra foreign/marquee players spots on top of the current local player rule. Does that sound more viable?

    2. Dear Tony and hkgoalgoalgoal,
      The HKFA Competitions Committee is currently investigating ways in which R and F can improve for next season. They are keen to remain in the league and have already made some suggestions themselves. I can confirm that we are looking into both the home ground and player registration issues.
      We hope to meet again in early June. We are determined to confirm the teams earlier this year.

  2. Will Hong Kong Football Club participate in HKPL next season? Such a amateur team

    How about R&F? Still in HKPL next season?

    1. Hi Jelly,
      I can confirm that the HKFC will NOT be in the HKPL next season. See my answer above regarding R & F.

  3. Has the HKFA ever been approached by any Macanese clubs about joining the HKPL?

    What would the official process for "expansion clubs" such as Sapling and R&F who want to join the HKPL without achieving it through promotion?

    1. Dear Adrenaline11,
      As far as I know there has not been any direct and official interest shown by any Macanese clubs, although I know it has been spoken about and for me it is not a bad idea.
      The Competitions Committee recently discussed and agreed the criteria for entering a team in the league. There are a number of prerequisites including obtaining a HKPL Club Licence, paying an entry fee, confirming financial stability and ownership details etc. It also confirmed the priority ranking for new teams, so for example a team being promoted from Div 1 would gain a higher ranking than a 'new' club.

  4. Will R& F set its home field in Mainland China in next season? That seems not a good idea.

    Besides, will sports passport issue in the future? You have mentioned this few years ago. Sports passport can enable players who are not eligible to represent Hong Kong football team

    1. Hi there, thanks for the comment. R & F has requested to play their home games in Guangzhou but this has not been agreed yet. The Competitions Committee and Board will need to consider and make a decision.
      The question of 'sporting' passports is off the agenda for now. The only proof of nationality that FIFA will allow is a full passport.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Will the Football Training Centre at Tseung Kwan O can be opened at the coming July?

    Does HKFA can totally control the operation of the training center?

    As I know there are some football team in Japan ,Korean want to come HK in winter for training as their local pitch is frozen, will HKFA can get some money by renting the training center for foreign football team for winter training?

    1. Dear Roy,
      The Training Centre will be open sometime this year but it won't be ready in July as planned. Yes, we will have full control of the operation. It is certainly part of our plan to raise some income from letting the centre for overseas training camps.
      We are looking forward to having this valuable facility.

    2. Hi Mark,
      Would you post some photo about the training center project progress?

      I want to know whether the project is running.
      As you said that it is important to HK football.
      We cannot wait and disappoint again and again.

    3. Roy,
      I will ask our Project Manager for some photos and see if I can post them. I would not lie to you, I can assure you that it is under construction and will be finished in 2017.
      Regards Mark

  6. Good evening Mark. May I know which teams had applied for next season's HKPL licenses? The deadline should be today so I am interested to find which teams are going to participate in 2017/18 HKPL. Thank you and have a nice evening.

    1. Hi Lee,
      We have a Board meeting on Monday and I hope you understand that it is difficult for me to say too much until after the matter has been discussed by the Board. We are still hoping for 12 teams. One thing I can say with certainty is that the HKFC will be relegated to the 1st Division.

  7. How about some playes aged under 18 without Hong Kong passport deregistered due to infrigement of fifa rule? Hkfa has some lopphole before? Also , some teenager competition cancel due to this incident, any follow-up action?

    1. Hi there,
      I would not say loophole before but maybe a misunderstanding. The HKFA had a meeting with FIFA in 2016 and we were told that we had to fully comply with the regulation concerning the first registration of players under the age of 18. We had many players that had been registered with the HKFA but not via the FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS). That meant we had to 'de-register' several hundred players. We applied for a 'limited exemption' from FIFA which enabled us to re-register players attached to amateur clubs ourselves but that exemption did not apply to players attached to professional clubs e.g. Kitchee and HKFC. The process took a long time and in the end we had to cancel some matches because teams did not have enough players. The situation is now resolved and will not happen again.

  8. News report that some players of Hong Kong Primier League 's monthly salary is only $4000. They are so poor . Will hkfa set up minimum wage for players of Hong Kong Primier League? Any disscussion for this issue?

    1. Hi, players salaries are confidential but I can say that the average monthly wage is much higher than HK$4,000. Some players are on more than HK$100k.
      When we introduced the Club Licence system we discussed having a 'minimum wage' but this was rejected because there is no such requirement in the AFC Club Licence criteria.

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  10. Hello Mark!

    Today facebook page 'Tomyumball' published an analysis on the fight of 2019-2020 ACL direct slot and I think it is worth to share here:

    After Johor DT is out of the AFC Cup + the update of Club Ranking Point mechanism recently, there is still hope for Hong Kong getting 1 ACL direct slot in 2019-2020. However this would require good performance for Hong Kong National Team in both Asian Cup 2019 Qualifiers and even normal FIFA Grade A friendlies. The Club Ranking Points difference for Hong Kong and Malaysia is so small that every tiny bit counts.

    The author suggest HKFA to provide the greatest support and arrangement to the National Team, give the team the best training ground on the best time slot and probably bonus for winning the games. In my opinion I think HKFA also need to plan the 17-18 Premier League fixutres carefully, so the Hong Kong Team players can have enough training time for the games. Also if possible, please consider on reducing the ticket price of National Team's games so that more spectators can join the games and support the team.

    The author also suggest HKFA to monitor Malaysia's Friendly arrangement and in case they are planning some relatively easy friendly games for getting more FIFA points, we need to react correctly. Probably re-consider the friendlies' opponents and also place them at our home ground.

    I really hope that Hong Kong clubs can take part in 2019-2020 ACL group stage via the ACL 1+1 slot, good luck Hong Kong Team & HKFA!

    1. Hi Jason,
      Thank you for sharing the analysis. It is a complicated situation and as you are aware the methodology for calculating MA ranking points has changed recently. We are aware of the need to maximise the performance of the HKRT and will be planning both the HKPL schedule and international matches accordingly. It is our ambition to have clubs participating in the highest level of AFC Competitions.

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    Dear Mark,

    Hong Kong born striker Antonie Viterale scored his first goal for Hougang United in Singapore. Will Hong Kong consider calling him up for the U23 Hong Kong team?

    There is no risk for him to play for HK U23 because he can still change to play for another national team at senior level.



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