25 April 2019
Financial stress has pushed century-old South China Football Team to leave Hong Kong's top-tier premier league. Photo: South China Football Team
Financial stress has pushed century-old South China Football Team to leave Hong Kong's top-tier premier league. Photo: South China Football Team

The sad decline of Hong Kong football

The once-famous Hong Kong soccer team South China Football Team has filed an application to leave the city’s top-tier premier league from next season due to financial reasons.

The decision marks the first time the team would be playing in a second-tier tournament since its establishment 109 years ago.

The move highlights the gradual fading of football industry in Hong Kong.

South China had its golden time during 1950s to 1970s. During that period, the old Government Stadium (now known as the Hong Kong Stadium) was usually packed with football fans whenever there was a big match, such as one between South China and Seiko Sports Association or when Eastern Sports Club played against Happy Valley Athletic Association.

A large number of fans who weren’t able to get or afford a ticket would listen to the match commentary on radio, as people had very limited recreational activities back then.

Hong Kong football team even won a championship in Asian Games in 1954 and 1958.

However, the sport started to lose its luster in the city since 1980s as TV, movies, cartoons and Karaoke began to gain popularity.

In recent years, Hong Kong football fans were able to watch live football league games played all over the world,further eroding their interest in local football teams.

The fate of football industry is usually closely linked to local population.

For example, Belgium and the Netherlands are both strong in football and have produced many soccer stars. However, as these nations have limited population at home, their own football leagues failed to achieve much development for lack of enough fans.

Football stars in these nations typically go to UK, Spain or Germany to pursue their careers.

In the meantime, population strength has come as a boon for China, helping Chinese Super League gain traction in recent years.

Some Chinese teams also have strong financial backing and can therefore recruit top foreign players to attract more fans.

Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao Football Club, affiliated with China’s top property developer China Evergrande, even won the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015.

It’s been talked for long time that the future of Hong Kong football teams lies in China. If we can build one or two strong teams to compete with mainland football teams, it can help reignite football fervor in the city.

Unfortunately, the idea of going north has failed to make any progress over the years. The industry veterans here simply don’t care to reach out to mainland counterparts and enter into negotiations on cross-border cooperation, including issues such as ticketing system, accommodations for players, etc.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 8

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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