Beyond the Hong Kong Premier League and beyond the ‘bright’ lights of Asian top flight football are many part-timers who play merely for the love of the game. One such player is Shinn Kawasaki of ‘Lucky Mile’ in Hong Kong’s 2nd Division. Recently, he shared his experiences on lower league football with us where bumpy pitches are the norm.
The swanky multi-millionaire lifestyle similar to that of ‘King’s Road’ in London this is definitely not; here we have the grittier version of ‘King’s Road’ in Hong Kong. Kawasaki himself is a full-time videographer who plays for Lucky Mile on weekends and he started off by explaining the overall structure of Hong Kong top flight football right down to the lower levels.
“The Hong Kong Premier League was branded into the Premier League a few years ago. It used to be the 1st Division and it was only recently how they changed the structure to the English league system. Before there used to be a 3rd Division A and B and then the top two teams of 3A and 3B would go into a playoff to qualify to go up, and now I think they have scrapped that, as there were times, our team included, where we had won the league but had not qualified, as we did not get through the playoffs. Now it ends at the 3rd Division and we are in the 2nd Division.”
He then went onto share about the training regime and how those who worked in full-time employment could still train and attend practice.
“We are very lucky as we train once a week at 8pm on a Tuesday night, so it does not really clash with work for most of the team. Some of the people have to do overtime, so a few players can be late for training, but generally it does not clash. The only downside is, that since we only have one training per week, it requires individuals to put in the extra sessions themselves, whether it is on Thursday morning or Friday to keep our momentum going with fitness. I would not say it is difficult, but it is necessary to do the extra to compete.”
Lower league football in Hong Kong is a world away from the perceived world of WAGS (Wives and girlfriends) and shoe sponsorship deals. Kawasaki also commented on the level of support in terms of fans which attend their games.
“If we are lucky then someone’s parent or friend will come along. Home games are a little bit better and it is not like we have ‘fans’, but if we have more than eight people watching us then we consider that amazing.”
As Hong Kong is a cramped city, high-quality pitches are a luxury as well.
“In terms of pitches and playing arenas, I think we are really lucky. Considering how small Hong Kong is, we have many nice pitches to play on. Obviously, HKFC have an astro-turf, which is really nice, but I guess for the away games, there are rarely pitches which we feel are really hard to play on. Maybe the one at Boundary street in Mong Kok, we call it the cabbage patch.”
He then went onto discuss youth development in Hong Kong and fan support at local games.
“I think interest is there, and there are enough sports programmes which facilitate youth to develop football skills. Kitchee have a great youth program and HKFC do some great voluntary work, which is very well organised. There are very few players to look up to, but it could be due to the lack of promotion of the local professional game. Ever since the English Premier League, La Liga and all these international leagues from around the world have been played ‘live’ on TV, many people now have a closer connection to teams on the other side of the world than they do with any of the local teams. There maybe a handful of fans who say ‘cool, this is my community team’ and there is a sense of pride, but not enough so that people say ‘This is my team and I am going to support them this week.’ Back in the day, you hear that 20,000 at local league game was normal and now if you get it past the thousand mark then it is considered respectful. When a crowd of 1,100 show up at Hong Kong Stadium, then that is kind of pathetic.”
Kawasaki also went on to discuss areas of the local game which can be improved, particularly the standard of refereeing.
“The frustration is the inconsistency of the game. I don’t know if it is the standard of refereeing or whether is it against some of the teams we play, which makes the referees’ life a lot more difficult. I want to say that it is improving, but sometimes we have games where we have questionable decisions and there will be times when we think if the referees are biased. I think the frustrating thing is when referees do not explain their decisions. It would be more acceptable if we knew why a decisions was made.”
Simply for the love of the game.