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。




Thursday, 2 March 2017

No Pain, No Gain

I am proud that a team from Hong Kong is playing in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Also let’s not forget that we almost had two teams competing, following Kitchee’s brave performance in the qualification phase.

Playing at this level marks real progress and is a stepping stone to where we want to be (one of the top countries in East Asia) but make no mistake the step up in terms of quality and intensity of football is huge. The difference between the HKPL/AFC Cup level and the AFC CL is a gulf.

This was exemplified perfectly by Eastern’s recent baptism of fire against Guangzhou Evergrande away from home. As I sat in the stand watching as the players walked out before the match, the adrenaline was flowing, I wondered what it must be like to play in front of 38,000 people and in such a hostile atmosphere. I was joyful and hopeful at the thought of a Hong Kong team competing at that level but also fearful for what could lie ahead. After all, Eastern were up against a team reputedly worth US$400m, who are serial winners of the CSL, have a World Cup winning Coach and are previous winners of the competition. David v Goliath was a much more evenly matched contest by comparison.

Almost immediately after the kickoff my fear turned to dread. Seldom have I seen a dream unravel so quickly. From where I was sat the sending off was harsh but it became apparent that it was going to be a long hard night. I was just thinking that things couldn’t get any worse when the second player was sent off for a second bookable offence. The game was effectively over and ‘damage limitation’ became the only viable game plan. Symbolically it then started raining heavily and because I wasn’t under cover I got soaked. I refused to let my mood become as black as the sky because I kept reminding myself that a team from Hong Kong was out there on the pitch competing at the highest level in Asia. I felt warm inside.

9 v 11 was never going to be easy especially when playing against better players who are on a HK$3m bonus per goal! (Ultimately the bonus pot was larger than Eastern’s budget for the whole season). I think the team did well to keep the score down to 7-0 with the goalkeeper again making some great saves, including one from the penalty spot. He was arguably the ‘man of the match’.

What impressed me most was the attitude of the coach and players in defeat. That is the true mark of quality. Their heads were held high and they vowed to use it as a learning experience.

Last night playing at home to Mong Kok against Kawasaki Frontale provided evidence of this good team spirit and also that Hong Kong clubs deserve their place in this competition. Eastern created a chance in the first 30 seconds and came out confident, positive and fast. The capacity crowd made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. This is what it’s all about! Passion, noise, intensity – I love it and so do the people of Hong Kong. Champions League football was one of my goals when I came here and collectively we have achieved it.

Eastern played well and to their credit rather than being traumatized by their experience in Guangzhou, they seemed galvanized and determined. The reality is they could have won. Granted they had a man advantage for most of the match but let’s not forget that the team from Japan have much more experience and are arguably man for man better players – for now.

What impressed me most was that immediately after the game I went to congratulate the coach on gaining the first ever point for a Hong Kong team in the Champions League. She looked at me and said ‘We should have had three’. Great attitude and it augurs well for the future.

There will be more tough nights ahead in this campaign and hopefully in future competitions too. There is truth in the old adage ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ or to put it another way…no pain, no gain.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, March 2017


一分耕耘 一分收穫


這亦正正標誌著我們於足球發展路上的進程以及目標 (成為東亞地區最高足球水平之一)。當然,要一步登天到達亞冠的水準及強度是極具難度的,而港超聯或亞協盃本身之水平與亞冠亦存在非常大的距離。










Tuesday, 24 January 2017

When the Going Gets Tough!

I would say that we had a ‘dream’ draw in the World Cup Qualifiers. Some would say that we have been given a ‘nightmare’ draw in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. Certainly I don’t think any of the teams we have drawn (DPR Korea, Lebanon and Malaysia) would have been our first choice in their respective pots. Travelling to DPR Korea and Lebanon will be difficult and the opponents will be tough. Malaysia are no pushovers either as we know from experience. All four teams will fancy their chances of getting to the finals, especially DPR Korea who clearly start as favourites to win the group. The DPR Korea Head Coach has the distinct advantage of working with his players on a full time basis.

We got a flying start in the World Cup qualifiers and this gave us momentum in the competition. This time we have Lebanon away first up (March) followed by DPR Korea at home (June), neither of these will be easy fixtures to say the least. We’re going to have to be at our best to get results from these games.

Right, that’s enough negativity. The draw has been made, we know the magnitude of the task and qualifying for the finals (UAE 2019) remains our goal. I know we can do it. So we start the hard work, right here, right now. I have already communicated with Coach KIM and when he returns tomorrow we will plan our strategy. All of the qualification matches fall at the end of each 10 day FIFA match-day period so we can arrange some friendly fixtures and training camps to enable us to prepare properly.

We have a great team spirit and work ethic and everyone will fight for Hong Kong. The whole team is determined and passionate. Furthermore, I know our loyal fans will give their support and this means a lot to the coaches and players in particular.

If and hopefully, when we qualify, we will know that we have done it the hard way rather than relying on an easy draw. As the saying goes….when the going gets tough, the tough gets going! Go Hong Kong

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, January 2017

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year

Another year has flown by; I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! It’s been another busy and successful year for the HKFA with some notable achievements.

2017 promises to be even more eventful and exciting. Some highlights will be:
l   The opening of the long-awaited HK Jockey Club HKFA Football Training Centre in July
l   The Asian Cup Qualifiers starting In March
l   The Asia Trophy (hopefully in July)
l   The AFC Champions League throughout the year

To my mind these high profile events and matches are no more important than the development work we do and I look forward to further growth and improvement in our grass roots programmes, youth training, all representative teams, futsal, girls and women’s football, referee development, coach education course etc.

I could not do the work I do without the help and support of my tremendous colleagues here at the HKFA. We have a great team of professional and passionate people and I would like to thank them for all their efforts and hard work. I would also like to thank the Board and the many Committees we have for their direction and commitment. Once again 2016 has been characterized by teamwork and it would be remiss of my not to thank all of our partners and stakeholders including the Government, the Jockey Club, commercial sponsors, partners and suppliers, clubs, players, coaches, referees, the media and fans. Together we are all determined to make Hong Kong football successful. It is my privilege to be part of that team. Happy Christmas to each and everyone of you.

I am excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2017 and give you my word that I will do everything I can to continue the upward trends in Hong Kong Football.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, December 2016

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Best In Asia!

Best In Asia!

Last Year the HKFA won the prestigious Developing Member Association Award at the glittering AFC Annual Awards Dinner. We didn’t apply under this category this time because we wanted to give other Member Associations a chance! However, we were nominated for the best Grassroots Football Programme but unfortunately didn’t win that accolade this time.

As most people know the Eastern Head Coach Chan Yuen-ting was nominated for and won the Women’s Coach of the Year Award. This is a fantastic achievement and I offer her my sincere congratulations. It caps an unbelievable year for her. The success of CHAN Yuen-ting has been phenomenal, equaled only by the world-wide attention that has been generated. Whilst undoubtedly being in the right place at the right time initially, she certainly grasped the opportunity with both hands and overcame many challenges that would have been daunting to most people. The success of Eastern in winning the League under her leadership is a testament to her skills, knowledge and dedication. What is equally impressive is that she has retained her humility throughout the blaze of publicity. She is a credit to Hong Kong, to Hong Kong Football but most importantly to herself.

The AFC Award is one of many accolades she has won and they are all important in raising the profile of Hong Kong football. The HKFA leads the way in gender equality. We have a female Director, a female Head of Competitions, a leading lady referee, a female Women's Head Coach and Women's Football Manager not to mention the many females working in senior positions in our clubs. Since integrating girls and women's football into the HKFA in 2011 we have made huge strides in terms of increased participation and we have plans to develop this even further.

I believe that Ms Yuen-ting is a role model generally for young people to ‘follow their dreams’ but more specifically for football too. I am sure she will inspire people to become involved in football in many capacities including as players and coaches, irrespective of gender.

HKFA Competitions Team

I was inspired to write this blog because of a letter I received from the President of the EAFF following our hosting of their Round 2 Qualification Competition in November. For those of you who don’t know him, Kohzo Tashima-san is a former Japan international player and Head Coach and is now a Member of the FIFA Council as well as playing major roles in both the AFC and EAFF. He is one of the most respected and experienced people in football and must have witnessed more tournaments than virtually anyone else. I reproduce below what he had to say about the HKFA. For Kohzo-san to refer to the ‘best competition team in Asia’ is very heartwarming. The staff of the HKFA get very little thanks and recognition for the tireless work they do. It is little things like this that makes the job worthwhile.

I am proud of the work that we do and will continue to do my best to lead the best in Asia! 

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, December 2016 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

AFC Champions League

AFC Champions League

In the job I do I expect scrutiny and occasional criticism, it goes with the territory. I understand that in trying to improve and develop football in Hong Kong, I will ruffle a few feathers along the way. However when that criticism is unjust, personally defamatory and questions my integrity, I am entitled to defend myself.

Last Friday (timed perfectly so I was out of the country) Kitchee held a press conference and I was personally blamed for an ‘administrative blunder’ the result of which means that Kitchee will not be playing in the AFC Champions League Group stages. I have received further criticism from Southern (the second club affected) for a lack of communication.

I have to set the record straight on these issues.

I am in a difficult situation here. I do not normally discuss what happens in Board meetings because I do not think it is the right thing to do. However, Kitchee has already made it public knowledge that I disagreed with the original Board decision to nominate Kitchee and Southern for places in AFC Club competitions for 2017. I think it was indiscrete of Kitchee to mention in public what happened behind closed doors and I can only assume that the only reason the club is highlighting this is because they think I somehow failed to implement the Board’s resolution because I didn’t agree with the decision. I have been further accused of impartiality because they think I favoured Eastern over Kitchee. These accusations are untrue and serious. I have asked the club to retract them but I won’t hold my breath waiting for a response.  

It is true that at the Board meeting in August I advised the Board to nominate Eastern and Kitchee in that order in accordance with the AFC criteria. I could see no justification to reject Eastern because they had won the League, had submitted an AFC Champions League Licence application and had written to the HKFA asking to withdraw their previous letter which stated they had financial problems. My advice was rejected. You can argue that it was taken in good faith because at that time we did not know definitively how many places we would have in the AFC CL or whether club licence applications would be successful. It was theoretically possible (but unlikely) that Kitchee would be eligible for the AFC CL (if Eastern did not get an AFC club licence) and Southern eligible to be entered into the AFC Cup (if we only got one place in the AFC CL). However, I believed it was the wrong decision then and I still do. It is one reason why we are in this mess right now.

Another reason of course which no-one seems to be mentioning is that Kitchee did not win the League. If they had, none of this would have happened. Perhaps they should use this as motivation to win the HKPL this season.

There seems to be an assumption that whichever teams Hong Kong nominate will automatically be entered into the competition. I am being blamed for the fact that now it appears that Kitchee can’t play in the group stages. What is being conveniently forgotten is that it is not our competition and therefore not our decision. All we can do is nominate teams. 

The ultimate decision does not even rest with the AFC. To avoid any accusations of bias or misconduct, the AFC has established an independent competitions committee to make decisions in relation to the AFC Club Competitions. At the time of writing this committee has not met. It meets on 24th November.

Based on our ranking now, the HKFA are likely to get two places in the CL. The criteria that the independent committee will apply in deciding which teams from each Member Association will be eligible have not changed. As far as the AFC CL is concerned it has always been the League Champions (Eastern) that should get the number 1 place. That is why it is called the Champions League. The number 2 position goes to the winner of the ‘domestic’ cup competition.

Eligibility to play in the CL is however first and foremost based on whether or not the club has an AFC CL club licence. Eastern had decided in April to apply for this level licence and had submitted all of the documentation required by the AFC deadline of 30th June. It is important to note that this was BEFORE the Board meeting to decide which team to nominate.

Kitchee’s argument that the HKFA (and me in particular) in some way favoured Eastern in relation to the attainment of a club licence is simply not true. It is not the HKFA that grants the licence. There is an independent First Instance Body that assesses applications and ultimately it is the AFC that decides. Again the clue is in the title, it is an AFC CL Club Licence, not a HKFA Club Licence.

It is understandable that Kitchee is upset that Eastern have an AFC Club Licence because that means that Kitchee are not eligible for the number 1 position. This obviously puts the club in a difficult situation with players, coaches, fans, sponsors etc because there has been an expectation following the Board’s decision that they will be playing in the group stages. The truth is that this was only ever an assumption.

The contention that I am in some way responsible for Eastern obtaining a licence is simply not a sustainable position. It is my job to encourage clubs and to help them to apply for the higher level AFC Licence because it is a good tool for self-improvement and demonstrates to the football authorities that Hong Kong football is professional. I am not paid to block application and in any case as I have pointed out, the application was submitted before the decision as to which clubs to nominate. It is worth pointing out that the Secretariat helped four clubs gain the AFC CL Club Licence, Eastern, Kitchee, South China and Southern. In the case of Southern, the Secretariat worked with the club on an ‘extraordinary’ application after the Board’s decision because they had missed the deadline to apply. This is hardly indicative of an administration working against a Board resolution. At the end of the day the clubs decide whether to apply, not the HKFA. Again, I reiterate the HKFA does not award the licences either.

Another point being overlooked is that if it wasn’t for the hard work of the HKFA Secretariat lead by me to introduce a club licence into Hong Kong football (and many of the clubs fought against it), Hong Kong would not have a place in the group stages of the AFC CL. The fact that we are now one of only 6 Member Associations in East Asia (the others being Australia, China, Japan, Korea Republic and Thailand) eligible for this status is testament to how far we have come. We should be being thanked not denigrated.

Another thing that was missing from Kitchee’s condemnation of me was any reason why I would favour one team over another. It simply doesn’t make sense. I want all of the teams in Hong Kong to be as successful as possible. I hold Kitchee in high regard and have been consistent in saying so. In many respects they are an example to the other clubs in Hong Kong.     

One the main criticisms of me was that in October I was made aware that the AFC independent committee when it meets on 24th November may annul the number 1 position for HK clubs if Eastern is not nominated and they obtain a club licence. It is true that this information was brought to my attention but only indirectly and unofficially. I requested that this information be put in writing so I could take some official action. I was told that this could not happen and to date no official confirmation has ever been received. I can’t act on second hand information that wasn’t even sent to me from a person I don’t know. I did not deliberately withhold information from any of the clubs.

I was not personally aware that the HK application needed to be submitted on Monday 14th until the evening of Sunday 13th. Up until then I assumed that we would need to apply after the AFC independent committee had met on the 24th to confirm how many teams would be eligible to play. Because I was aware that there was a ‘potential’ issue I asked our General Secretary to put an ‘Emergency Item’ on our Board Agenda for 5th December. I thought we would have time to address the issue after the committee decision but before the AFC CL/Cup Draw which is due to be held on 13th December.

As soon as I realized the urgency of the situation I phoned the AFC General Secretary who confirmed the likely outcome i.e. the committee would decide that HK should lose its number one place. Faced with this information I informed the Chairman and had a long conversation with Ken Ng from Kitchee. I tried all that day (Monday 14th) to get the Board to change the resolution but failed to get a sufficient number before the deadline. Therefore the Secretariat had no option but to apply on behalf of Kitchee and Southern in accordance with the original Board resolution.

On Monday 14th I exchanged 34 whatsapp messages with Ken Ng from Kitchee as well as a half hour telephone conversation explaining all of the above. Despite having this background information and rather than trying to sort things out collectively and in private, he chose to go ahead with the press conference using me as a convenient scapegoat. To be honest I am still mystified as to what ‘administrative blunder’ he is referring to. It’s not the HKFA’s decision as to how many teams will play or which teams will be selected. In any case this decision has not been made yet. At the point in time when the press conference was held, the HKFA had applied on behalf of Kitchee and Southern.

Coincidentally I was due to meet with officials from the AFC in Korea on Saturday 19th. Obviously I did not want to end up with a situation where Hong Kong only had one team playing in the AFC CL so I asked if we could resubmit the application. I also discovered that the method for calculating the Member Association ranking will change from next season and that only having one team playing in 2017 could affect the Hong Kong ranking in future years thus putting in jeopardy the chance of retaining our coveted place in the Group stage. It then became even more important that the Board changed its mind. At that point I tried to call Ken Ng to explain the implications for Kitchee. He didn’t take or return my call. I sent him messages which I know he received. From that point in time he changed his stance and started to support a new resolution to re-apply on behalf of Eastern and Kitchee.

I explained all of this to the Board when I returned to Hong Kong and a new resolution was agreed at a Board meeting on Monday afternoon to apply on behalf of Eastern and Kitchee. We will all have to wait and see what the committee decides tomorrow but I am confident that Hong Kong will have two places in the AFC CL, Eastern in the group stages and Kitchee in the preliminary knock out.

If this is the outcome then I am sorry that this will affect Kitchee’s plans for the CNY. I am happy to work with the club to find amicable solutions. I do not bear a grudge and remain supportive of the club.

I also understand that it is disappointing for Southern. I have been criticized for a lack of communication with Southern. I received an email from the club when I switched on my phone in Korea to which I immediately replied. I also wrote to the club after the new Board decision before we issued a press release. I can’t say any more than that other than I continue to communicate with the club and think that they now have a very clear picture of what has transpired.

I hope this detailed explanation helps people to understand how this unfortunate situation has evolved. I think there are lessons to be learnt on all sides. The important decisions are yet to be made by the AFC independent competition committee. I hope that the result of this is that Hong Kong has two teams in the AFC CL and that they will be placed in the right order to maintain the sporting integrity of the competition.

The sad thing for me is that we should be celebrating the fact that we have achieved two teams playing in the Region’s most prestigious club competition. Instead Hong Kong football has shot itself in the foot and reinforced negative public perceptions.

Mark Sutcliffe CEO, November 2016