Hong Kong FC 0 Kitchee 2 (23rd Sept 2016)
Having been to over 300 grounds, you don’t get a lot of “firsts” very often, but this game would offer not only one, but two of them.
For starters, this would be the first game I’ve been to where the stadium was actually inside another stadium, unless I very generously count Leipzig, where there stadium was built inside the oval bowl of the former stadium. Hong Kong FC’s ground though was entirely located within the track of the much more famous Happy Valley Racecourse. It wasn’t even the only stadium in there either, with a hockey match taking place next door, and crown green bowls being played behind the opposite end.
The other first, and a hugely welcome one on this hot and sweaty evening at the tail end of Hong Kong’s very humid rainy season, was the inclusion of ceiling fans under the roof of the stand I was in. I had hoped to sit in the stand opposite, which would have offered a view of the tall racecourse grandstands, but that stand was for members only, as was a bar and beer garden area at the crown green bowls end of the ground. Still, I had my fans, so I was happy.
Fans of the spectating variety were in short supply for HKFC though, with most in my stand wearing the blue of visitors, and league leaders, Kitchee. Had I “followed the crowds” to the game, on the 15 minute walk from my hotel in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district, I’d have either made a very short trip to one of the numerous bars, or ended up in the Causeway Bay shopping district, a little north of the ground. As it was I had to ask directions from a club official on how to actually get into the ground, being directed down a tunnel off from the entrance to the racecourse’s underground car park.
After purchasing my HK$80 (£8) ticket, I was pointed to a table giving away something that looked like a match programme. It was actually a season guide for the league, with stats and features about all the clubs. Nearly all of it was in Chinese, but it’d break off into English at random moments. It was clearly vitally important that in the Chairman’s message, the words “Embrace the Moment” were readable by all, even if which moment they were meant to be embracing, or what form that embracing would take, wouldn’t be clear to those not able to read Chinese.
The Programme/guide had a page for each team, with individual pictures of each player. This made it almost like owning a small-scale Panini sticker album of the Hong Kong League, only without having the expense of buying the stickers, nor the pain of opening a packet and seeing you now had eight swapsies of Pegasus’ Wu Chun Ming.
Pleasure, on the other hand, was seeing that beer was being sold for HK$30. In a city where beer could often go for around HK$80 (£8!) that was very welcome. Less popular, to me anyway, was a food selection which appeared to offer noodles (my chopsticks skills aren’t that advanced), chicken legs messily dipped in sauce (spilling down my trousers guaranteed) or fish balls, which are probably nicer than they sound.
A Conference South-sized crowd of 662 would eventually trickle into the stands for a match of perhaps a similar standard, although I doubt St Albans City would be able to play in this sort of heat and humidity for too long without wilting.
Embarrassingly, the match kicked off without me knowing which team was which. Eventually I realised I could check the kits out in the programme/guide I’d been given, but by then I sort of guessed the team in the blue shirts were title favourites Kitchee, due to their total domination of winless HKFC. The lack of encouragement towards the home team, who to be honest didn’t do a lot to encourage their fans, made it feel like a Kitchee home game at times. Even HKFC’s failed efforts didn’t help, as it doesn’t seem to matter which team bodges something up in the HK league, the result is mirth all round.
Amazingly, the visitors, who outshot their hosts 20-2 on the night, took until the 71st minute to take the lead, thumping the ball in low from 15 yards after a sustained spell of pressure. This prompted a token effort from HKFC to equalise, but they never really looked like they knew how.
It took until the 89th minute for Kitchee to wrap up a game they should have won comfortably. Winning the ball on the left, a Kitchee attacker just ran straight for goal before stroking the ball past the keeper, just inside the far post to seal the points, to the delight of the travelling Kitchee fans.
For the home fans, perhaps the most enjoyable part of the night, of this very one-sided game, was a bit of light relief caused by a hockey ball from the pitch next door finding its way onto the field. It was that kind of night.
For me, while it may not have been a great contest, it was still a decent open game, and located as it was surrounded by the lights of tall tower blocks and skyscrapers, it offered a rather better backdrop than most games drawing 662 in England would. Now if only I could find a pub selling beer for something like English prices, I’d be truly happy.