Pegasus 2 Yuen Long 2 (24th September 2016)
Just a quarter of a mile east of the famous Happy Valley Racecourse is the Hong Kong stadium, an impressive 40,000 capacity place probably best known for being the venue of the Hong Kong Rugby 7s every year.
I had seen the venue before. On my last trip to Hong Kong, nine years ago, I’d taken a wander round the ground, hoping to get inside and take a photo or too. Not only was I not able to get inside, attempts to walk round the stadium were curtailed when a pack of wild dogs came charging down a hill on the stadium’s eastern side, forcing me into a swift return to the direction I’d come.
Despite being a fine stadium, no club has ever made a success of using it as a home venue. With Hong Kong League crowds averaging around 1000 or so, it’s somewhat oversized for purpose, rather like Southport having a stab at playing home games at Goodison Park. Current occupants are Pegasus FC, who didn’t even exist the last time I was over there. Based originally in the north of Hong Kong, not far from the Chinese border, the decision to move 25 miles south seems a strange one, and not one that appears to have captured the imagination of the public around the stadium. Only 692 would turn up for this fixture, with maybe 100 or those making the trip from Yuen Long, whose stadium Pegasus originally played in.
The low crowd didn’t matter to me. The whole of the lower tier was opened up, and again, cheap beer was available, which always helps. Plenty of noodles, and chicken food options too, but as I found in this region, they seem to love having their chicken with the bones and gristle still attached. An attempt at eating a duck, chicken & rice dish in a backstreet eaterie was ruined somewhat by needing to separate the slivers of edible meat from the bones using nothing but chopsticks and a blunt plastic spoon. It was similar here too. Even the KFC outlet only offered the “with bone” drumstick options, which I’ve never been keen on, never enjoying the sensation of warm grease dripping down my chin and fingers. Another chicken place did offer a fork to aid those not wishing to get messy, but alas it was a cheap plastic fork, and was about as much use as a pair of knitted wellingtons.
The Hong Kong stadium is certainly one of the more dramatic ones of its size. Even with the two dominant curving sides empty (and the lower tier only speckled with fans) it’s still quite a venue. Like the Happy Valley Racecourse, the place is surrounded by tower blocks, with the bright lights of the Causeway Bay shopping and business district a short distance away at one end. The other was blocked off by the steep tree-lined hill that harboured Hong Kong’s homeless dog community, as I found on my last visit.
Signs around the ground warned that the stadium was a no-smoking venue, noting that not only cigarettes, but cigars and pipes were also banned, as if people might otherwise suspect that a Henri Winterman, or puffing away on a few ounces of ready rubbed in their briar pipe would be fine. And for those who really might not get the message, the PA system even stated that the pitch was also a no-smoking area.
At least this time I knew which team the home side were, and in an entertaining and open first half, they soon began to get on top. In contrast to the frustratingly poor finishing the previous night, Pegasus took a deserved lead after just 12 minutes. Brazilian attacker Dhiego Martins broke into the box on the left and lifted a deft little chip over the keeper, before running to the corner, arms back, to take the adulation of the literally zero people in that part of the stadium.
Another Brazilian, one of three in the Pegasus team, put the home side two up from the spot after half an hour, and getting towards half time, a comfortable home victory looked on the cards. Had they not spurned a couple of gilt-edged chances, it surely would have been too.
Five minutes before the break, things took a little twist though. Encouraged by the enthusiastic, if not particularly numerous away support, Yuen Long had a little bit of pressure. This resulted in a shot which (as far as I could tell from the far end) got blocked before taking a huge bounce off the turf, looping up rather fortuitously over the helpless Pegasus keeper. The player who took the shot shamelessly celebrated like he’d meant it, and it changed the feeling of the game.
It wasn’t that they dominated from then on. Pegasus still looked the stronger team, but Yuen Long now looked more dangerous. Pegasus never regained their cutting edge, while the away side were just doing enough on breakaways to look a threat. They’d not had that many clear chances, but with a quarter of an hour to go, a shot through a crowd of players somehow found its way into the corner to level the score.
From them on Pegasus doubled their efforts to regain the lead they surely must have felt they should never have given away, but in doing so they left suicidal gaps at the back. Yuen Long really ought to have won it, rampaging through one such gap and knocking a ball back in past a stranded keeper, only for the away attacker to suffer “Toblerone-boot syndrome”, spooning a shot high and wide with just a defender on the line to beat.
Given how it finished, a draw was probably a fair result, even if both teams will have walked off thinking they could have won. Yuen Long fans would definitely be happier though, as they made their long and arduous trip back to the far side of the country, a full 25 miles away. For the home fans, a number of whom would be making almost exactly the same return trip too, perhaps not quite so good. I was just pleased not to be chased by wild dogs this time. After that, anything is a bonus.