It has been 111 days since the 20/21 Hong Kong Premier League season finished, with Kitchee winning their 2nd consecutive league title and 5th in total. A season which was continuously interrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, which meant the majority of games had to be played behind closed doors and clubs were seriously impacted financially.
Those financial issues continued into the offseason and clubs Pegasus and Happy Valley chose to self-relegate due to financial difficulties, with Happy Valley joining the Hong Kong First Division and Pegasus joining the Hong Kong Third Divsion. But despite this, the Hong Kong Football Association will be happy to still have 8 teams in the league with the additions of Hong Kong Football Club who were promoted from Division 1 and newly established team in Hong Kong U23's (Not to be confused with the national team U-23's)
For those unfamiliar the general format of the league (which changes depending on number of teams), this is what my understanding is of how the league will work this season, although we are still awaiting official confirmation from the HKFA. Clubs will play each other twice, once at home and once away for 14 games. After the 14 games, the league will then split into 2, with the top 4 playing each other once to find out who will win the league and the bottom 4 will play each other to see who will go down. Totalling 17 games across the season. However due to the ongoing pandemic and other issues, the Hong Kong Football Association has announced that they will be suspending relegation for the next 2/3 seasons. The hopes are for the league to eventually have 9-12 teams in the league, like it used to some years ago. In usual circumstances, 1 team is relegated from the league to the First Division and one team is promoted from the First Division to the Premier League. The HKFA are also going to take on more of an accept/reject approach for teams who qualify for promotion to the Premier League in order to see if they can surivive financially. This is due to there being ongoing issues with teams becoming defunct, having to self-relegate, unable to pay players and staff wages etc.
The winners of the league will qualify for the 2nd qualifying round of the AFC Champions League, whereas the winners of the FA Cup qualify for the playoff round of the AFC Cup. If the league winners are unable to qualify for the Champions League, they will be given a group stage slot in the AFC Cup.
Whilst there is no official word on fixtures regarding the league starting and the format as of yet. Teams are set to get underway this weekend with Sapling Cup fixtures of Eastern v Rangers and Lee Man v Kitchee on Saturday 18th September and Hong Kong FC v Southern on Sunday 19th September.
Once the first round of fixtures is finished at the end of October, we may hear word of when the actual league will be starting
A team with a rich history, which is based in Kowloon and founded 90 years ago in 1931. Kitchee are a side which has dominated the Hong Kong Premier League over the last decade, whether it's winning the league, Sapling Cup, FA Cup or other domestic cups. In fact in the last 10 years, Kitchee has won over 50% of all possible trophies in Hong Kong.
The club has won 11 league titles, across the division, winning the Hong Kong First Division 6 times and Hong Kong Premier League 5 times. They have also won the Hong Kong Senior Shield 7 times, the Hong Kong FA Cup 6 times and numerous other accolades.
Last season Kitchee won the league in great style. The legendary Dejan Damjanovic finished as the league top goalscorer, with 17 goals. Manu Gavilan also contributing with 4 goals and 1 assist. The club also participated in the AFC Champions League, in which they finished 2nd in a group which they shared with Cerezo Osaka, Port FC and Guangzhou, but unfortunately didn't progress any further. Kitchee were the first ever Hong Kong side to win a game in the AFC Champions League.
This season I would very much expect the same from Kitchee and have them a strong contenders for the league title. The club brought in two signings in 24-year-old englishman Charlie Scott who is a midfielder and Poon Pui-hin, who a 20-year-old right back or right midfielder. Both players have signed from Happy Valley last season. Whereas Ju Yingzhi, Barack, Swainston and a few others have left the team.
Founded 89 years ago in 1932, Eastern or known by their full name of Eastern Long Lions, are a club which boast a long history and many achievements in cup competition. They have won the Premier League once back in the 2015/2016 season and have finished runners up four times in the last decade. However, they have in fact won the Hong Kong Senior Shield 11 times, the FA Cup 5 times, the First Division 4 times, the Sapling cup once and Community Cup once.
Last season Eastern finished second in the league prior to the split, three points behind Kitchee. They won 9 games, drew 4 and lost 1, whilst scoring a league high of 33 goals and conceding 12. With finishing in second, Eastern secured a place in the AFC Cup where they finished 2nd in the group, which was not enough to take them to knockout stages. The team boasts great talent in the form of Brazilian forward Everton Camargo and another Brazilian forward in Eduardo Peres. Eastern did have the very prolific Sandro in the side, who scored 10 goals last season, but he has since left the club and is now a free agent.
This season, I would very much expect Eastern to again be challenging for the title alongside Kitchee. Each year Eastern come close and they have finished runners up three times in 14/15, 16/17, 19/20 and 20/21. Their only fault comes in the form of not being able to beat the top teams, usually Kitchee. If they want to win this year, then they need to take points from Kitchee and make sure they perform consistently. They have added league veteran in attacking midfieler, Ju Yingzhi. They have also brought in Spanish defender Marcos Gondra from Lorca Deportiva, Canadian midfielder Matt Lam from Southern and 21 year old winger Sun Ming Him from Pegasus to name a few.
They have lost both Wong Wai and Lam Lok Yin, who have gone out on loan to HK U23, as well as 33-year-old defensive midfielder Diego Eli who has been at the club since 2013 and had over 100 appearances.
Lee Man FC
Founded only 4 years ago back in 2017, Lee Man are a team which are based in Tseung Kwan O New Town, in the Sai Kung District. They were founded after the main sponsors of Rangers, Lee & Man Paper decided to invest in developing their own club and did so the follow season. They paid a HK$ 1 million entrance fee to the HKFA in order for the club to enter directly into the Hong Kong Premier League.
Despite their short history and time in the league, they won the Sapling Cup in the 2018/2019 season and finished runners up in 2019/2020 for the Hong Kong senior shield.
Last year, Lee Man finished 4th in the regular season, but after the league split they finished in 3rd which allowed them to qualify for the AFC Cup as a standby team. They also made the semi-finals of the Sapling Cup.
Brazilian winger Gil was in great form last year and contributed 12 goals to the side, along with right winger Kim Seung-Yong who scored 4, but is set to miss part of the season through injury. I would expect the Warriors to be up towards the top of the table, but I don't think they have enough quite enough about them to challenge for the league title. The side have been quite quiet in their signings, but have added great experience in signing former Eastern man and Hong Kong National player Diego Eli who will reinforce things at the back. They have also brought in left back Yung Hui-To from Happy Valley and brought up 17 year old midfielder Zachary Hui from Lee Man's reserve team. The club have however lost Ukrainian midfielder Serhiy Shapoval to Dynamo Brest and 30 year old midfielder Tam Lok-Hin to Citizen.
Nicknamed the Aberdeeners, due to coming from the Southern District, Southern are team which were founded 19 years ago in 2002 and are side which has achieved some success. Mainly in cup competitions.
Southern have won the Sapling Cup once in the 19/20 season, won the FA Cup in the 18/19 season and won the Senior Shield in the 15/16 season. The do have two league titles, but those are from winning the Second Division and First Division respectively.
For the 20/21 season, Southern finished 5th out of 8, scoring 24 and conceding 30. They won 3, drew 3 and lost 8. When the league split into two groups, Southern finished top of the relegation group. Cementing their place in the top division.
Southern have been quite busy during the offseason, but it is important to note that they kept the likes of forwards James Ha who had 11 goals last season and Stefan Pereira who had 9. They have added many additions in the form of centre-back Dudu, centre-back Luciano from Happy Valley, attacking midfielder Cheng Chin-Lung on loan from Kitchee and 21 year old winger Jahangir Khan from Happy Valley. They have however, lost Canadian midfielder Matt Lam to Eastern and winger Jordan Lam to Resources Capital.
Given their busy offseason and signings that they brought in, I would not expect Southern to finish as low as they did last season, especially since they have looked to rectify and solve their defensive problems. Possibly around 3rd/4th in the league.
Hong Kong Rangers
Founded in 1958, the team were named Rangers due to Scottish expat, Ian Petrie naming them after his club Rangers. They were the first Asian football club which has managing system which worked similarly to models in Europe and adopted modern football approaches. In the early days of its formation, the club did struggle to manage and compete with other teams in the league financially, so Petrie had to rely and utilise his young players and incorporate them into the first team. The club would later become a breeding ground for young players and develop numerous future talents. The operation of the club led to numerous famous Scotsman's joining the team in the 70's such as Jimmy Liddell and Derek Currie.
The clubs have won the Hong Kong Senior Shield 4 times, the FA Cup twice and four league titles across the First Division, Second Division and Third Division.
For the 2020/2021 season, Rangers finished 7th in the league. Only winning 2 games in the regular season. However they did manage to finish 2nd in the bottom group after the league split. Whilst defensively they weren't too poor compared to the teams around them, it was their attack which arguably let them down.
They have looked to try and amend that this offseason, by bringing in an array of signings across the pitch but noteable ones include, Argentine forward Leandro Bazán from Deportivo Sanarate, 20 year old forward Lo Kam-Wang from Metro Gallery, winger Lee Oi-Hin from Pegasus and veteran goalkeeper, Leung Hing-Kit.
Resources Capital FC
Founded in 1982, the club were originally named Tai Chung Football Club until they were rebranded in 2016. Despite being around for almost 40 years, the club has only managed to win one league title in the form of championing the Third Division and one Hong Kong FA Cup Junior Division
Before the start of the 19/20 season, the clubs owners invested over $6 million into the side in order to make it into a professional team. They aimed to gain promotion to the Hong Kong Premier League for the 20/21 season. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic causing the cancellation of the 19/20 season, the HKFA granted Resources Capital promotion to the Premier League.
For the 20/21 season, Capital finished 6th out of 8 in the regular season, winning 4 games and losing 10. The side were incredibly poor all round, only scoring 11 times and conceding 35, the worst in the league. When the league split into 2, they finished 3rd out 4, narrowly missing out on relegation before Pegasus and Happy Valley self-relegated.
They have made some signings to try and fix the issues from last season, with a defensive approach, bringing in centre-back Yip Cheuk-Man from Happy Valley, right-back Cheng King-Ho from Eastern and defensive midfielder Chiu Chun-Wan from Pegasus. They have also added left winger Jordan Lam from Southern and right winger Harima Kirokane from Hong Kong Rangers.
Hong Kong FC
Hong Kong Football Club are a team which were founded 135 years ago in 1886. The club finished the 2020/2021 season as champions of the Hong Kong First Division and accepted the offer of promotion to the Premier League from the HKFA. This the sides first time in top flight since they were relegated to the First Division back in 2016/2017.
Despite the clubs long extensive history they have not had much domestic success in the league, minus winning the Hong Kong First Division and Hong Kong Second Division, with most of those titles coming from the 1970's to the present day. They do have 1 top division title to their name, but they won this back in 1919 along with a few Hong Kong Community Shields in and around this time.
The club won the First Division in briliiant fashion, going unbeaten the whole season, winning all 13 of their games and scoring 47 goals and only conceding 4. The team is comprised of mainly Hong Kong and English players, but do have a few Brazilians and Scots within the side.
They have been very busy during the offseason, adding in a variety of players to cover different positions. Although the majority are quite young. They have brought in winger Hardikpreet Singh from Southern, Brazilian forward Leo from Eastern District and two forward from their youth systems in Tristan Cheung and Lucas Yan. But they have also added, defensive midfielder Oliver Laxton from Eastern and goalkeeper To Chun-Kiu from Happy Valley.
Fortunately with no relegation for the next few years, it will allow the club time to gel and adapt to the top division, figuring out what works, what systems to adopt and their best 11.
Hong Kong U23
Newly established, Hong Kong U23 joined the league with the goal of a youth development side competing in the top division, to make up numbers of teams but also get experience. This due to a lack of youth football leagues and opportunities for young players to get game time. CEO of the Hong Kong Football Assocation Joaquin Tam, explained that the hope is these players will get valuable experience under the leadership and tutelage of the older players, but also have the platform to showcase their abilities in order to become future stars in Hong Kong football and for the national team.
The decision has been met with mixed reaction from the fans, with most feeling that this is not beneficial to the players development as the expectations will be that the team will be beaten heavily each week, which will not help their confidence. Even Ken Ng who is the chairman at Kitchee, stated his concerns. Believing it will dilute the talent pool in the league and stretch it thin for any other clubs wanting to incorporate good U23 prospects into their team. There is also the argument, that these players are not here on merit and therefore have done nothing to warrant or deserve playing in the top division. Not when there are teams in the league below with alot more history, following and talent.
As it stands at the moment, the incorporation of the U23 team is to be a long term project, so the HKFA have made the decision to keep the side in the league for at least the next three years and review in time.
Not too much is known in regards to who is in the squad yet, other than the fact that they will be mainly made up of U23 players on loan from various other Hong Kong Clubs.
How to watch
At present I am not aware of any ways to 'offically' catch Hong Kong Premier League games live and even find highlights.
However I did find a YouTube channel which appears to have shown some of the Hong Kong Premier League games last season at: https://www.youtube.com/c/numberball12/featured
If you are wanting to keep in the know and up to date with the league, I would thoroughly recommend the following twitter accounts and YouTube channel:
- Hong Kong Football On Tour - The channel follows Ralph who travels to various games around HOng Kong across the football divisions and gives you an idea as what match day experiences are like, including travelling to the game, what it's like in stadium and footage from the game. Great for those interested in groundhopping or just want to get a feel for game days - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM
You can also check out offside.hk which gives you the latest info on news, results, fixtures, league tables and national team. They also have a podcast which is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, soundcloud, tunein and other podcast providers.