Hong Kong may be a small territory, but it has a very rich and long-standing football history. It may come as a surprise to many, but once you scratch beneath the surface, you will find a great affinity for the sport in the residents.
As the most popular sport in the city, its locals have overcome many obstacles to uphold the sport’s status and create opportunities to make football a thriving sport. Here is a peek into the status of football in Hong Kong and its evolution over the years.
History of Football in Hong Kong
Football has been an integral element of the social and cultural fabric in Hong Kong since it was a British colony, with the first football club formed in the region in 1886. The sport holds a firm place in Hong Kong’s identity as it has witnessed numerous changes over the course of time.
Initially, as per the prevalent practice in the British colony, there was segregation between the colonists and locals, and private membership clubs catered almost exclusively to the foreign elites. Even the Hong Kong Football Club, formed in 1886, was predominantly exclusive to the settlers.
The locals were not interested in playing as Hong Kong had little to offer in terms of playing space for the public, and the hot and humid weather was deemed unsuitable for outdoor sports by the locals.
Things began to change slowly, and young schoolboys began to take an interest in football. They observed the Europeans play and formed their own teams and competitions. The boys used a tennis ball to play football, which helped in honing their skills. Young Chinese elites attending English schools in the city also helped increase the popularity of football. In 1898, the first formal football competition, the Challenge Shield, was introduced.
The history of Hong Kong and the evolution of football are very much interlinked as Hong Kong being a colony, did not have separate representation in international sports until its status was defined.
The first football league was formed in 1908, while the Hong Kong Football Association was formed in 1914. It is one of the oldest associations in Asia and is one of the founding members of the Asian Football Confederation. In the present day, it is responsible for overseeing the national football team, the domestic leagues, and general football-related affairs in the city.
Continue reading as we explore how Hong Kong national football was developed and its performance over the years.
The Hong Kong National Football Team
The Hong Kong national football team, nicknamed The Strength, has been playing internationally since 1947 and became a member of FIFA in 1954. The team is presently ranked 146th in the FIFA rankings and has not been able to qualify for the FIFA World Cup even once. However, it has enjoyed rare moments of glory in the past.
In 1956, Hong Kong hosted the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, where the team won third place. The national team also reached the semi-finals in 1964. However, after that tournament, Hong Kong was unable to qualify for an AFC tournament until 2023.
Although the team has not qualified for the FIFA World Cup, in 1986, Hong Kong beat China in the World Cup qualification round and successfully reached the second qualification round but could not proceed further. Besides the AFC, Hong Kong has also qualified for the East Asian Football Championship six times between 1995 and 2022.
The national women’s football team has been playing internationally since 1975 and is presently placed in the 77th position in the FIFA rankings. The team has played fourteen times in the Asia Cup, and its best performance to date is third place in 1980.
Football League System in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Premier League is the top football league in the city. It comprises ten teams currently and has been around for over nine years. The most successful team in the league is Kitchee which has won the championship five times.
The Premier League follows a promotion and relegation system with Hong Kong First Division, the second-highest football league, which is also the first football league to be formed in Hong Kong in 1908.
Football in Hong Kong today
Hong Kong may not be very successful internationally in football, but the love and passion for the sport is never-ending. During the 1970s and 1980s, Hong Kong was very strong in football as many overseas players and managers contributed to boosting the sport’s competitiveness, and the popularity of the sport grew.
In recent years, the government has made efforts to boost the quality of football in Hong Kong and improve the effectiveness of the Hong Kong Football Association. One of these initiatives is Project Phoenix, a reform plan initiated in 2010 to restructure and organise the status of football and improve its quality.
Today the locals are diehard football fans, with attendance at local league matches exceeding 3,000 weekly, while the crowds are almost double in number for the national side. With these stats and government efforts in motion, the future of football looks bright in Hong Kong.