Did you know that Macau’s football association is one of the smallest member associations of FIFA? Not many people know that football is one of the earliest contemporary sports introduced in the region and has been played since the 1930s.
Macau may have one of the world’s lowest-ranked teams, but the locals love the sport like none other. Even the lack of standard-sized football fields owing to the region’s financial and geographical constraints does not hinder the popularity of football in Macau.
This article offers some enlightening insights into the history of football in Macau, how it evolved over the years, and where the sport stands today.
History of Football in Macau
Football has been popular in Macau since the 1930s. The sport was first introduced to the region by the Portuguese. Being its first colony in East Asia, the colonists used sports like football to craft their national identity of Macau among other colonies. The colonial army’s involvement in promoting football and other sporting events led to a competitive yet light-hearted atmosphere that highlighted the perception that football could help promote progress.
The growing popularity of football led to the establishment of football clubs in Macau. These clubs were not official but helped create a network that replicated the format and traditions of European clubs.
A tournament, the Hong Kong Macau Interport, organised by Hong Kong and Macau, was launched in 1937. The competition is organised annually to date, with a few exceptions, and comprises a series of matches between Macau and Hong Kong.
The 1930s are regarded as the golden period of Macau football when various clubs were established, and football became one of the most popular sports in the region.
However, the success of these clubs was short-lived due to the lack of institutional structure and stability, and further deterioration happened owing to the instability in the region during and after the Second World War.
The Macau Football Association was formed in 1939 but did not become a member of FIFA until 1978. The association became affiliated with the EAFF in 2002. Today the Macau Football Association oversees and administers the affairs of the Macau National Football Team and the football clubs active in the region.
Macau National Football Team
The Macau National Football team is currently in 182nd place in the FIFA rankings. The team has been playing internationally since 1948, but its representation of Macau in international football events is associated with its status in the global landscape.
Earlier, Macau’s representation was recognised as a Portuguese colony. When in 1999, Macau was handed over to China as a special administrative region; it was allowed to participate as a separate team under the rule of one country and two systems.
The national football team has never qualified for FIFA World Cup, the EAFF East Asian Championship, or the AFC Asian Cup. However, the team managed to play once in the AFC Challenge Cup in 2006 and the AFC Solidarity Cup in 2016, where it finished in second place.
Domestic Football Competitions in Macau
The earlier era of football in Macau is characterised by the formation and success of various international clubs. However, as mentioned before, structural stability and lack of institutional knowledge led to the downfall of these clubs.
In the early 1970s, clubs from Portugal frequently visited Macau, among other colonies, to maintain cultural affiliation. This helped the sport grow and improved the quality of the sport in the region by strengthening the clubs.
One of the earliest clubs that stand to date is the Benfica de Macau. It was founded in the 1950s and had an active history till the 1990s, when it was dismantled. The club was, however, revitalised in 2008, and today it is one of the strongest teams in Macau.
Today, the highest football division in Macau is Liga de Elite. It was created in 1973, and presently, it comprises 10 teams. The Liga de Elite follows a promotion and relegation system with the 2nd Division de Macau. The current champion of the league is Chao Pak Kei, while the most successful team in the league is Lam Pak, winner of the series nine times.
Football in Macau Today
Nowadays, football is very popular among children, teenagers, and adults in Macau. Most football teams playing in the region include expats from Portugal, Chinese residents, and locals, while some teams also have players from other Portuguese-speaking countries like Brazil or Cape Verde.
There are also teams affiliated with local organisations or companies like the Macau Police Force. Besides the standard football game with eleven payers on each side, the locals also play a format where the pitch and the football used are both smaller in size. This is the local’s way to adapt to the lack of standard-sized pitches. In some areas, artificial football pitches are also used as an alternative.