The passion for the game that can be seen in soccer-mad countries like England and Spain is on show right here in DB. Sam Agars reports.
Billions of people can’t be wrong and there is no doubting that soccer truly is the world game. It’s continually gaining popularity in Hong Kong and is a hit amongst children and adults alike. Room for growth in DB may be a touch more limited but that’s not to say the sport is not thriving here.
Having a run
A growing number of local clubs specialise in introducing children to ‘the beautiful game’. DB-based Vikings Football Club, run by English Football Association qualified coach Richard Hainsworth, caters to kids aged two to 12, Brazilian Football Academy for DB kids aged five to 13, and Tinytots Soccer for those aged 18 months to five years. La Cantera Football Club, meanwhile, is active on Lantau, coaching kids aged 18 months to 14 years.
DB youngsters are particularly well looked after by the HK Dragons Football Club and Discovery Bay Angels Football Club. Founded in 2009, the Angels is a non-profit, community-based soccer club, with a programme catering to girls aged between six and 14. The 80 or so playing members are led by experienced soccer coaches assisted by parent volunteers. Outside of weekly training at Discovery Bay International School, the girls travel across Hong Kong to participate in tournaments.
“Parents have found that playing in an all-girl environment allows female athletes to be less intimidated, and to develop their skills and their confidence faster than if they are thrown in with boys at an early age,” Angels’ chairman and long-time DB resident Christian Low says.
While the Angels’ coaches are focused on developing great teamwork and winning matches, the aim is to provide a safe, fun and all-inclusive learning environment. “We really try and instill a love of football across the age groups,” Christian says. “The Angels is one of the few football clubs around where every child plays in all matches, no matter what.”
“Team sport is a wonderful teacher for all ability levels,” Christian adds. “It’s great to watch the girls’ progression from the beginning of the season through to the end. They grow in terms of confidence, pride in skills mastered and willingness to get in there and challenge themselves.”
The HK Dragons Football Club takes things just as seriously as the Angels and offers some of the best junior soccer coaching you will find in Hong Kong. Running in DB since 2001, the Dragons’ professional coaches cater for kids aged three years right up to 18. They coach over 600 DB kids and an added few hundred on Lantau. The Little Dragons programme caters for kids up to the age of seven; older children play in the Hong Kong Junior Football League.
The Dragons holds very similar values to those of the Angels. “At the end of the day, we want our kids to leave our sessions with a smile, having had fun,” head coach and manager Darren Maiden says. “If they’re having fun, they’ll learn. That’s one of the things that keeps kids coming back, that fun learning environment. If you enjoy something that you are doing, you will want to do it more.”
The quality of players that have been produced by the Dragons proves this notion, and last season the club entered a team in division two of the Legal League, which is usually the preserve of older players. That they went through to win the league, with only one loss, is testament to the quality of coaching on offer.
A large number of adult DBers are as keen as the kids when it comes to getting on the pitch and this is where the Discovery Bay Football Club (DBFC) comes in. The club has two teams that play on a weekly basis in season in Hong Kong, one in division one of the Legal League and one in the newly formed Legends League. The DBFC also has a soccer sevens touring side that regularly heads off to Phuket and Bangkok to play in annual tournaments.
“The veteran’s team was set up because the Legal League was getting more challenging and we wanted younger players in,” chairman and long-time DBFC player Gary Rollinson says. “All the time we had been playing we were getting older and it was starting to tell, but we still wanted to play football.”
Again, you find an ethos of inclusiveness at the DBFC that is prevalent right across soccer in DB. The club is always looking for new players and is happy to point them in
the right direction. While secretary Dirk Haddow says the club has a social, family feel to it, the players are also hell-bent on winning come game day. The DBFC has had its fair share of success and last season came runner-up in the Legal League and fourth in the Legends League.
Last season DBFC had 90 registered players in total and is looking to continue to grow, with Dirk highlighting the influence that Harvey Law Group’s founder Jean-François Harvey has had on the game here in DB. “Jean François has done a lot of good for football in DB and for our football club,” he says. “In the last two years the club has really progressed.” Adding that football isn’t cheap in Hong Kong, Gary says: “Harvey Law has made it so much easier because the club membership fee is now relatively small.”
China recently announced a grand plan to have 50 million soccer players by 2020 and a World Cup in their hands by 2050. That the game is also growing in Hong Kong is evidenced by the blossoming HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens and the strength of the local leagues. Locally, however, players are held back by the fact that there is as yet no full-size pitch on Lantau. High pricing and fierce competition to book time on the next best options, Discovery Bay International School Pitch and Discovery Bay North Sports Pitch, are also limiting how far the game can progress.
Soccer season starts this month and Lantau clubs are all currently enrolling.