- Hong Kong boast one of Asia's oldest football leagues
- HKFA, founded in 1914, one of the 12 founding members of AFC
- Now building for the future after years in the doldrums
Located on the southern tip of mainland China, Hong Kong is known as one of the world's most beautiful and wealthy cities. But long before it became a financial hub and tourist destination, Hong Kong had emerged as a pioneering force in Asian football.
Indeed, the beautiful game has a long history in the former British colony, with its first club - Hong Kong FC – having been founded as early as 1886. Its first football competition, the Hong Kong Football Cup (later renamed the Hong Kong Senior Challenge Shield) followed 12 years later and is still contested today, and a professional league, the Hong Kong First Division, was launched in 1908.
The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA), founded in 1914, was one of 12 founding members of Asian Football Association (AFC) in 1954, and became affiliated to FIFA the same year. It marked the beginning of a golden era for their football team.
Hong Kong hosted the inaugural AFC Asian Cup in 1956 and finished third. This podium finish remains their best-ever finish at the continental showpiece, although they did earn creditable fourth and fifth-place finishes in 1964 and 1968 respectively.
FIFA World Cup™ qualifying adventures followed, first for Germany 1974, when they overcame Japan and Vietnam only to just fall short against Korea Republic. Hong Kong also pulled off a stunning upset by beating China PR on the the road to Mexico 1986, triumphing 2-1 in Beijing, and only narrowly lost out to Japan in the last four just as a maiden appearance seemed to be within their grasp.
HKFA’s current targets
- Promoting local football activities and motivating people to become involved in football
- Increasing the level of the Hong Kong national team to achieve a higher position in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Attracting more spectators to support local football leagues
- Promoting grassroots training and focusing on developing youth players
- Offering more coach education seminars at different levels
- Promoting women's football
With its economy booming, football in Hong Kong reached new heights in the 1970s and ‘80s, further cementing its place as the region’s number one sport. The league in particular flourished, and even attracted star foreign players – among them 1966 World Cup winners Alan Ball and Graham Paddon.
Just like the ebb and flow of the tides at the Victoria Harbour, however, Hong Kong's football fortunes continued to fluctuate in the decades that followed. Despite excelling in three of the first four editions of the AFC Asian Cup, Hong Kong have failed to qualify for a single edition since then. Their performances in World Cup qualifying have followed a similar trajectory.
However, with support from FIFA and AFC, HKFA embarked on an ambitious rebuilding programme at the start of the new millennium. The 'Phoenix Project’, launched in cooperation with the government of Hong Kong, attached unprecedented importance to youth development and women’s football. Through its FIFA Forward program, world's football governing body provided financial support to help the HKFA build facilities that include a development base and a six-pitch training centre.
Those efforts quickly paid dividends. History was made in 2009 as Hong Kong team defeated Japan in the final to win the football gold in the inaugural East Asian Games. They then went on to win the Long Teng Cup back-to-back before twice drawing against China on the road to the 2018 World Cup.
At club level, the Hong Kong Premier League was formed in 2014, and two years later Eastern FC - under Chan Yuen Ting - won the title to book their return to the AFC Champions League. By doing so, Chan became the world's first female coach to lead a men’s side to a top-tier pro title.
“We were once among Asian’s footballing pioneers,” Mr Vincent Man-chuen, HKFA acting CEO, told FIFA.com. “Hence, it is our rudimentary aim to be a leading football governing body which can support the delivery of high-level performances of our teams.
“This is a big challenge for us, but we need to set our targets to meet such standards. We are aware that this is not only about one or two teams but the entire football circle. We will build on and work from the basement upward - from grassroots to elite."