This article appeared in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine
In all the recent controversy over colonial flags and British Council MTR advertisements, it is curious that the vast yarns of polyester clothing the citizenry of Hong Kong in the livery of English football clubs have escaped mention.
It would be a stretch to label the English Premier League neo-colonialist. For a start most of its clubs’ owners, and players, are foreigners. But as Britain ‘s biggest cultural export these days, it is unsurpassed in its global reach; and for the ex-pat that means fending off one-word questions like “Chelsea ?”, or ” Liverpool?”.
Call me churlish – I’m Scottish and nobody ever says “Aberdeen?” – but it seems obvious to point out that in embracing English football, Hong Kong has spurned its own footballing heritage. After all, the city has the oldest professional league in Asia, had a handy “national” side when most other Asian countries still couldn’t kick their grannies, and, pre-EPL, important local matches could attract crowds of 30,000. Nowadays, the average first division gate is just over 1,000. Heavens above, in the 80s fans even had the cojones for the odd riot.
It doesn’t help that those in charge of football in Hong Kong – the same small group of people who seem to have a hand in most of the city’s sporting initiatives – have such a knack for making a Horlicks of everything, or that national coaches rival David Beckham’s hairdos for getting the chop. But consider this: EPL sides make a total of some £1 billion in broadcasting revenues every season; in Hong Kong, clubs pay NowTV to show games. Time to get back to watching football in the flesh. Polyester optional.