As soon as it was rumoured that Leicester would be taking part in the Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong in July I set about making plans to take time off work and get tickets for the first set of matches in this tournament which runs every two years. Funnily enough I’d told a friend just a few days earlier that I wasn’t interested in watching a friendly match ever again as I’d seen enough of them to last a lifetime. Those words were undone in a matter of moments but this was different as it was the chance to see my boys in Asia.
There have been three vaguely notable appearances by Leicester in Asia (all in Bangkok!) over the years (four if you include the high profile orgy race shame scandal of 2015!) including a Premier League victory parade last Summer, a 1-0 friendly win against Everton in 2014 and a 2-0 victory over the Thai national team in 2010. All those occasions were announced with quite short notice so I was unable to attend but this time I wouldn’t be denied.
Hong Kong was the destination and a place I was more than happy to return to after an absence of just over five years. Mixing football with a holiday is a nice idea and it all worked out relatively well last September when I watched the Japan national team play in Thailand. That was my first proper time to mix football and pleasure whilst on the road and was one I was keen to try again.
The simply-named Hong Kong Stadium was easily walkable from Causeway Bay and at the ground we soon saw a handful of Asian-based Leicester supporters from the likes of Thailand, Japan, mainland China and of course Hong Kong itself.
This was my wife’s debut at a live Leicester match and indeed it was my first time since they played Newcastle in the slightly more famous FA Cup in January 2015. Funnily enough there were some Newcastle fans present at these matches though I’m not sure why. Given that there were also non-competing team shirts like Chelsea and Manchester United on display, I guess it was just a chance for fans of the English game to show their own teams colours whilst taking in a couple of games.
After we’d wrapped the Football Forum on BBC Radio Leicester in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Ian Stringer said he’d see me at the match but I thought there was very little chance of us just bumping into each other! How wrong I was as he saw me outside the stadium taking pictures with some local fans. He was there for BBC Radio and also in attendance were Sky Sports who were showing the game back in the UK.
One of my Leicester heroes Alan Smith was working for them as usual and it was interesting to see him and presenter David Jones doing their stuff on the touchline just metres away from me. Manish Bhasin was also there on presenting duties for Premier League world-wide coverage with John Barnes and Emile Heskey made a brief appearance too.
At a guess I’d say that at least 95% of the crowd were there to see Liverpool (no surprise really) but Leicester were the second most supported team followed by West Brom and then Palace. The three of us were basically there to support the star billing of the Merseysiders! The stadium was only about half full when the two teams entered the pitch to the sound of the classic Fatboy Slim tune ‘Right Here, Right Now‘ and the announcer (who had some strange ways of pronouncing the players names throughout the evening!) saying “Ladies and gentleman, the season starts here!” Hmmm, not till August!
We didn’t get to see Shinji Okazaki play on the aforementioned Thailand trip last year but he did start this game before he was pulled off earlier than usual by Shakespeare. In fact the timing of the substitution was bizarre as it was just a minute before the half time break. The same happened just after the interval so I can only guess that was to get round some rules.
This event was never ever going to be about the actual football and there was very little in the way of excitement beyond the two goals including a much deserved equaliser for want-away winger Riyad Mahrez who had dazzled in patches before that providing gasps from the crowd whose mind was mostly on the Reds match coming up afterwards.
Very little of note happened in the second half and as the game completely petered out I was almost hoping for it to remain level so that I could see my first ever live penalty shoot out at the end of the 90 minutes. That inevitably happened though sadly for me they took place at the other end to where we were sat. Ironically it was where we should have been seated but I chose for us to sit among more Leicester fans at the other end! West Brom were up first and duly converted. I then thought I was going mad when I saw Jamie Vardy take a penalty directly after Leonardo Ulloa had levelled things up.
When West Brom then took two kicks I realised that some new shoot-out system was in operation but I didn’t know until after the match that it was known as the ABBA system and is designed to balance up the pressure of always going second (or first). Given the lack of intensity and pressure, the penalties went on and on until Ben Hamer finally saved from Sam Field and Albrighton wrapped it up for a 7-6 win.
That wasn’t the end though as the Liverpool and Crystal Palace match followed soon after and the stadium was full for that. I wasn’t particularly excited about this one but thought we should watch it as what else would we have done anyway! This was my first time to see consecutive games like this in the same stadium and it was probably a bit too much which is perhaps surprising for regular Tokyo Fox readers who have read about me watching two different J-League games in the same day on a couple of occasions.
Through the medium of Twitter I had become aquatinted with local ex-pat Cat who got our tickets (collected a few nights before over dinner and drinks) and we had hoped to sit together but without wifi it was always going to be hard to meet in the stadium. However, by miracle in the second half of the Leicester game my wife had bumped into her and we met up for the second match of the day and did some seat rotation.
I took the opportunity to walk round the concourse a bit and see if there was any merchandise being sold. There sure wasn’t for Leicester which was a shame as I wouldn’t have minded a PL Asia Trophy souvenir or two. It was a different matter for Liverpool though and the queues during the first match for Reds goods were ridiculously long. Ironically the line for beer was non-existent and so I stumped up HK$110 (£11) for a huge sized beer.
Visiting Hong Kong just to see these semi-finals would probably have been an expense too far but combined with the rest of the stuff we did it was a lot more justifiable. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the Foxes return to Asia but before that I really want to see them in action back home in England in their natural environment and atmosphere.
Click here to read ‘Hong Kong 2017 Pt II: Appearing Live On The BBC Radio Leicester Football Forum’
Click here to read ‘Leicester City Shop In Bangkok Airport’
Click here to read ‘The Leicester City Temple In Bangkok!’
Click here to read ‘Leicester City’s Asian Influence Helps Win Premier League Title’