In Battlegrounds Asia, we look into the history and lore of the stadiums that will host the Lion City Sailors’ second foray into the AFC Champions League, Asia’s top-tier club competition.
First up in this series, we look at the iconic Hong Kong Stadium, where the Sailors will face Kitchee SC in their first away fixture of Group F.
Located in the heart of Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s most energetic neighbourhoods lined with luxury malls, boutiques, and numerous dining options, lies the aptly-named Hong Kong Stadium. It is where the Lion City Sailors will battle Kitchee SC in matchday 2 in Group F of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL).
The Stadium – known as Hong Kong’s main sports venue – was redeveloped from the Old Government Stadium and took on its new identity when it officially reopened in early 1994.
The 40,000-seater Stadium was meant to be a multi-purpose entertainment venue, with Hong Kong music icon Alan Tam the first local artist to hold a concert there in April 1994 before fellow Canto-pop legend Sam Hui Koon-kit followed suit in December 2007. However, its open-air nature led to noise complaints from nearby residents and it has rarely been allowed to host entertainment events ever since.
Hong Kong’s Rugby DNA
Instead, the Stadium is now internationally renowned for hosting the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens in spring every year, hosting rugby greats the likes of Jonah Lomu and David Campes while inspiring a thriving sevens world series and the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics.
The most recent edition was held between 30 March to 2 April this year, with New Zealand beating Fiji 24-19 to win the competition. The Stadium also hosted the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice, in 1997 and 2005.
With the stadium located on either end of sweeping views of a lush hillside and the city’s vertical urban landscape, it has grown into a flagship destination for overseas Rugby Sevens fans.
A dash of the English Premier League
For the same reason, it has been the go-to venue for marquee football matches in Hong Kong – especially for exhibition matches involving top English Premier League (EPL) clubs.
The pre-season Premier League Asia Trophy has been held there four times in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2017 – with Kitchee SC and South China AA amongst the local competing teams.
One-off friendlies were also held there twice between Kitchee and EPL opposition. In May 2017, the Bluebirds fell 4-1 to Tottenham Hotspur with current Spurs captain Son Heung-min and the now-departed Harry Kane on the scoresheet. Then in July 2019, they lost 6-1 to Manchester City with Law Tsz Chun – who is still at the club – scoring the solitary goal for Kitchee.
Local football flavour
The first full-house official match there came in October 2009 when local side South China came up against Kuwait SC in the second leg of the 2009 AFC Cup but failed to progress to the final.
In December the same year, there was another full house (all tickets sold or distributed) with Hong Kong’s Under-23 side memorably beating Japan on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time to win their first-ever international title in the East Asian Games.
The venue has also hosted many international matches involving the Hong Kong national team, with the most recent one being in September 2023 when they put 10 goals past Brunei in a friendly match.
While Kitchee usually play their domestic football matches at Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong Stadium is their designated home ground for ACL matches.
Kitchee fans would recall a magical moment there in March 2018 when Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan teed up Cheng Chin Lung for a stunning injury time winner in 1-0 upset of Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol – in what turned out to be a first-ever victory by a Hong Kong club in the ACL.
That was also voted as the best goal of the competition that year.
Set against a scenic backdrop and a stadium jam-packed with memorable sporting action over the years, the Sailors will be hoping to create history of our own when we take on Kitchee at the arena on Wednesday night.