Over the last few days the English Premier League has come to Asia. Or Hong Kong to be more precise.
And the fans just can’t get enough of a league that likes to think of itself as “the best in the world,” given its global appeal. The tickets that went on general sale for the Premier League Asia Trophy sold out in just over 16 hours.
Beginning in Kuala Lumpur in 2003 and now in its eighth edition, this is a competition that’s expanding and gaining more global attention.
Four Premier League teams take part in the biannual tournament, which is in Hong Kong this time around, with Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion battling it out for bragging rights in Asia.
“It just get’s bigger and bigger and bigger,” the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore told CNN Sport. “Back in 2003 it was seen as pre-season friendlies but it’s evolved because of course a lot of young people just see it as a Premier League tournament.”
Liverpool overcame Crystal Palace 2-0 and Leicester City defeated West Brom in an entertaining penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw. The final will be between Liverpool and Leicester on Saturday.
Premier League passion
If fans in England see this competition as a warm up to August 11, when the Premier League kicks off again, they certainly don’t view it that way in Asia. For thousands of people in Asia, this is the real thing.
Scudamore suggested there was something a little different about football fans in Asia.
“Everywhere you have passionate fans and everywhere you go you get some form of knowledge. But the absolutely intensity of knowledge is quite incredible and here in Hong Kong something like three million claim to be Premier League football followers out of a population of about seven million.
“It’s really quite incredible in terms of the numbers and the passion and the knowledge that they display.”
On the demand for tickets, Scudamore added: “It’s much quicker, we have never sold out anything like that before. In fact, even four years ago in Hong Kong we were selling on match day.”
At a Premier Skills event, in the prelude to the competition, former England and Leicester footballer, Emile Heskey, who also played for Liverpool, said fans in Hong Kong are passionate because of their relative distance from the English game.
“They are probably a little more enthusiastic because they don’t see us. I think in England we are quite spoilt. When you get to see everyone all the time. Here, they don’t usually get to see us.”
Premier League romance
Fu Chik Yu (Jack) started supporting Liverpool because of Steven Gerrard and his ability to score long-range goals. He said one of his greatest memories was Gerrard’s headed goal in the dramatic 2005 Champions League final comeback against AC Milan.
“Oddly enough, Man United was the first team I watched in England. But my friend introduced me to Gerrard. Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard were both big players in England, but it was Gerrard who lead me to Liverpool,” said Jack.
The Liverpool fan was so excited about the Premier League Asia Trophy, he’d queued up to get photos and signatures with some of the players on their arrival in Hong Kong.
Sport and romance aren’t always things that go hand-in-hand, but Katy Chan and Gordon Choi say they fell in love because of Liverpool.
After just days of marriage, they turned up to the Hong Kong Stadium to support their favourite team. Chan said she fell for Choi after spotting him in a Liverpool shirt while out jogging. And guess the name they both had on the back of their shirts?
Leicester fan Hirofumi Tomishima had travelled from Tokyo, Japan to watch the entire tournament. He’d become a Foxes fan when Japanese player Shinji Okasaki joined the club.
“I love Shinji’s devoted playing style and Leicester’s cooperative football style,” said Tomishima. “Every week during the season I cheer for the TV watching from Japan.”
Finding Palace and West Brom fans was a bit more of challenge. But they were there, albeit in a smaller number.
“I like the way they promote the football, the way they allow the teams to play football attractively,” said Aaron Yu of the Premier League’s attraction.
“I like West Brom because I went to a game in 2013 and loved the atmosphere. They have real local pride and a special place in my heart.”
Palace fan Kit Lai liked the Premier League’s competitiveness, especially the way teams further down the league could often surprise the bigger clubs.
“Palace is usually a team near the bottom and have gradually clawed their way up the league. Oh, and I love Christian Benteke,” he added, referring to the London club’s Belgian striker.
And if the fans in Asia are happy, so is Scudamore. And who can blame given the Premier League claims a TV audience of over four billion from 212 territories each season, worth over $7 billion a year.
“Every two years it just expands and expands and expands and this is bigger than anything we’ve ever done before,” said the Premier League chief executive.
“I don’t think it will get bigger in terms of the number of teams but certainly in terms of fan interest and broadcasting interest around the world it will continue to grow. “