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Exclusive Interview: Michael Campion of Sun Pegasus FC and Hong Kong

Michael Campion of Sun Pegasus and Hong Kong is not your ordinary footballer but then how many investment bankers turned wine merchants turned full-time footballers are active in the professional game? Thinking his dreams of top level football were behind him, a chance friendly against a professional team saw him impressing and being offered a contract (Citizen FC). He has since gone on to join high flyers Sun Pegasus and has represented the Hong Kong national side. Not bad for someone who was once trying to sell high quality wine as a living!

Campion has worked his way back from injury and has set about to pick up where he left; bossing the midfield as a holding player and helping Sun Pegasus capture one of the cups and gain an AFC cup place.  His story is a remarkable journey of persistence which has seen him attend school in Hong Kong (South Island),  go to Scotland for university, work in two white collar jobs before finally making it as a professional and pulling on the national shirt! Campion took time to speak to on the season so far, Sun Pegasus and his current ambitions and goals.

Sun Pegasus reached the final of the Canbo Senior Shield but sadly lost. Has this defeat acted as a spur and motivation for the rest of the season? What are the team’s ambitions? 

The defeat was tough to take for everybody involved, especially after we took the lead in spectacular fashion. I suppose what it did show though, is that there is not a significant difference in quality now between us and South China (the reigning league champions and best supported club in HK). If we’re honest, the league title is now beyond us, as Kitchee have just kept on winning relentlessly, but our ambitions are the same as they were at the start of the season…to win a piece of silverware. Obviously the Canbo Senior Shield was our first and possibly best chance of achieving that, but there is still the End of Season Playoffs and the FA Cup to fight for. Winning the playoffs and thus qualifying for entry in to next year’s AFC Cup would represent a successful season for us.

Personally, what has been the highlight of the season for you? 

Scoring the winning goal on my first start for the club against Royal Southern has been my favourite moment so far on a personal level. Despite being primarily a holding midfielder, I set myself the personal target of scoring a few goals from open play this season. To get off the mark at the very first time of asking, and get my team the three points in what was a tightly contested game, was a fantastic feeling.

Do you have any personal goals and targets for this season? 

My primary goal is very much aligned with the club’s targets, to win a trophy. Simple as that. I am hungry for more winner’s medals, and that’s why I joined a team that I felt was capable of challenging on all fronts. And of course, I want to contribute in the most tangible way which is by scoring vital goals and providing plenty of assists. I honestly derive just as much pleasure in creating a goal for someone else as I do from scoring myself. Some footballers are driven purely by scoring goals, that’s their lifeblood. Some defenders just love denying someone else the opportunity to score. Their pleasure comes from taking something away from someone else, and it’s always good to have someone like that in your team I think! But for me, I’m obsessed with making the pass that solves the puzzle, the pass that breaks the lines and makes everything easy for a teammate. That’s what I live for. Although living up to those ambitions has taken a backseat in recent months as I’ve been very unlucky with injuries, so my overriding concern at the moment is just to make a full recovery so I can contribute again.

Playing against South China

Playing against South China

The Hong Kong league is quite small. Do all the players know each other somehow or another?

Yes it would be fair to say that. Being a small place (albeit with a relatively large population!) a lot of the local players are familiar with one another, having grown up as teammates, schoolmates, or just as regular opponents. And because a lot of the foreign players are a long way from home, they tend to seek out each other’s company regardless of what team they play for and socialise a fair amount outside of football. Which I think is a great thing, as this often makes it much easier to settle in a new country as opposed to being in isolation. Due to a lack of space and quality pitches in HK, we will quite often share training facilities with one or two other teams as well, so you see each other coming and going quite often. But you need to put all those friendly feelings aside when it comes to match day.

Despite growing up in the Hong Kong; is it easy to communicate with your team mates? Are there any cultural differences? 

I grew up in Hong Kong when it was a British colony and attended an international school (South Island) where the teaching medium was English, so I never learnt to speak Cantonese as a kid. And now that I’m older, acquiring a new language, especially one as complex as Cantonese, is that much more difficult! So yes, there are times when I wish I spoke/understood Cantonese and could join in the banter a bit more with my local teammates, every day in fact! In pure football terms I don’t think it is a big problem though, as we all know the essential footballing commands and terms. And training sessions/team talks are always conducted in both Cantonese and English for the foreign players. You see this in teams and leagues all over the world now…football squads are extremely multinational.

Playing for the Hong Kong National Team

Playing for the Hong Kong National Team

Do you have to do much promotional work and marketing for Sun Pegasus?  

Sun Pegasus have invested lot of time, money and effort this season into promoting the Sun Pegasus ‘brand’, if you will. And that is a very positive thing in my opinion because everyone involved with HK football knows that the league has suffered from image problems for several years now, and our club is doing it’s very best to reverse that. We filmed a music video with the girl group ‘As One’, we started our own YouTube channel that is updated almost daily and shown on television screens on public buses and trains all over town, and there is more of a festive atmosphere at home matches now too. So yes, we as players have had to attend various photo shoots and charity events etc. but it’s all for the good of the club and the local game. We have to be optimistic. Just look at how far the Chinese Super League has come in the last ten years with the right investment and promotion.

What are your future plan and ambitions? Do you envision yourself playing in the Chinese super league? 

Haha it’s dangerous to plan too far ahead in football! I am trying to do my best to focus my energy on the present…to put in good performances on the field and trust that people will notice…the future will take care of itself. I am very ambitious though and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Like I said earlier, I came here to win medals and once I’ve done that I would like to play in a different country at a higher level. I think my coaches would be surprised if I DIDN’T say that. As for the Chinese Super League, it’s definitely an attractive proposition and I would like to test myself at that level. I am in the process of giving up my British Passport actually and if everything unfolds as it should, I should be in possession of my new Hong Kong passport before the summer, which would make me a ‘local/domestic player’ in China, should I make that move. As well as allow me to officially represent Hong Kong at international level of course. I still feel I have unfinished business in HK football to take care of first though.

Your path to being a professional footballer was an unique one! Please enlighten our readers about your journey from being a white collar office worker to being a Hong Kong international player?

Well I was heavily involved in the HK football scene as a kid and was a part of the National Team U18 setup. I had trials with Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Notts County in England before making my debut in the First Division for the Hong Kong Football Club as a 17 year old, but chose the academic route soon after and left to pursue a Bachelors Degree at Durham University in England. I played for the First Team at University and after graduation, returned to HK for a year where I was joint top scorer in the Second Division, alongside my current teammate and captain Jaimes McKee. I then returned to university to gain a Masters Degree in Business Management, this time at Edinburgh University up in Scotland. After graduating I stayed in Scotland to be close to my girlfriend (now wife!) and ended up taking my Investment Management exams and landed a job with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Whilst working at the bank, I used what limited energy I had left to train and play semi professionally in the East of Scotland League with Edinburgh University and Preston Athletic. We enjoyed a good little run in the Scottish FA Cup whilst I was there at both clubs and they were two great sets of lads, so although it was far from perfect, I made a lot of good friends who I’m still in touch with today.

After spending just over a year in the banking industry, I realised that I was actually miserable and chasing a dream that wasn’t mine, so I somehow convinced my then girlfriend that we should just pack our bags, sell my car and move to Canada for a year to learn how to snowboard from scratch! On the face of it, it sounds somewhat ridiculous now, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made, without a doubt. We lived without worries for six months in a condo with a private hot tub facing Whistler mountain, celebrated like locals during the Winter Olympics that were being held just metres from our front door, and ended up becoming pretty decent snowboarders. Whilst in Canada I took an interest in fine wines and decided that it might be fun to try and make a career out of that! So I found the best Wine Educator in North America, James Cluer MW and took an advanced crash course in the world of wines. Almost immediately after that I was given a great opportunity to work as a Sales Manager for a wine importer back in Hong Kong, which I accepted whilst playing part time in the First Division for HKFC once again. I put in some good performances for HKFC; good enough to make Citizen FC take notice who were planning for their upcoming AFC Cup campaign, to offer me a full time contract in the summer and that was that! So my CV looks like a child chucked a Scrabble board at a world map…

Have you fully recovered from injury and back in contention for a starting place in the team? 

I had recovered from an abdominal injury a few weeks back and was feeling pretty good, but soon after coming back I strained my adductor muscle, which was and still is pretty frustrating as I haven’t had any serious injury problems before. Unfortunately it’s just part and parcel of being a footballer I guess, we train very hard with little time for recovery, and I’m just hoping it’s going to keep me out for a couple of weeks rather than months. I want to help the boys perform strongly in the final straight having missed a large chunk of the season already.

Sun Pegasus are slowly building up a solid fan base. What steps are the club taking to draw more fans?

I think I’ve highlighted some of the reasons for this earlier. I’m told we have had the highest home attendances of all the teams this year, which is something we should be very proud of. I think a large part of it too, is that we have worked hard to make all the youth teams all the way down to the U12s feel a part of the club. So they and their families feel connected to and are invested emotionally in the fortunes of the First Team.

Currently, what are your favourite football boots?

Adidas Predators. Although for pure comfort and quality it’s hard to beat a pair of classic Adidas Copa Mondials!

All pictures courtesy of Chris KL Lau and Michael Campion.

Christopher KL Lau is the Hong Kong Correspondent for Wildeast Football. He has figured out twitter and can be found here: https://twitter.com/Chris_KL_Lau

 

Christopher KL Lau was born in England and grew up in both England and Hong Kong, and has a background in media, education and non-profits. He also is a freelance writer / photographer and has written for a number of magazines, websites and newspapers around the world on many subjects ranging from the arts to travel. Chris is passionate about sports and its place in society and is keen to promote both Hong Kong and Chinese football to a wider audience.

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