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Interview: Dale Tempest, ex-Hong Kong Striker “The South Koreans were absolutely all over my passport”

Alchetron

Of all the overseas players to play in Hong Kong, only a few have truly made a long-term impact on the local Hong Kong game with their passion and true affection for Hong Kong. There have been some interesting overseas signings who have come to play and grace the HK league such as Nicky Butt, Arie Haan,  Alan Ball and Bobby Moore and they have all impacted the game here in some way. One player whose professionalism and great attitude truly endeared him to Hong Kong football fans for nearly a decade was Dale Tempest .

The Leeds born Tempest had a steady career  as a striker in England with Fulham, Colchester and Huddersfield  until a chance to play for South China came around in 1989 and he did not look back. Hong Kong became his home away from home and he enjoyed unparalleled success with giants South China, Eastern and also played for the Hong Kong national team. Tempest was also amongst the goals as amazingly, he lead the HK First Division in terms of goals on a record five occasions (1989–90, 1990–91, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1994–95). Tempest is now a respected betting pundit with SkyBet in the United Kingdom but recently took time out to reflect on his memories in Hong Kong.

Dale Tempest is now an expert with Skybet – Photo: Alchetron

Tempest is aware of Eastern’s current participation in the Asian Champions league (at the time of writing) and he reflected playing for Eastern in the Asian Club Championships from 1993 to 1995 when Eastern played in the early variation of the Asian champions tournament when Eastern were domestic champions for three years in a row.

“I think we played against Verdy Kawasaki (in the 1993-1994 version) and I remember winning in Hong Kong and Tim O’Shea scoring for us in Japan (1-3 away loss) and I also remember playing Nagoya Grampus Eight when Wenger was there.”

“Yeah, Nagoya  Grampus Eight came for a friendly in Hong Kong and we were also drawn against them, by then the best Eastern team players had all then departed but we had qualified for the East Asian cup and we (Eastern) had a really weak side. I remember it specifically as I had stubbed my toe in training the day before and they drilled my toe nail so that I could get my boot on and I remember that I ended up getting gangrene in my toe and the following day I ended up going to ‘accident and  emergency’ as I was in such agony and I got the flight home and I went to the doctors in Hong Kong as soon as we landed and he said ‘I am going give you the strongest antibiotics that I can’ and come back in 24 hours after you can sleep. I went back and the doctor smelt gangrene in one foot so I was worried about losing my foot at that point. I got a little lucky and not such great memories of Japan for me.”

Dale Tempest also fulfilled the Hong Kong residency period of seven years in order to play for the Hong Kong national team and went onto represent Hong Kong in some 1998 World Cup qualifiers and these are still memories he treasures till this day.

“I also remember defeating Thailand in a 1998 World Cup qualifying game.  Hong Kong defeated Thailand 3-2 and I had two assists and Ricky Cheng got one; he was that good-looking lad who scored the winner in the last-minute.”

Tempest was a regular for the much respected Hong Kong league XI who would defeat top club and national teams on a regular basis. 

“I don’t what it was but it was sort of a golden period for Hong Kong football and we just used to beat all sorts of teams and I remember we beat Chile before they went to the World Cup in 1998 and the Hong Kong League XI did really well and we beat them 3-1 in the Carlsberg Cup.  It was a great time to be playing in Hong Kong in that period.”

“The biggest memory for me was playing in the World Cup qualifiers for Hong Kong. When you start off as a 12 or 14-year-old child kicking a ball around then you dream of playing in a World Cup and it something special as to be a professional is one thing but to play in the world cup is on a completely different level. I would have never gotten anywhere close to playing for England if I had stayed in the UK. I always remember one thing in Hong Kong, you played for the rugby team after three months working for the Hong Kong bank and you qualified but for the Hong Kong football team, it was seven years.”

“I remember when we went to play in South Korea away and the South Koreans were absolutely all over my passport and they wanted proof of the day I had arrived in Hong Kong seven years earlier. They kicked up a right fuss that I was allowed to play for Hong Kong but that was fantastic and the game against Thailand and I only had two games as I got injured for the game away in Thailand but I did not play in that one but did play against South Korea away. In my career of sixteen years, that was probably the most satisfying feeling to be able to do that; to stay seven years in Hong Kong and qualify to play for the national team”

Tempest played football and lived in Hong Kong for a sustained period of time and has very fond memories of his time there though he does keep in touch via  regular betting column in a local newspaper.

“My life in Hong Kong has pretty much passed on now. All my friends from Hong Kong have moved on and I am not in touch with any of the footballers but I bump into one or two people from time to time but yeah, not really. Spencer Robinson was a friend of mine and I stay in touch with him and he is living Singapore now. It was a great time but my friends moved on and life moved on when I came back to the UK in 1998.” 

“I still write for the Apple Daily: I still have a column in the Apply Daily every Saturday about betting. I think I have been doing it now for about seven or eight years so I must be making profit as they still ask me back. I work in the betting industry now in the UK so it works out quite nicely; so I send my column every Thursday morning to a Mr. Roger Ng and we get it sorted and it works out quite well.”

“Ross (Greer) went back to Australia; Tim O Shea, I have not seen Tim O Shea since I left Hong Kong.  Tim Bredbury (former HK international), I sort of have the odd message with him around Christmas but I have not seen Tim Bredbury since I left Hong Kong.”

As someone who loved life in Hong Kong so much, it came as a shock when he announced he would be returning to the United Kingdom for family reasons.

“I loved everything about Hong Kong. I loved the football there and I enjoyed the people and I enjoyed the lifestyle and I used to do television work and it always felt like it was a place I was for a period and the reason I came back was my mother passed away suddenly and so I still had a year left on my contract where I was and I could have stayed much longer but I had been there nine years and my career was pretty much over as I had some injury problems and my mother was only in her sixties and died of heart attack instantly so it felt like it was time to go.

“I wanted to bring my children back to England to spend time with their grand parents as for nine years, the kids had hardly seen them so it seems just a natural point but yeah, I had a great time in Hong Kong and met a load of great people and one day hopefully I will come back but I have been too busy at the moment but It would be great to have that opportunity to do it but one day I will.”

Tempest was part of the ‘Eastern’ dynasty which swept all before them in the mid nineties. In this period, matches between Eastern and South China used to attract crowds of up to 30,000 regularly at Hong Kong stadium. 

Tempest discussed why this period of time was so successful for that particular Eastern team which had players who became household names such as Tam Siu Wai, Lee Kin Wo, Ross Greer, Tim O Shea, the late Iain Heresford, Paul Nixon and Tempest himself.

“Timing is a massive factor and sometimes in some teams, things just click and if you look at Leicester last season then you could not make that up. It either just happens or it doesn’t. I think when Peter Leung took me from South China to Eastern and then Ross Greer came over, Tim O Shea, Iain Heresford the goalkeeper (who has since sadly passed on) and of course Lee Kin Wo came over.”

“Lee Kin Wo is the player where I just had this uncanny understanding of each other’s game which was bizarre as we both knew what exactly we were going to do every minute of the each game we played and I just knew where he would cross the ball and he knew my game inside out. It was just a perfect time really. I hope he has cut his hair as you cannot be in your fifties now and have hair like that!”

Lee Kin Wo – One of the best players that Tempest played with in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikipedia

“Lee was always a good player and had a good understanding of the game.  Lee was just one person who I got on well on and off the pitch. From the local players, he was just brilliant and a great winger and I played one twos with him all day and you have to give credit to the management for having the vision to see which players would work well so Peter Leung deserves some credit for that as well.”

As with all football experts, Tempest was happy to share his views on the development and growth of the Chinese Super League and the implications it meant in terms of financially, development of youth players in China and coaching.

“The Chinese league is going mad at the moment so what is going on there! I have had a few people talk to me about that with whats going on and the money in the Chinese league is a little bit surreal and it does not seem genuine at the moment.”

“The interesting thing for me is the development of football in different regions and the Japanese, they had one or two stars but what they were particularly clever with was with coaches and they developed their own game with high quality coaches which is the best model for trying to develop long-term success.

“If you like at the Major League Soccer now and that has sort of gone all that way and participation in the United States is phenomenon in terms of both men and women and that has been a model and the Japanese model looks like the one to follow and rather spend millions, I would like to see the best coaches in the world be taken out from China and develop from there.”

Fan Zhiyi playing for Crystal Palace Photo: http://www.sporting-heroes.net/

“We had one or two Chinese players coming over to the UK; Fan Zhiyhi (Dundee and Crystal Palace) and Sun Jihai (Crystal Palace and Manchester City)  did well but China needs to develop some top young players and the way to do that is to get the worlds best coaches into clubs and teach the players the game. and that is the only way to be successful in the long-term.”

Tempest also went on to give this thoughts as to why the Hong Kong football association and leagues are still independent from the CFA and the Chinese leagues.

“The Hong Kong Football Association basically did not want give up their independent FIFA status and that was why Hong Kong could never have a team in the Chinese super league as it make complete sense that Hong Kong compete and it still does to this day.”

For a player who lived and breathed the game in Hong Kong for so long, Tempest had many to stories to share about the wide-ranging number of characters that he met along the way and he said the most charismatic and biggest character he met was Peter Leung of Eastern, who like now, is synonymous with Eastern.

“Peter (Leung of Eastern) has always been ambitious and always looking for something better. I remember one of the best stories from Peter was when we played against Shanghai in the inter-port game and my contract had finished at the end of June so I was about a week away from a new contract  and had agreed everything with Peter though I had not signed anything and we actually drew 0-0 in Shanghai and we beat them on penalties which was very rare for a Hong Kong team which was allowed one or two expats back then so that was a great result.”

“I came back to the United Kingdom (for holiday) and I had a call the second I landed which told me that Peter Leung had signed Tony Sealey so Peter had basically completely ‘shafted’ me for no reason and to this day, I still have no idea why he did it; I had been top scorer and everything he wanted me to do I had achieved for the club and he did that so I ended up coming back to Hong Kong and I played a couple of games for Kitchee; I think it was two or three games. I still had a flat in Hong Kong so I came back and emptied the flat; I came back to the UK and I agreed a match by match deal with Mr Ng of Kitchee.” 

“I came back to Hong Kong and did some coaching and Kitchee had a really good start so that worked quite well but what worked particularly well was that Eastern had their worst start ever and I think they lost their first 3 or 4 games.”

“So for Eastern, it was a good thing I did not burn any bridges or said anything silly in the newspapers, so after about a month, Peter just called me and asked me if i wanted to go back to Eastern so I got the best deal I ever had and got a two-year contract. So from having a total nightmare from being shafted at Eastern, I ended up back at the club with a better contract and a two-year deal so it worked out ok in the end. It was Peter’s strength and weakness, he was looking to improve the team and brought into the idea that Tony Sealey would improve the team but quickly realised that about after three or four weeks that he had made a mistake and corrected it. You have to give him credit for that but to say that I was pretty pissed off with him for a while after he shafted me is a bit of understatement.”

“If Peter is honest then he will say that this is what happened exactly and I get along great with Peter and I did when I finished my career that there and these things happened but it does not change the facts of what happened. We just both put it behind us and got on and still to this day, I still call him a friend in Hong Kong.”

“Tony Sealey took my spot and ended up leaving Eastern so I never really socialized. It was a difficult situation to put it mildly for us. Every player is trying to improve themselves and their families position and I am sure he was delighted to join the champions as Eastern were at the time. I always use the analogy of playing in Hong Kong as Scotland and if you are playing for Rangers or Celtic then it is fantastic but for annoys the others teams then it is hard work which was the same for South China and Eastern back in those times.”

Life has moved on for Dale Tempest though Hong Kong will always be a big part of his life story and the Hong Kong football fans will be always be eternally grateful for this passion and zest for the local game during the nineties.

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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