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Ex-FIFA Referee Jimmy Chan “I attended games at the old HK stadium and there used to be crowds of 20,000”

Jimmy Chan in Hong Kong. Photo: Chris KL Lau

Jimmy Chan has seen most of the highs and lows of Hong Kong football from a great vantage point; as a referee who has maintained peace and discipline on the field.

He’s also run the line and been in the thick of the action from grassroots games to packed out international matches as a FIFA qualified referee. There is also the chance that Jimmy Chan has either booked you or even sent you off as he has been actively involved in amateur football in Hong Kong for years! Since his retirement as a top-level referee, he has helped to train and develop the next generation of referees in Hong Kong and across Asia as a AFC / FAUK (international) referee instructor. Football is his passion and runs in his blood and he is more than happy to chat about the state of the game in Hong Kong and around the world.

Jimmy took some time out to discuss his memories of Hong Kong football from the vantage point of the officials who ensure the game is played out properly yet who seek to remain discreet and elusive. He began by sharing his earliest memories.

Jimmy Chan in the early days of his refereeing career. Photo: Jimmy Chan

“I liked to play and kick a ball around and I played in the third division of the Hong Kong leagues as a player and I liked to watch the first division games.  At that time, it was quite difficult to get a ticket so I wanted to be a referee so I could attend any stadium to watch a game!”

Chan went onto discuss his move up the ranks as a referee; from the time he started out, to the time to the time, he eventually became a FIFA qualified referee who took charge of international games. 

“I started to referee in 1973 as a third class referee and in 1979, I was promoted to a class two referee and in 1981, I was promoted to class 1. I was a class 1 referee for eight years and in 1989, I was nominated as a FIFA referee by the HKFA until 1994 and then I retired.”

Chan was lucky enough to see Hong Kong football in its heyday and remembers the classic matches held at the old Hong Kong stadium.

“Aside from some international games, a memorable game was South China versus Bulova SA. This game was a full house game at the old Hong Kong stadium. It was a local game and I believe at this time, that South China was in third or fourth position and Bulova SA was second and there were many many spectators and I believe it was a record attendance.”

“There were players like Tommy Hutchison and he played for Bulova SA and South China had players like Fung Chi Ming and Wong Man Wai.”

Jimmy Chan went onto lament the drop in standards and diminishing crowds at Hong Kong matches and the implications for refereeing standards.

“Now in Hong Kong, there are no important matches and there has been a drop in spectators and when I attended games at the old stadium, there used to be crowds of 20,000. This was quite common and, as a referee, we could not commit any mistakes as the fans would scold the referees and even throw items like apples and oranges and bottles! So when I refereed these games, I had to concentrate and not make mistakes and a lot of committee experts used to watch our performances to make sure we were up to standard to be FIFA referees.”

Jimmy Chan (right) and fellow referees. Photo: Jimmy Chan.

“Nowadays, there are no spectators and there are only a few teams in the Hong Kong Premier league and there are no more stars or idols in Hong Kong. There are so many empty seats now and the atmosphere is not there anymore.”

“I remember I was invited to be a referee at an international game in Shanghai and I remember it was a China Olympic National side against Romania from Eastern Europe in 1992. It was a Marlboro cup game and there were 60,000 fans. After that game, I felt no pressure when I came back to HK to referee games and this was a really good experience. The referees now in Hong Kong probably do not have the pressure they used too but they cannot improve and upgrade their standards.”

When asked what were the qualities required to make a top level referee then Chan shared his tips and insights.

“First, referees have to pass their physical fitness tests and then they must understand the laws of the game and they have to use their mind and intelligence. Even if you are really physically fit and if you do understand the laws then it is not useful as you have to have a quick response and you have to know how to handle the game and how to manage the game without any troubles.”

“If you can have greater chances to referee large games then you will have a greater chance to obtain more experience. You can now see that in Hong Kong no one goes to watch football and this means standards are not as high.”

Chan also went on to mention how Hong Kong football used to have a huge pool of advertising revenue and that companies used to fight it out for the best slots around the pitches.

Jimmy Chan has enjoyed teaching the next generation of coaches and referees. Photo: Jimmy Chan

“In my time, refereeing the games, there were so many advertisements at the stadiums and even Carlsberg were a major sponsor and this was because an ex player named Derek Currie became marketing manager at Carlsberg and he organised many international tournaments over Chinese new year. Companies used to fight it out for advertising spaces at the games to have their signs in the centre of the stadiums due to television coverage.”

Given the number of games, he had refereed, Chan was in a good position to pass his opinion on the best players he had seen. 

“The best player now is Yapp from Eastern and he is very good. The best local player was Wu Kwok Hung who has sadly passed away. But after Lee Kin Wu, I cannot think of any truly outstanding Hong Kong born players. The best international player was the Dutch player, Theo de Jong, who had played for the Netherlands national team and for Seiko.”

Jimmy Chan also reflected on the gap between the HKPL and the Chinese Super League.

“The Hong Kong Premier League cannot compare with the Chinese Super League. If you look at Evergrande then they have huge amounts of money to spend on stars.”

Chan has been involved in the amateur game for years and shared his views on the grassroots game as he has helped to organize several amateur leagues. 

“The standard of amateur football is pretty good here in Hong Kong.”

Years of experiences and a treasure trove of memories; like many fans, Jimmy Chan hopes that he has not seen the best of Hong Kong football and that there are brighter days ahead.

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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