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Monday 15 July 2013

'BAT gives us the chance to see players up close'

Spurs HK chairman Stewart Banister looks forward to watching his heroes at the Barclays Asia Trophy

  • Tottenham fans in Hong Kong gather to watch their team

  • Captain Michael Dawson will lead the Spurs side in the Barclays Asia Trophy

Later this month, some of the biggest stars in the Barclays Premier League will travel to Hong Kong as Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, South China and Sunderland take part in the sixth Barclays Asia Trophy. The event gives fans the opportunity to experience the unique atmosphere of the Barclays Premier League as well as the chance to see their heroes in action. We spoke to Stewart Banister, chairman of Spurs HK - the official supporters club of Tottenham Hotspur in Hong Kong - about how much he is looking forward to this year’s tournament.

When was the fan club formed?
Officially, in May this year, but the supporters' club has been around since the 1990s and has grown over the years. In more recent times it was called 'Spurs in Hong Kong' and more recently as 'Tottenham HK'. Spurs HK as it is now known, is a well-organised fan club with about 300 members. We have two smaller satellite local supporters’ groups that run forums and websites in Chinese but they sit under our overall umbrella. We have our own football team, pub quiz team and social activities and other fans regard us as the most well administered Barclays Premier League supporters group in Hong Kong.

Tell us more about how the fan club experiences Spurs’ BPL matches in Hong Kong?
The supporters club has an arrangement with a large local pub in the Wanchai District. The pub provides an upstairs bar for us to watch all live Barclays Premier League matches. Depending on the team we are playing and the kick-off time, we get between 30 to 120 fans turning up to watch. Most fans know each other and there is a good community feel about the place. Fans visiting from the UK or other countries know where to find us and are welcomed as soon as they enter the bar. The atmosphere is superb. Songs are chanted and the noise if we score a goal can be heard right down the other end of the street! The Barclays Premier League is by far the most popular football broadcast in Hong Kong so the pubs can be jammed up for the big matches.

Is this the first time that Spurs have visited Hong Kong?
No, Tottenham Hotspur played against a Hong Kong XI team in 1994, then 15 years later they played a friendly against South China at the Hong Kong Stadium. In between Spurs brought a youth team over in 2007 to play in the annual Soccer 7s tournament at the Hong Kong Football Club.

What does plans do you have for the team’s presence in Hong Kong?
Several fans will be at the airport when the team arrives on 22 July and they will also attend the open training session on 23 July. There are other Tottenham events and sponsor events where fans will be onsite as well. As for the two games that Spurs will play in, fans will be there in large numbers and in good voice - as usual!

How much does the arrival of the club on your patch help the fan club? Does it boost numbers?
Our supporters' club recently received official status but there have been many Tottenham fans in Hong Kong for a long time. The arrival of the club here, just as it did in 2009, unifies the fans from Hong Kong and builds bridges with other supporters clubs in the region. We expect the Barclays Asia Trophy to boost the number of fans but what does that most effectively is how well we do in the Barclays Premier League.

Who are the players you are looking forward to seeing in Hong Kong?
I would say as many of the main first-team players as possible and of course, most fans would say they would be looking forward to seeing the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Jermain Defoe (to name a few). I am just hoping that the weather isn't too hot for them!

What is different when seeing your idols in the flesh rather than on a TV or in the press?
I guess you get a closer or more emotional feeling towards a team/club when you see the players up close and to have a closer view of their footballing skills is an added bonus. For many fans here - especially the much younger ones – it is their only chance to see these players live as they can't fly over to London easily and get a ticket for a big match at White Hart Lane.

What do you recommend the Spurs team should do in Hong Kong in their down-time?
The team will be busy with formal engagements but if they do get some down-time, I would suggest they jump on a big Chinese-styled junk and take a cruise around the harbour. Hong Kong has the best city skyline on the planet and the views of the harbour are magnificent - especially at night. There's also a laser show in the harbour every night at 8pm.

What sort of experience should the Tottenham team expect when playing the Hong Kong Stadium?
They will need to drink plenty of water whenever they get the chance as it will be hot. The team should not be surprised about the great support they will receive from the fans, which will be even bigger than in 2009. There is a cosmopolitan support for Spurs as there is a large fanbase for the club from local and British people.

What sort of other activities do you arrange outside of watching matches?
We have a football team that play in two local league competitions, we also have a pub quiz team which meets every Wednesday and occasionally we have social events like a trip to the outlying islands for some seafood or a social gathering in another pub in the Central District. Our common love of Tottenham has led to a real social network of people who try to help each other in ways outside of the Spurs experience. The fan base is very diverse and they regard eachother as like brothers or sisters.

Do Hong Kong people follow BPL football in different way to the English? Do they view the teams and players in a different way? Are their heroes the same as those for English fans?
Most Hong Kong people generally follow football differently to the traditional English fan. Many fans here have a love of the game, follow and stick to one club and are very knowledgeable about the game, the players and the football culture. However, there is possibly a majority of fans in Hong Kong, and throughout Asia, that tend to follow a Premier League club that is currently more successful on the pitch. For a club that wins the BPL or even the Champions League, you will see more of their shirts worn on the streets here the next day. Many fans here have two to three different team shirts hanging in their wardrobe, which is generally unthinkable for someone who is from the UK.

A limited number of tickets are still available for semi-finals day and can be bought here.

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Key Points

  • Barclays Asia Trophy takes place in Hong Kong last this month
  • Manchester City, Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur and South China FC are all taking part
  • We speak to the chairman of Spurs HK to find out what the experience will be like