A halted tradition resumes, sort of

The world is still recovering from the spectacle that was the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which saw Argentinian forward Lionel Messi cement his status as one of soccer’s all-time greats with Argentina’s win over France in the final.

The world is also still recovering from an unprecedented pandemic that put a halt to routine parts of daily life, from going to work or school in person to attending live sporting events.

For Hong Kong, sports have provided an opportunity to celebrate both a beloved holiday and the beginning of a return to normalcy. After a three-year hiatus, the city hosted the Lunar New Year Cup, with Kitchee defeating Eastern AA in penalties 4-2 after finishing extra time at 1-1 in the finale of the 119th season of the Hong Kong Senior Shield.

While it was an adapted version of an annual tradition, the match was well-received by the community. More than 1,000 fans bought tickets prior to the game, with many more purchasing admission at the box office. 

“All we want to see is our players enjoying a good match, and the fans come and feel happy to watch the game during the festive time,” said Roberto Losada, current Eastern AA Head Coach and former Kitchee Footballer of the Year.

The Lunar New Year Cup, an annual tournament in Hong Kong between international soccer squads, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic just days before it was slated to take place in 2020.

Over the next two years, coronavirus woes continued to befall the tournament, which was last played in 2019. The tournament’s absence, having been a holiday tradition since 1908, left a hole in the Hong Kong soccer community. 

“We grew up in the days of the Lunar New Year tournament which was the biggest event of the year, especially in the late last century,” said Chu Chi-Kwong, Kitchee Head Coach, in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

 “It was the major activity on New Year’s Day as we went to Hong Kong Stadium to watch football after having the family lunch,” Chi Kwong said 

The event, which was at one point an opportunity for different countries to visit Hong Kong during the widely-celebrated holiday, continued in a different fashion Sunday.

Previously, teams from all over the world took part in the Lunar New Year celebration in Hong Kong, with the New York Cosmos the last participating team from a United States-based league. 

Despite a change in the cup’s traditional participants, there was a great deal of excitement leading up to the first Senior Shield cup final since the pandemic began.

“We hope fans and even those who do not attend domestic games regularly can come on Sunday to spend a wonderful afternoon filled with exciting football and a festive atmosphere,” Chi Kwong said.

Officials plan to resume international play in the summer, leading the way to the potential that come 2024, the Lunar New Year Cup could once again host teams from around the globe. However, some speculate that the Hong Kong Football Association could continue hosting its final on Lunar New Year weekend. 

“We know that it is difficult to get overseas teams during this period, so the Football Association could consider making the domestic cup final a regular fixture for this weekend, like the Lunar New Year Cup,” Chi-Kwong said.