Football is a way of life. On the sidelines, Jeremy Chan speaks to a few of the Institute’s dedicated and talented footballers, and finds out what life is like for the Institute’s Football Interest Group. They share how joining the interest group has helped them stick with the sport through the years, and taught them more about teamwork and courage than anything else
Photography by Anthony Tung
The Institute's representative team playing a friendly match in the SS League.
If there is one thing Tom Ho has learned having been a footballer all his life, it’s that determination is everything. He still looks back on one match, which took place 10 years ago. “We were down by four goals – all in the first half,” he says, remembering his team’s downtrodden state. “I managed to score a goal in the second half, and that one goal motivated the spirit of the whole team.” As the minutes ticked by, his team slowly caught up, scoring three additional goals to bring the teams level, leading to a penalty shoot-out – which they won. “That was really the most memorable match for me,” Ho says.
That game was between the Institute’s football team and a Chinese team, in the Cross-Border Competition, a tournament involving CPA football teams in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. It is one of the many leagues they participate in.
Since forming in 1996, members of the Football Interest Group (FIG) have taken part in tournaments such as the Homeless World Cup, and friendlies such as the Happy League and SS League and organizing the CPA Football Competition. Ho is a member of the FIG and plays as a forward, and has been FIG Convenor for over a decade. He saw how the group grew from having a handful of CPAs at the beginning, to almost 700 players today. But even with this many members, Ho says getting enough players to show up for training is a challenge.
“Many of the younger players work overtime more often, especially at the last minute, making it hard for them to commit to regular training or formal matches,” says Ho, Partner at Ho, Lok & Pui CPA Limited. He sought an alternative – having the team play in friendly matches. By participating in friendly-games with firms and industries, known as the Happy League and the SS League, the team is able to play and train in a real-life match, all at once.
Tom Ho (right) is the Convenor of the Football Interest Group.
“We have some players in their 20s and some in their 50s. In the office, they are bosses or employees, but on the field they are football players. It’s not uncommon to see younger players giving their seniors commands on the pitch.”
An iron heart
Ivan Shum, Senior Finance and Accounting Manager of Ground International Development Limited, got into the sport at the age of eight. He joined the FIG in 2012 playing mainly as a defender and midfielder. “I’ve always loved playing football,” Shum says, citing ex-Real Madrid’s legendary forward Raúl as his all-time favourite player. Shum says though the roster of the Institute’s team changes, and depends on which players are available to take part, the team still discusses their strategies before each match. “For example, if the opposing team has many tall players, we won’t perform too many long passes, to maintain possession,” he says. “We also assign our fastest and tallest members to different parts of the pitch. We tend to place faster runners at the front.”
Shum’s fondest memory was scoring two goals in one match during the Homeless World Cup – an international four-a-side charity event, which since 2003 has promoted the social inclusion of homeless people and disadvantaged groups through football. The event receives donations from various companies and celebrities, who are then eligible to compete. The donations go toward subsidizing the winning team to play at the International Homeless World Cup overseas. Some teams are made up of players once homeless such ex-convicts, gambling addicts and asylum seekers, and some are made of local celebrity football players, politicians and corporate sponsors. The Institute’s team takes part every year, and has done so since 2013.
He recalls how he stayed determined during one game against local professional players who had just conceded their 11th goal. “When you play football, there are always ups and downs. You need an iron heart and you cannot give up easily,” he says. “I made use of every minute and did not get discouraged by the score. We scored one goal during the first half, and one in the second.”
The common goal
Another player, Bernard Fung, plays as a forward and midfielder. He remembers playing from the age of seven with his elder brother. “We played on building rooftops with 20 to 30-year-old guys,” recalls Fung, Senior Risk Manager of Link Asset Management Limited.
Since joining the FIG a decade ago, he has also seen the team pull through thick and thin. “Most guys in the FIG usually play for fun, so playing in different leagues is a challenge for us,” he says. He has just taken part in this year’s seven-a-side CPA Football Competition. With matches taking place on weekends over three months, and 19 CPA teams vying for the top prize – the Charles Mar Fan Cup. His most memorable game was a recent match against PwC.
“Our opponents managed to concede a goal in the first half, and one of our key players got injured too. It was a bad start,” Fung says. He remembers rounding up his teammates during half-time to keep their spirits up. “We discussed which position to play in, which formation to assume, and who to pass the ball to. It was important to deliver the message clearly.” With the team playing in synchrony, they scored one goal before the final whistle, luckily ending with a draw. Though his team didn’t advance too far in the competition, Fung is proud of the team’s determination.
In his 10 years with the FIG and playing on the Institute’s teams, Fung points out he notices more younger players joining the interest group compared to before, and that he sees an encouraging level of synergy between players of different generations. “We have some players in their 20s and some in their 50s. In the office, they are bosses or employees, but on the field they are football players. It’s not uncommon to see younger players giving their seniors commands on the pitch,” he laughs.
“We all love football, strategizes mid-training so it’s easy to make friends and network too, as there is always something to talk about.”
Passing it on
Alex Yu joined in 2013, and quickly noticed the camaraderie shared among the players. “We all love football, so it’s easy to make friends and network too, as there is always something to talk about,” he says. Yu is a midfield player in the team and Risk Control Officer at a finance firm.
Yu got into the sport at the age of five. Despite being busy on the weekdays, being part of the FIG has given him the opportunity to continue pursuing his passion for the sport with other like-minded professionals, he notes. “It has also kept my skills sharp all these years,” he says. “When I was younger, it was always about winning a match. Of course, it feels good to win, but to me, it’s about maintaining that close friendship with my teammates. Without them, I don’t have people to play football with.”
Yu has also picked up another hobby – teaching football. He wakes up early on Saturdays and Sundays to teach the essentials to an eager group of primary school kids, and has been doing so for almost three years. “We work on techniques such as passing, shooting and dribbling through and around opponents.” Yu says he wants the children to enjoy football lessons he never had as a kid. “When I was their age, I didn’t have the chance to attend any of these classes, and I never had a coach. Most of us learned to play football by playing with others.” Seeing the kids improve each session and enjoy themselves brings a smile to his face, and Yu says he will continue teaching them as long as he can. “The kids have so much fun. They’re always laughing with each other during classes, and that makes me laugh too.”
He is grateful he joined the FIG in the first place, and recommends it to all members of the profession. “CPAs should join more interest groups. Join something you are really interested in.”
Standing with his eyes fixed, legs apart and arms outstretched is Chris Chen, the team’s goalkeeper. Unlike his teammates who played as children, he only started playing football in his university years. Before that he was a basketball player, to both his team’s surprise – and delight. “After joining the Institute’s team, they asked me to be the goalkeeper since they knew I was a basketball player and might do better at catching a ball,” he laughs. “I wasn’t much of an outfield player anyway.”
Chen, Finance Manager of a listed company, joined the FIG the same time as Shum in 2012, and was intrigued with the prospect of playing football in a CPA team, but what struck him the most was his role. “It’s my job to save the ball, and if I make one little mistake, the other team might score a goal so it can be stressful sometimes,” he says.
The most demanding situation, he says, is facing a penalty shoot-out. “It’s very hard for a goalkeeper to save a penalty, because players shoot from close-range,” he explains. “You have to either react very quickly, or guess which direction your opponent will shoot. It’s a combination of reaction time and a bit of luck.” Though he has conceded a few penalties, he has also saved a handful. “You will miss a few, but you have to move on quickly.” Chen intends on remaining a goalkeeper, and looks forward to improving with each match. “I usually chat with my teammates after some matches and ask ‘what could I have done to save that goal?’ I always look forward to the next one and think about how to do things better.”
Chen says long working hours is no excuse, and highly recommends interested CPAs to consider joining the interest group. “We are looking for playing willing to participate and play long-term,” he says. “This is a great platform to not only play football and exercise, but also make friends from different industries. Come and sign up!”
With almost a year to go until the next CPA Football Competition, the five players aren’t too fussed about winning or losing. Instead, they look forward to keeping the FIG, and the undying spirit of the interest group, alive and kicking. Fung says: “Don’t just sign up to win and score goals, sign up to learn from being part of a great team, and get something out of it.”
The Football Interest Group is looking to recruit passionate players to play in friendly matches and competitions. For more details on sports and recreational interest groups, visit www.hkicpa.org.hk