(Lozil says: “hopechaser has been sending me posts over the couple of days but I haven’t had time to get them on the blog – Mea culpa!”)
How did I miss this news?! Back in April, Hong Kong’s Eastern won their first national club title in 21 years. The history part? It was a 27-year old female who coached them to the title. Booyah Chan Yuen-ting!
From South China Morning Post:
She made history as the first woman to lead a men’s team to a top-flight championship, but Eastern head coach Chan Yuen-ting admits she almost quit football a year ago.
Chan, just 27, made worldwide headlines on Friday night after a 2-1 win over South China secured Eastern’s first Hong Kong Premier League title for 20 years.
Arriving home around 2am on Saturday morning from a celebratory banquet, Chan had a sleepless night, buzzing from the excitement. And it might never have happened had it not been for a call from the man she eventually replaced as Eastern head coach, Yeung Ching-kwong.
“I was ready to quit at least two times,” said Chan, who twice lost jobs at previous team Pegasus as sponsors pulled out.
“I was really depressed and thought ‘Should I go on in Hong Kong football because it looks like the future is not stable and there’s no long-term development?’
“I wanted to give up and at that moment I was looking at other jobs, like maybe working in government or police or becoming a PE teacher or something like that. I almost quit and then Mr Yeung called and brought me to Eastern [Yeung later moved to a Japanese club and was replaced by Chan].
“There’s a lot of ups and downs in Hong Kong football, but a lot of people working very hard. Everyone is doing their best for Hong Kong football, so I ask myself to do my best too, and I hope I can help Hong Kong football.”
Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting becomes first woman ever to coach a men’s soccer team to top-flight title
Chan is one of the few women in the world coaching a men’s professional team, with Corinne Diacre, chasing promotion to France’s Ligue 1 with Clermont, the best-known example.
“I don’t think I’m a very good role model, but what I did is a message for [young women], if they’re really interested in football to chase their dream,” she said.
“It’s an example for them to keep fighting and chase your dream and you can get what you want.
“I lack experience and I’m not really a very good head coach, but I’m very lucky because I have very good assistant coaches and also the players gave me a lot of support.”
Chan is younger than many of her players and never played professionally. She paid glowing tribute to their support.
“Whether I’m male or female, young or old, I still have to do my job,” she said. “Once I became the head coach I just concentrated on my duties.
“There were quite a lot of difficulties that I had to overcome.
“The viewpoint or thinking between male or female is very different, so I can’t really understand what my players think, especially since I’ve not been a professional player. I needed to ask a lot and have good communication and listen to them when I had some questions or didn’t understand.
“Secondly, to manage the atmosphere in the changing room sometimes is very difficult, especially when we are down or losing. I’m still learning, but fortunately my players didn’t always challenge me or ask a lot of questions, they just trusted me and followed my plan.”
Chan was doubting herself after some recent poor results. Failure to beat South China on Friday would have set up a winner-takes-all final game of the season against second-placed Kitchee, which is now a dead rubber.
“We lost a lot of cup games and were really down in a a very bad period,” added Chan. “I was really worried and during training I didn’t say anything, I showed that I was really unhappy.
“The players gave me a lot of positive energy, they just came to me and encouraged me and supported me to bring me from the down times and come back to the team; I really appreciate it and want to thank everyone.”
Peter Leung Shou-chi, Eastern’s executive director, never lost faith.
“From the first day I supported her as a coach,” he said. “I handed a one-year contract to her before the match, and showed everybody that we signed the contract. People said she was too young, but I thought in Hong Kong she’d be okay.”
Leung says he has already begun signing reinforcements for Chan’s tilt at the Asian Champions League next season.
Mark Sutcliffe, chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association, hailed her success as “a great day for equality in sport”.
“Football is changing for the better and becoming much more inclusive,” he said. “Only a short time ago it was seriously male-dominated with women’s football not taken seriously at all.
“The success of Eastern this season under the direction of a female coach is well-deserved. They have consistently been the best team. She is not only an excellent coach but also a superb role model for all girls and women wishing to get involved in football.”
Chan – nicknamed ‘Beef Ball’ since secondary school because of its similar pronunciation in Cantonese to her name and her hard-working ‘ox-like’ attitude – will take a rare week off after the final game of the season for a holiday in Japan with family, before turning her attention to next term.
“It’s a really big challenge for me – the level between the Asian competition and Hong Kong is quite a big difference so we want to have good planning for next season, find good players, have good preparation,” she added.
“I’m planning to take the AFC Pro Licence and hope to learn new things and new experience to help bring to the team.”
From The Guardian:
Forget the East Midlands, perhaps the biggest story of the football year is in east Asia, where Eastern won the Hong Kong Premier League title in April. The wait since the last championship had been 21 years but the headlines were all about the 27 year-old head coach Chan Yuen-ting.
Just days after lifting the trophy, she was presented with another prize. This time it came from the Guinness Book of World Records, for being the first woman to win a top-flight title in men’s professional football.
“I never thought this would happen,” she tells the Guardian. “I am not accustomed to all the attention – the photos, the interviews, the videos. It has not been good or bad. I just wanted to do well and if I do then attention is normal. People tell me my story is positive and encourages fans to chase their dream, not to give up and the media helps me spread that message.”
It needs spreading. Women in the men’s game are almost non-existent. French second division team Clermont Foot appointed Helena Costa as head coach in 2014. She lasted 49 days before resigning. There was a lack of respect she said, with key decisions made behind her back. Club president Claude Michy claimed different forces were at play. “She is a woman,” he said. “They are capable of leading us to believe in certain things.” He then hired another female, Corinne Diacre.
Chan’s success can only help other women. “Maybe I can be a good example,” she says. “It depends on the culture of the region. In Hong Kong, between men and women, there is no discrimination. We are really fair. I am young and a woman and the club gave me a chance.”
It came in December, as the former head coach at Eastern left to take up a post in China. As the only member of the coaching staff with a license from the Asian Football Confederation, Chan was offered the job.
Despite her age, her involvement in the top tier of Hong Kong football goes back six years. The lack of professional women’s football in the former British colony at least facilitated an early start to a coaching career for ‘Beef Ball’ (the nickname is a long story involving the similarity of one of her names to a Cantonese character and her personality to the traditional Chinese view of a cow), even if her parents preferred the more traditional vocation of teaching. She started with Pegasus in 2010, as a video analyst, and five years later made the Eastern move. Little did she know that she would soon become the boss.
“At the beginning [after taking the job], I regretted becoming head coach. I was scared. I didn’t think I was qualified to lead one of the top teams in Hong Kong. I lacked experience but the club, the staff and the boss kept talking to me, encouraging me and supporting me.
“After one or two days, I felt better but I was nervous.” A 6-1 win in the opening game helped as did a second game victory over Eastern’s closest challengers, South China. “That gave me confidence.”
Chan gives plenty of credit to the outgoing coach Yeung Ching Kwong. “He built the team’s style and we knew the strengths and weaknesses of our players.” The one-time David Beckham fan tweaked rather than tinkered. “At the half season point, we sat and watched all our games so far and analysed our weaknesses. I tried to solve our defensive problem as we sometimes lacked concentration and balance.” Being top sometimes made it harder. “Other teams sat back and it was difficult for us to score. We had to improve our movement in order to break down a compact defence.”
It worked. The title was clinched with a 2-1 win at South China on 22 April. “When the game ended, I felt I was dreaming. All the staff came to me and told me to smile as I could not. It was amazing. All season everyone had worked so hard.” Then came the headlines. First in Hong Kong, then China then Asia and the world.
“To be honest, her success doesn’t surprise me – women are disproportionately successful as coaches once they are given the opportunity,” said Moya Dodd the former Australia international and Fifa Executive Committee member. “We see this in women’s football, where all but one of the major world tournaments since 2000 have been won by female-coached teams – even though most of the coaches are male.”
The only surprise for Dodd is that the opportunity was actually there. “I’m sure many women coaches will be greatly heartened by her success and recognition. Currently women coaches are all but foreclosed from jobs in men’s football, which is where probably 99% of the money lies. The gender pay gap in coaching is more like the Grand Canyon.” Dodd would like to see more women given coaching chances in both sides of the game.
Chan, who has already been offered a job by a Spanish second division club, will stay with the men for the near future. Eastern will most likely be in the Asian version of the Europa League next season and that will be an exciting challenge.
After that though, there should be plenty of options. “In Hong Kong, I will keep working in men’s football. One day, if a national women’s football team want me, I am happy to go.”
“But it depends on the opportunity. I would love to work in the USA or the UK or elsewhere in Europe. I want to keep improving and learning first. There is still so much to learn.”