Charles Nwanaga, Sai Kung Sharks Coach: One day after training with my team in Hong Kong, I saw some kids kicking a football around the pitch. I was impressed by their skills so I said to them, ok, let’s play together. Suddenly, it became a regular thing and when I had finished training I would coach those youngsters. That group grew and eventually they went to a local football tournament and came back with silver medals. They dedicated their medals to me. That was the beginning of Sai Kung Sharks back in the year 2000. Now we have nearly 60 children training at Sai Kung Sharks during the week and we play in the Hong Kong Junior league.
I love Sai Kung and we have received great support from the community. I believe that over the years we have built something really special. Sai Kung Sharks is a community and it’s a place where young people can enjoy playing football without being in a pressurised environment. They can just relax, play the game and have fun. We have a lot of talented young players and I hope that some of them can make it into senior teams. I have introduced some of our players to the senior teams at the clubs I used to play for. However, many parents want their child to concentrate on their studies and to study abroad one day, which I understand.
I started playing football when I was five years old. Eventually, I made it into the top league of Nigerian football. My most memorable moment as a footballer was the FA cup final in Nigeria. I remember that we won 1 – 0 and it completed my trophy collection. The team that I played with that year won every title on offer. By 1997, I had won everything that there was to win in the Nigerian football league and I wanted to test myself abroad. Through an agent I was offered the chance to play in Guangzhou, China. I was due to arrive in Hong Kong first and then travel onwards to Guangzhou. However, when I arrived in Hong Kong there was nobody here to meet me. The offer to play in Guangzhou fell through and so I ended up playing for some teams in Hong Kong.
I played for a few teams including Sai Kung Friends and Rangers. A few years ago when I was playing for Rangers I suffered a knee injury: during a league game I jumped up in the air to challenge for the ball and landed awkwardly on one leg. I knew straight away that I had seriously hurt my knee. Instead of getting surgery I had intense physiotherapy for a few months and then went back to play. Looking back now I know that the ligaments were not properly healed. Our team was under pressure and faced relegation and my boss asked me to come back and play to rescue the team. During the final six games I scored eight goals and we stayed up. Of course, now I regret coming back to play so soon before the injury had healed. I had such a passion for the game and I rushed back too soon.
When I played at the national stadium in Nigeria I was playing in front of 80,000 people. I used to run out onto the pitch and feel the expectation of the fans to play well. I miss those days a lot. My injury prevents me from playing football anymore, but I’m trying to fix my knee so that I can at least kick the ball during training and play a little just for fun.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many kids around Sai Kung over the past 15 years. I love bumping into familiar faces on the street and around Sai Kung because of the work that I have done over the years. We are looking to invest in the team this year to get the best out of our young players. One of our initiatives is called ‘Soccer Mind’. The programme is about creating awareness in young players and making them focus while they are on the pitch. Some of the kids are as young as four years old and it is easy for them to get distracted. We are working hard to make them focus right from the start of each game until the very end.
We will also open our training sessions to toddlers and girls so that all young children can enjoy the beautiful sport of football. All our football shirts will carry a “Say NO to racism; be a champion” badge to highlight the values that we at Sai Kung Sharks are proud of. I can’t wait for the new season to start.
For more information about the Sai Kung Sharks visit their website at www.saikungsharksfc.com.