Football: Hong Kong woman becomes 1st female coach to win men's top-flight national league

Hong Kong trailblazer Chan Yuen Ting, during training with assistant coach Lai Kai Cheuk and Australian forward Andrew Barisic, is the first female coach to take a men's football team to a top-flight title.
Hong Kong trailblazer Chan Yuen Ting, during training with assistant coach Lai Kai Cheuk and Australian forward Andrew Barisic, is the first female coach to take a men's football team to a top-flight title. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Chan Yuen Ting became the first woman coach to take a men's football team to a top-flight title thanks to a teenage crush on David Beckham and the toughness that earned her the nickname "beefball" .

The 27-year-old led Eastern Sports Club to Hong Kong's Premier League title earlier this month for the first time in 21 years.

It was the Hong Konger's debut season as coach and earned her a Guinness World Record mention as the first woman coach to win a men's championship title in a top-flight national football league.

Her path into the game started as a 13-year-old, when she became glued to watching Manchester United games on TV and, in particular, England player Beckham, whom she swooned over as "handsome".

The crush soon developed into a love of the game itself and propelled her into a football coaching career, despite opposition from her parents.

"I think no matter your age or your gender, what you need is hard work," she said. "You are nothing if your team is doing badly. On the pitch I forget my gender as a woman. I just hope to show my abilities."

After playing amateur football for university teams and representing Hong Kong, Chan decided to take the coaching track so she could break into the men's professional game.

She went from assistant coach to head coach at Eastern in December after her predecessor accepted an offer from a Chinese club.

Since then, she has set out to win the players' respect, spending hours dissecting match videos and statistics to demonstrate her deep knowledge of the game.

She says: "You have to trust science. It is leading modern football."

At a training session in Hong Kong, eagle-eyed Chan, dressed in a black tracksuit, takes her place in the centre of team passing drills and quietly watches, sometimes running alongside the players.

"I keep listening to them and like communicating with them," she says.

And she still harbours a childhood dream to meet Beckham one day. "I have to say thanks to him," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'Becks put HK woman coach on success path'. Print Edition | Subscribe