Hong Kong fans given ACL refunds, won't travel to Guangzhou Evergrande
Hong Kong champions Eastern say that government interference wasn't behind the club's decision to refund tickets for fans planning to travel to China, ahead of their AFC Champions League debut appearance against Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday evening.
Eastern, who have qualified for the continental club championship for the first time, take on the Chinese Super League champions at Tianhe Stadium later this week.
But fans, who purchased away tickets, were invited to a meeting on Sunday afternoon where they were informed they would not be able to attend the game.
The club have given fans HK$3,000 in compensation and organised a viewing party, blaming "internal problems" for the situation.
"Eastern football teams care about the support of our fans. However, due to some internal problems, we could not help to arrange for our fans to watch the game in Guangzhou," club spokesman Simon Do told ESPN FC.
"After we discovered the issues, the club took immediate action and announced to our fans that we would take the following action: firstly, for fans who had already purchased tickets, we will refund with HK$3,000 compensation, because some of them may already have booked hotels and arranged transport.
"And secondly, we will have a cheering party in Hong Kong for fans to cheer for Eastern by watching a live TV broadcast.
"Furthermore, I want to point out that we did not receive pressure from either Guangzhou Evergrande, or the government. Our club is sorry that some reports have wrongly put the blame on Guangzhou Evergrande, however, it is not their fault."
Democracy rallies on the streets of the former British colony three years ago saw tensions rise between Hong Kong and China.
However, Hong Kong's representative team travelled to China for an AFC World Cup qualifying match in 2015 that was held in Shenzhen without incident.
Under the AFC Champions League's regulations, host clubs are obliged to provide visiting teams with a ticketing allocation of at least five percent of the stadium capacity. However, the AFC Football Confederation said there had been no breach of the competition's rules.
"Guangzhou Evergrande have supplied tickets to Eastern SC for the AFC Champions League Group game, and are willing to supply further tickets if requested by the away club," an AFC spokesman told ESPN FC.
"Therefore, there is no breach of regulation by either the Host Club or the Host Member Association."
Eastern qualified for the Asian Champions League after Chan Yuen-ting became the first women to win the league title in a professional men's league in 2016. The 28-year-old will go head-to-head with World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari and a Guangzhou side who have won the continental title in two of the last four seasons.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch