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From mirror balls to leather: First gay football team in Hong Kong

The dizzying laser rays in gay bars and the floodlights of a football pitch seem to be irreconcilably distant. One-Nil, the first gay football team in Hong Kong, attempts to bridge the two. Raymond Ko talks to Peter Sabine and Janson Mui, founding members of One-Nil.\n

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

3rd October 2011 06:27

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

It’s 2009, on an ordinary Friday night at a gay bar in Hong Kong. Janson Mui and Peter Sabine start talking about their favourite football team, Manchester United, both surprised that there are other gay men who like football. From then, they decided to see if there were enough to form a football team. “I was at first sceptical that we could form a gay football team,” said Peter. But Janson was ardent. “We went to gay bars, posted on gay websites, emailed our friends, to see if anyone was interested,” said Janson. “And soon we received enough responses to build a team with six to seven core players."

Since its founding, One-Nil has progressed significantly in terms of fame and skill. The team has been featured in TimeOut Hong Kong, as well as local gay magazine DimSum. More important to Peter and Janson, who are serious footballers, is the team’s increasing technical aplomb. “We started playing in a 7-a-side league last year, and since then we have been advancing slowly and steadily. We began by losing badly, but we have now achieved a few draws and wins,” said Peter. “It is also encouraging to see teammates who were complete novices becoming skilled footballers,” said Janson.

Despite One-Nil’s technical advances, its most outstanding feature continues to be the sexual orientation of its players. How does the team reconcile the worlds of bars and pitches? “In the beginning, we feared that there would be a lot of mess, such as hook-ups in the team.

Luckily, this never happened,” said Peter. “In a way, we are trying to break the stereotype that gay men can’t be good at football. There are gay guys who don’t like bars and clubs, and who prefer to make friends with other gay guys on a football pitch.”

“As for our opposing teams, sometimes they know that we are gay and sometimes they don’t, but it has never created a problem for us,” he added. The team is not all hard work and no play. “Of course, we also hang out together at gay bars every week,” said Peter, who is also a DJ at Volume.

Another special feature of One-Nil is its balanced mix of local and expatriate players. Instructions barked out on the field are in both Cantonese and English. The league in which One-Nil competes identifies teams by country names. Since the team’s name in the league is Iceland, the Asian ‘Icelanders’ sometimes play against the majority-expatriate South Koreans.

It is not easy to organise a football team with little resources. “Public football pitches are hard to book. We often have to rent pitches at inflated prices. Practice depends very much on availability of pitches. However, we have just found a private venue, so we are looking forward to more regular practices,” says Janson. The rent for pitches is made up by both the players themselves and private sponsors. Another problem the team faces is finding reliable players. “Some players, for whatever reason, do not show up as promised,” Peter said but added that now that they have a core group of about 10 players, no-shows have become less problematic..

Looking into the future, One-Nil aims to be still more competitive. “We have to get better, before we play against other gay football teams overseas,” said Peter. The team is also building connections to Stonewall FC, a successful gay football team in England, especially in the area of players exchange. As a nod to its gay origins and to raise funds, the team is planning to launch a calendar featuring (almost) nude photos of its players.

As to who can join the team, One-Nil operates a very liberal policy. “We have had one very talented lesbian on our team. Some of our players are straight. Many came to us with no experience in football. So as long as you are interested in football, and willing to commit, feel free to drop us a line,” Peter said.