Premier League: Tour matches benefit Asia

HONG KONG - English football clubs on pre-season Asian tours benefit the sport in the region rather than taking the shine off the local scene, the Premier League's chief spokesman said on Thursday.

"We're here and we're adding interest to the game, adding interest to football generally," Dan Johnson told Reuters in Hong Kong where a trio of top flight English clubs are competing with a local side for the Asia Trophy.

"This morning we were down at a big community festival with a load of coaches coaching young kids, coaching local coaches," he added.

"I think if you can leave a legacy there as well as generating interest in the game, that'll help develop the game here and we take that very seriously and all our clubs across the region take very seriously when they come to Asia."

Chelsea, Aston Villa and Blackburn are competing in the Asia Trophy with Hong Kong club Kitchee at the Hong Kong Stadium. Villa beat Blackburn 1-0 in their opening match while Chelsea on Wednesday thumped the locals 4-0.

The four team event held every two years is in its fifth edition, and is hugely popular in the region. More than two thirds of the 80,000 tickets were snapped up within five days.

Johnson said that despite the premier league growing globally, Asia remained a key market for the clubs.

"Traditionally Asia has always been one of the biggest markets for English football, there's a kind of expat thing going on with Hong Kong and Singapore, it's grown from there," said Johnson.

"Yes, the Premier League has grown across the globe, and teams are going to America and we're big in Africa but I think the passion and the knowledge and the understanding of fans in Hong Kong and the Asia region is still at that level up."

Johnson's thoughts were echoed by former Aston Villa player Ian Taylor.

"This is where the most growth is and obviously you can see with the likes of Chelsea, Blackburn, Liverpool and Manchester United all coming over, obviously they see it as a big, big part of their brand management," he said.

"So we're really enjoying it and branching out and letting people know that we're here. And all this really, really helps."

Taylor said he had been surprised by the enthusiastic reaction in Hong Kong. "There's a lot of expatriates, but also Chinese, they're so fanatical about the game as well. That surprised me.

"To see them turn out in numbers was a great, great thing."