Goalkeeper Alex catches on

Goalkeeper Alex catches on

A footballer who switched positions to play in goal only this season, is already attracting attention

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Goalkeeper Alex catches on_L
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
Goalkeeper Alex Pang Chong-san takes after Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg character in Terminator in one important way: both have the catchphrase, "I'll be back".

The Form Six student, 18, of TWGHs Kwok Yat Wai College, dreams of becoming a professional footballer. He has always bounced back from sporting setbacks - including injuries and being ignored during trials by football coaches.

Yet after years of knocks, he was rewarded earlier this year when he was chosen alongside Hong Kong's best under-20 players.

He joined a preparatory squad hoping to be picked to play at last month's qualifying matches in Shanghai, leading to this year's 12th National Games of China.

Although he didn't make the final shortlist of 22 players, the experience has given him great confidence.

"It was great to be selected, even if I didn't go to Shanghai," says Alex, whose footballing hero is Joe Hart, the England and Manchester City goalkeeper. "Some club coaches know about me now, and said I can try out for them after I finish my HKDSE exams this month."

Alex is setting his sights high. "I want to join one of Hong Kong's first division clubs and keep chasing my big dream of becoming a professional football," he says. "After lots of positive comments and attention over the past few months, I feel I'm getting closer to it becoming a reality."

Alex started playing football as a midfielder, and won a place in Hong Kong's under-11 squad. But injuries meant he never got to represent Hong Kong in international tournaments.

His development seemed to stutter, too. As he grew up, he was always overlooked when many teammates joined the youth teams of first division clubs.

"I took part in many selection trials at different clubs over the years, but was never chosen," he says. "I kept trying, but failed every time. Sometimes I even got negative comments from coaches."

Despite his frustrations, Alex stayed focused on representing his school team. This season, when the team didn't have enough players, the coach asked Alex to switch to playing in goal before the annual Inter-School competition started. "I found I loved playing there," he says.

However, without a settled team, they failed to get past the group stage in the Yuen Long District A-grade Inter-school competition.

"We were one of three teams in the group; we lost both our matches, to Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School and CCC Fong Yun Wah Secondary School," Alex says. "I didn't play that well: I let in six goals in two games."

However, a change in his fortunes occurred after a visit to his school by the first division team, Citizen.

"The club came to play a friendly at my school last December," he says.

"Our A-grade team played against the professionals and, as a goalkeeper, I let in only one goal.

"Citizen's coach was impressed and asked me to try train with their youth team, and I said 'yes'."

Unfortunately, because he was busy preparing for his HKDSE finals, Alex found he could attend the youth team's training only a couple of times.

However, his impressive goalkeeping display attracted attention. Szeto Man-chun, the goalkeeping coach of the Hong Kong under-20 team, asked Alex to train with the squad.

"I was really surprised to be asked," Alex says. "I still thought I was a novice goalkeeper and didn't understand why coaches were suddenly selecting me. But opportunities were starting to come my way so fast it was unbelievable."

Alex never got to go with the final under-20 squad to play in the Shanghai qualifiers, but he remains upbeat about the future.

"Coach Szeto told me it's not too late to do well, even though I started as a goalkeeper at the age of 18," says Alex.

"Many outstanding keepers go on to play at the top level when they are in their 30s or even 40s."

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