Monday, 22 April 2013

Bulova SA (Hong Kong)

Bulova SA first entered the league of British Hong Kong in 1977, slotting into the Third Division. Sponsored by the famous watch company; the club had a three year plan to reach the First Division by 1980 and set about searching Europe (in particular Britain) for footballing talent. 

The club's three year plan, was achieved in just two years, and by 1979, the club were among the elite of the colony's league system.

Bulova take on Liverpool
Bulova's success was built on signing expensive Europeans and organising money-making exhibition matches against top British clubs, including Liverpool and Manchester United. This is a model that would be copied by clubs in Japan, the middle-east and the USA in years to come, and marked the first financially geared tours to Asia by European clubs.

1979 - 80 : Terry Conroy

"This red-haired ghost impressed me at Anfield where he was bundled over the touchline by a massive Liverpool defender. Terry got up took the return pass and after battling down the wing he flicked the ball past Tommy Lawrence with the out side of his boot. That is flair"
Daily Express journalist Derek Potter.

The red hair and the wide flair made Terry Conroy a club favourite in over 12 years with Stoke City. As a Potter he won the League Cup in 1972 and the now-defunct Watney Cup in 1974. He earned 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland between 1969 and 1976, and scored 2 goals.

Born in Dublin in 1946, Conroy spent his early years with local side Home Farm. At the age of 19 he moved North of the border to sign for Belfast-based side Glentoran, where he won the Irish League in 1967 and the Irish Cup in 1966. In 1967 he impressed Stoke City manager Tony Waddington enough in a pre-season friendly for the Mancunian to sign him for £10,000.

In 1979, at the age of 33 and with 333 games and 66 goals under his belt, Conroy left the Victoria Ground and signed on a free transfer for Hong Kong based club, Bulova SA.

Conroy's shirt from Bulova
The 1979-80 Hong Kong First Division season was Bulova's first as a top flight team. By this time, they had not signed the foreign legion of later seasons, and Conroy was the only major import in the squad. The club's established top player was Hong Kong international Chan Fat Chi.

Bulova finished well, ending in 3rd place, the Championship was won by holders Seiko. They also finished as runners-up in the FA Cup in 1980. The Irishman would not stay for another season, and after picking up his final pay cheque, he departed the colony to return to England.

Conroy spent one season with Crewe before returning to Ireland in 1981 spending the remainder of his playing career with Waterford United and Limerick before retiring in 1983 at the age of 37.

After retirement Conroy began doing PA work for Stoke. In 2011 he was admitted to hospital for health problems arising from a suspected vascular aneurism. He is now a welfare officer for the Football Association of Ireland, as well as an Ambassador for Stoke City.

1983 - 84 : Peter Foley

Peter Foley was born in England, but captained the Republic of Ireland at U18 and U21 level. He spent a majority of his career with Oxford United during the club's rise through the lower leagues of England.

He earned a senior call up to the Irish team in 1981 for a European qualifier away to Malta. However, as Oxford were playing a game the same weekend, he was refused permission to travel to Valletta. Bad luck would frustrate Foley's international ambitions for a second time a year later when an injury forced him out of contention. He never managed to earn a senior cap.

Foley was a striker, and left Oxford in 1983 after scoring 90 goals in 306 games. (He is the joint third-top scorer in club history alongside John Aldridge.)

At the age of 27, Foley was offered the chance of picking up good wages by moving to Hong Kong with a now-stronger Bulova.

In 1982, the club had triumphed in the Hong Kong FA Cup and had transformed since Conroy's time. Most of the squad were now foreigners, and the side was a major force in the colony's game. Alongside Foley in the team would be former Tottenham keeper Barry Daines, Chester legend Bob Delgado, England international Brian Greenhoff and Scotland midfielder Tommy Hutchinson.

In the league that season, Bulova once again finished second to Seiko. 

Foley appears for Bulova against Seiko

In the 1983-84 Hong Kong Senior Challenge Cup, Foley's Bulova faced Happy Valley in the final. After a scoreless draw, the game was replayed with Bulova winning 2-0. 

Foley (fifth from left, back row) celebrates winning the Senior Challenge Cup

This would be the club's last season in football, as they withdrew from the Hong Kong league that summer. Although they had spent big on signings and friendlies, crowd attendances remained paltry to the relative size of Hong Kong's population and the apparent popularity of the game in the colony.

Foley returned to England where he played lower league football until retiring in 1987. He followed this with spells as manager of Oxford City, Marlow, Didcot Town, and, most recently, Ardley. In 1994, he managed Marlow to FA Cup 2nd Round victory over his old club Oxford, the first time in the club's history that they had beaten a league side.

Bulova were formally dissolved in 1985, never to appear in football again, but remain the only Asian club to feature two Irishmen in their history.

In later years Tim O'SheaColin Baker and Sean Tse would carry the flag for Ireland in Hong Kong football.

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