Q and A - Inside Taipei's Expat Football with Celts FC

For this week’s Q and A we speak to Celts Football Club manager Frankie Hullet. The Celts play in Taipei’s expat league the OTPL (On Tap Premier League) which is named after the league sponsor Tap. Last season the league had 13 teams which mainly consist of expat players based in Northern Taiwan.

Next season the league will add a team to the league to take the number to 14, and the league will split into two divisions eventually having a promotion and relegation. This weekend (27th January) will be a pre-season tournament with 8 of the league teams taking part.

We ask Frankie about the difficulties of running an expat team:

First of all, how did you get involved in playing for and then eventually managing the Celts?

Well, I was Googling and Facebooking teams as soon as I landed in Taiwan and I played for a few teams in friendlies and such and I eventually decided on Celts because of the playing level and the general positive attitude there. Then after the first season of getting heavily involved in the playing side, the old manager decided he didn't have time any more and I offered to take over without any objections.

What do you think is the main attraction/benefit for expats to play in an expat football team?

Especially in Asia, it's definitely a benefit to meet others expats early off the boat. For a lot of people who are really into football, they join teams as soon as they arrive in the country just as I did, then those players in his team will become the first people he knows in the country.

What is the biggest challenge in managing this kind of team?

It always has been and it always will be finding players. No matter how many you have and how safe you think you are, a month or two down the road they will all be gone. There's such a high turnover of foreigners in Taiwan and a lot are not here for a long time so you need to be constantly looking and networking and talking to people.

Is financing an expat team a difficult task?

There isn't a lot of interest from sponsors so it can be difficult to self finance. The most difficult thing is asking students to pay up front for a season. It's not expensive to play at all but it does take effort and persistence to collect all of the pennies from players.

How easy/difficult is it to attract sponsorship?

I've found it almost impossible. The reach that it gets businesses is not enough to make them interested in promotion so the only sponsorship deals available are ones where they want your attendance to their establishment as part of the agreement. I totally understand though as there's no other way businesses would benefit from a sponsorship of that kind.

Is player recruitment straightforward or complicated?

It definitely depends on the players but it can be very easy. Some players need one message about the time and place and they'll be there and other guys need GPS coordinates, boots, shin pads, and a precise estimation of the distance between their home and the pitch. It all depends on how badly they really want to play. The best players are the ones who will just show up. In terms of finding them, it just depends on where you are social. You need to have people from all corners of the expat society who network and meet people.

With most of the OTPL teams being mixed nationalities are there any clashes of football culture?

That's definitely a part of the league for sure. There's always a certain kind of the way the majority of your players want to play and there can be new guys joining who aren't used to that way and it can take time for them to adapt.

Has there been one major incident or event that has stood out as being the most difficult since you took charge of the Celts?

It's definitely difficult managing minutes in a Sunday league, especially when I'm on the field trying to play my own game at the same time. I remember one time I subbed a guy off in the first half and at halftime, he got changed and left and never showed up again. A lot of guys have their own individual footballing agenda that might not match the teams agenda and that can be frustrating.

Is there any standout moment since managing the Celts you consider the best / most fun?

Well as a player as well I can pick out a few goals of mine as some great highs personally but as a team, I'll never forget beating the undefeated Red Lions in an epic defensive performance where we won 2-0. Many more great moments to come through I'm sure.

What advice would you give for anyone interested in managing or joining an expat football team?

Managers: You better pull your socks up. Players: Join Celts!

And lastly, what do you think about the league splitting into two? 

I think it's crucial to ensure the bottom teams don't slip out of existence. There's such a big difference between the bottom and the top teams it's getting to a point where games aren't fun for either. Also, there are too many teams for one big league, 26 games are too many for one season in an amateur league. It also raises the cost and increases the number of games we need to play in the hot seasons.

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