Big Water Buffalo's last stand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2000, 12:00am

It was a Scot, Robert Burns, who remarked that 'the best laid schemes 'a mice and men gang aft a-gley', meaning that something can always go wrong with the most carefully formulated plans.

His countryman, Walter Gerrard, was clearly thinking something similar, although nobody could confuse Gerrard with a mouse. In his footballing heyday local fans called him 'the Big Water Buffalo', but his plan for the day had gone decidedly 'a-gley'.

We were supposed to be lunching on Lantau, but Walter had been informed that foggy morning that he would be ill-advised to take his boat out. Now the sun was shining, but instead of sailing to Pui O we were settling into the dark recesses of Ned Kelly's Last Stand in Kowloon.

Gerrard had chosen Ned's as a 'Plan B' partly because he likes it and partly because he and the place share a certain amount of history. Ned's is something of a Hong Kong institution, as, in his own way, is Gerrard who arrived here in 1970, two years before the pub opened.

By the time it did, Gerrard, who came here as a professional footballer, had developed a second career as the public face of Bell's Scotch Whisky, a role he subsequently performed for Ballantines and now discharges for Inverhouse Green Plaid and a variety of single malts and a range of wines sold by Fine Vintage.

He ordered us a glass of the house white wine - which Fine Vintage supplies - while we studied the menus. Ned's food is at the not terribly fashionable end of Australian cuisine.

Choices include a steak described as the 'Shearer's Break', the 'Great Australian Bite' meaning a meat pie, and the 'Woolloomooloo Steak Sandwich'. This is not fashionable Sydney - this is the bush, or the tourist version of it at any rate.

Feeling perhaps that in a bar named after an Irish Australian, Ned's Irish stew would be appropriate, Gerrard ordered that while I opted for the Goulburn lamb grill.

Gerrard, who had a function to attend that night requiring him to be sober, was toying with his glass in a distinctly un-Glaswegian way, but the bartender assured him that he could have no better stomach lining than the stew. Suitably reassured, he ordered a couple of glasses of red.

When he came out to play for a team called Caroline Hill, Gerrard acquired a reputation for turning a match around in improbable ways by heading the ball. It may have been this that flattened his nose. The team subsequently changed its name to Seiko.

'Very sharp marketing,' Gerrard recalled. 'Everytime anybody wrote anything about it the name of the watch was there.' It taught him a thing or two into the bargain. When the first whisky company to use him in an advertisement asked him what he did when not training or playing matches and he replied 'not a lot,' he found himself exchanging his Seiko strip for a suit and tie and a round of endorsing. In the process he learned about the booze business, and soon found himself working full-time as a sales rep - on expatriate terms.

The dishes arrived. Gerrard's stew looked good and he pronounced that it was. My lamb was not incinerated in the traditional bush manner, nor barely cooked in the Sydney 2000 style, but pleasantly tender and medium. The vegetables were crisp, but the mashed potatoes had obviously come out of a packet. One demerit, but otherwise a pretty good deal.

'I wanted to come here to see if it was still as good as when it opened,' Gerrard explained. It probably is. The pub ceased to be fashionable years ago, but it still has atmosphere, the prices are reasonable, the service is friendly, and the food not at all bad. The live music for which it is known is absent at lunch time, but the recorded jazz works well with the ambience.

Gerrard no longer plays football - 'I made a reputation heading the ball and now the problem is my knees' - but still enjoys a high profile. Liable to burst into song, the ebullience he used to bring to the game now goes into business.

Of the first batch of British professional footballers to settle here, he and Derek Currie - a long-haired bearded fellow Scot who the Seiko supporters called 'Jesus' - have made successful lives and careers. Others who left have been less fortunate. One is serving time for drug dealing.

'I never thought I was George Best,' he concedes. 'I always knew I was lucky to be here. It's treated me well.' Ned Kelly's Last Stand, 11A Ashley Road Tsim Sha Tsui, Tel:2376 0562