Here’s why snooker star Marco Fu is Hong Kong’s most famous athlete ever
With three ranking tournament wins under his belt and a world number five ranking, the Hong Kong player is a recognisable figure outside the city thanks to extensive TV coverage in Britain, Europe and China
You’re only as good as your last game, so they say, but for Hong Kong snooker ace Marco Fu Ka-chun his best is yet to come.
As the 39-year-old enters his 20th season as a professional, there is no doubt the world number five has put Hong Kong on the world snooker map.
With three ranking tournament victories under his belt and another season where he reached the world championship quarter-finals for the fourth time (he is a two-time semi-finalist), Fu is playing the best snooker of his life.
But he’s not only celebrating his exploits on the snooker table, he’s also living life to the fullest as a father of two, who is enjoying a surge in popularity.
With an English autobiography already in the works to complement the Chinese version of his book, The Life of 147, Fu is at the zenith of his career.
He enjoys sponsorship deals, designs his own watch brand and hands out prizes to Hong Kong’s best footballers. He met his Manchester United “Class of 92” heroes recently and even has his own TV show.
Oh, and he’s made HK$24 million in tournament earnings, too, as a snooker professional, and that’s just prize money alone. He’s enjoying the kind of life Hong Kong athletes can only dream of.
Fu has it all – longevity in the sport, world-class talent and a personality to match his friendly, approachable character. Add an excellent command of English, Cantonese and Mandarin and you have the perfect ambassador to the game.
Fu’s longevity in one of the leading mainstream games/sports in Britain, Europe and most of the Commonwealth countries, has made him a recognisable face. Fu is well-known in Hong Kong but he’s also a star in Malta, India, Australia and South Africa. He’s well liked by his fellow professionals, many of whom he calls friends.
So, is Fu the most famous Hong Kong athlete ever?
Admittedly, Hong Kong’s most celebrated athlete is Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai-shan but San San reached a peak in her career when the internet was still in its infancy in the 1990s.
Apart from the Olympics and the Asian Games, she didn’t get much TV competition coverage. She might be queen in Hong Kong but outside of Hong Kong, she didn’t quite command the same attention.
Cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze and boxer Rex Tso Sing-yu are recognised sports figures in Hong Kong, but they could walk the streets of London or anywhere else in Europe without barely being noticed.
Fu, on the other hand, is a celebrity in Britain, signing autographs whenever he goes.
“l’ve always enjoyed signing autographs, l was once a snooker fan, too,” Fu said. “I’m more recognised by the public than a lot of the Hong Kong athletes because I’ve been playing for so long at the highest level, and snooker has always been one of the most watched sports on TV, especially in Hong Kong, China, the UK and Europe.
“More people know my name in Europe since the involvement of Eurosport. The majority of the pro events can be seen on Eurosport now.”
Ah, television … still one of the world’s most powerful mediums (after the internet) and it’s because he receives hours of TV exposure whenever he competes, he’s become a familiar face.
Snooker games, especially at the world championship, can drag on for hours – even days – and bending down to pot balls gives players, well, great exposure.
Okay, one might argue snooker is not even a sport but tell that to Fu, who practises between three to five hours a day.
Imagine having the focus – and the patience – to pot balls and line them for your next shot.
Fu has been playing snooker since he was eight – a “boy wonder” since picking up his first cue stick while growing up in Vancouver.
“I made my first century break when l was 15, and made my first 147 break when l was 17,” said Fu.
That’s mind blowing. Even at such a tender age, Fu showed signs he was going to be a world-class player. Similarly, local women’s world champion Ng On-yee has also cut her teeth in the game and has become hugely successful.
“It was always difficult when l first started playing professionally simply because of the standard is so much higher compared to the amateur circuit, but l was fortunate enough to have many nice people around me who were willing to help , and l improved from a club player to a player ready to turn pro in a very short time,” he said.
“It wasn’t really a big sacrifice to turn pro, it was something that l always wanted to do after I finished high school, and l feel very grateful to have something l love to do as my job!”
As a youngster, Fu used to idolise players such as Steve Davis, Jimmy “Whirlwind” White and Stephen Hendry.
Now Fu is rubbing shoulders with today’s snooker gods – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, John Higgins – but Fu is not only playing against these legends, he’s winning his fair share of matches against them.
“The man from Happy Valley” as he is commonly known in Britain (he doesn’t live there anymore) will compete in next week’s Hong Kong Masters and no doubt Fu will be the most popular player in the field. Only this time he’ll be playing against players he can call his peers.