City mourns Spencer Lam, the soccer hero turned commentator famous for his dry wit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2009, 12:00am

Football pundit Spencer Lam Sheung-yee, who began a career as a professional footballer almost 60 years ago and then won fame as a commentator renowned for his dry wit, died yesterday at the age of 74.

Known while a player as 'Heavy Cannon' because of his powerful shots and later as 'Ah Suk', or Uncle, Lam was found unconscious on the floor of the toilet of his flat in Kings Road, Tin Hau, when his 50-year-old son visited him yesterday morning.

The ex-footballer, who also appeared in many films, was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital, where doctors declared him dead at 11.58am. Police said Lam had an illness and they had found nothing suspicious.

Born in 1934, Lam began his professional career as a striker for Eastern in the local First Division League. Then just 16, he was one of the youngest players in the league's history.

In 1958, when Hongkongers could play for Taiwan, he represented the island at the Asian Games in Tokyo, where the team won gold after beating South Korea. Two years later, he represented Taiwan again as a midfielder at the Rome Olympics. Afterwards, he won many top honours with Rangers, including the double championship titles, the League Cup and Senior Shield in 1972. He hung up his boots in 1977.

Lam also studied economics at Chinese University and worked as a teacher while playing football professionally. His connection with the football world did not end with his retirement, as he embarked on a career as a commentator with RTHK. He then worked for Commercial Radio and ATV before joining TVB in 1991.

He is remembered for his extensive knowledge of football, his distinctive and sometimes harsh comments, and the creation of many catchphrases and nicknames for football stars still widely used.

Lam's dry sense of humour caught the eyes of film directors, leading him to appear in more than 30 films, mostly comedies. One of the most memorable roles was a straight-talking pastor in the Young and Dangerous series. He retired from the screen after the final whistle blew in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Friends and colleagues were shocked and saddened by Lam's death. TVB sports host Chung Chi-kwong, who worked with Lam for more than 20 years, found the news hard to believe as he saw Lam looking healthy just a few months ago.

Eastern team manager Peter Leung Shou-chi, a student of Lam at St Stephen's Church Primary School in the early 70s, praised his teacher's enormous contribution to the football scene and recalled the old days. 'When I was in school, we had to read the newspaper in the morning if he played the day before, because he would get really grumpy in the classroom if he lost a match,' Leung, who last spoke to Lam during the Lunar New Year, said.

Leung said the death of Lam's wife in 2005 was a hard blow. 'He told me many times that his wife was gone too soon, and he was bored and lonely,' Leung said.

Pang Ho-cheung, who directed Lam in You Shoot, I Shoot, praised his on-screen charisma and unique brand of humour, which was hard to find in other actors.

Fans paid tribute on internet discussion forums and Facebook as soon as news of Lam's death broke. Many honoured him as the best football commentator the city has had.