As a player and a coach, veteran footballer Kenny Lai Sun-cheung has fought many battles in his career, winning some and losing others. Now at the age of 58, Lai must faces his biggest battle and it's one he must win. Three months ago, the outspoken coach discovered he had advanced lung cancer, possibly in its third stage. 'I felt tired after playing a mini football match and had breathing difficulties so I decided to see my doctor,' he said. 'Of course I was quite surprised when I was told about the disease. I do smoke sometimes but I was never a heavy smoker. It was hard to accept at the beginning but now I know I must face the reality and win this battle,' added Lai, who is on sick leave from his position as the Hong Kong Football Association's junior team head coach. Lai, who under went a second chemotherapy session this week, said his condition had improved but there was still a long way to go. 'I find it difficult to walk at a fast pace as it causes coughing and I also suffer from pleural effusion which means I have to go to hospital every 10 days to pump the water out. 'But I am very glad that I am not fighting this battle alone. My wife and daughter have given me the best possible support, attending to all the details no matter if I'm at home or in hospital. My colleagues and many friends have also given me lot of encouragement, offering assistance in various ways,' he said. 'There were so many calls that we arranged a dinner two weeks ago and more than 60 people turned up to support me.' Lai admits he has had to make many adjustments to his life since being diagnosed with cancer. 'Not only is there a change in my appearance as I have lost some weight, but this is also the first time I have had to quit soccer in more than 40 years, either playing for leisure or performing as a coach. 'At the moment, I am only able to practise some golf when I do not have to attend medical treatment. That's hard for a person who has been involved in sport for so many years.' Lai, however, firmly believes that with the advancement of modern medicine and his willingness to tackle the cancer, he can return to his coaching role. 'I still want to be a coach after I recover, no doubt about it,' he said. 'I have the ability and with my vast experience I am still capable of doing a good job.' Lai was one of the most reliable central defenders during the 1970s. His playing career started in 1968 - the year when Hong Kong introduced its first professional league. 'I started playing for Rangers in 1968 when I was still at secondary school. In those days, it was difficult to find jobs and since I had the talent it was a logical step. Also, my exam results were not flash because I hardly spent any time on my studies, I played football instead,' said Lai, who played for Rangers for five years before moving to Happy Valley in 1972. A speedy centre-half with good ball judgment, Lai started representing Hong Kong at international level the following year and was a member of the famous squad who won the first round of the Asian zone World Cup qualifiers in Singapore in 1977. He represented Hong Kong more than 70 times before retiring from international football in 1982. Lai also played alongside former England captain Bryan Robson in a friendly against Inter Milan in Hong Kong in 1980. Robson and his West Bromwich Albion teammate, Cyrille Regis, featured as guest players for Valley. Realising that he couldn't play at the highest level forever, Lai started coaching junior players in 1979, and the following year obtained the Football Association B coaching licence in England. When the newly opened Jubilee Sports Centre (now the Hong Kong Sports Institute) was looking for coaches, Lai had little hesitation in leaving Happy Valley in 1982. Lai has nurtured generations of football stars - legendary winger Lee Kin-wo, prolific striker Au Wai-lun, skilful midfielder Tam Siu-wai, utility player Lo Kai-wah and Happy Valley midfielder and skipper Cheung Sai-ho. After he left the Sports Institute in 1998 when its football programme was disbanded, Lai had a brief spell as Rangers coach the following season, but soon after joined the HKFA as junior team head coach. During this period, Lai also coached the Hong Kong senior side, helping them lift their world ranking from 130 to 107 before he quit after the Asian Cup qualifiers in 2007. His demanding training methods and abrasive language earned Lai the nickname 'Devil Coach' - a name which he happily accepts. 'I was a very strict father and that's why my daughter has earned a PhD,' said Lai. 'I am also a very strict coach because I want to see my players succeed. There is no quick fix in football. The harder the training, the better you are on the field. 'Although some players might have hard feelings when I scold them in front of their teammates, they realise I do it for the sake of making them better and stronger players. Many of these younger players have become the cream of the Hong Kong teams over the past two decades and many of them have expressed their gratitude to me for the way I taught them.' Having been involved as a coach for so many years, Lai said he was eager to see younger coaches take up the baton. 'When I was a young coach, I had a lot of opportunities to learn from overseas coaches. I have tried to persuade the HKFA to send young coaches overseas for training, but unfortunately little has been done on improving the quality of our young coaches,' he said. Lo Kai-wah, one of the many young coaches in this city, said he had learnt a lot from his mentor. 'I first met him as a young hopeful at the Jubilee Sports Centre,' said Lo, who is now the assistant coach of Eastern and has recently been appointed as Lai's assistant with the under-20 side, who are competing in the National Games qualifiers. 'He is a committed coach and his attitude towards football has earned him great respect among our generation of players and coaches. People may criticise his strict coaching methods but as a player and now a coach, I have learnt a lot from him. I wish him all the best in his battle against cancer.'