‘They thought we were enemies but we were best of pals’ – Derek Currie remembers fellow Hong Kong legend Chow Chee Keong

Former Seiko forward still bears the scar from a clash that many thought was the start of a feud between the two but, in fact, they remained good friends

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 5:39pm

Derek Currie still has the scar given to him by the late Chow Chee Keong. The Hong Kong football legend, who arrived in the city to much fanfare in 1970 from Scotland, was playing for former champions Seiko against Chow’s South China in a domestic match.

He bore down on Chow’s goal but the Malaysian goalkeeper flashed his studs and one of them caught Currie on the leg and the man from Glasgow went down.

Currie wasn’t happy with the challenge that forced him to go off. And as far as Hong Kong football fans were concerned, from that point onwards Currie and Chow were sworn enemies. However, according to Currie, the rivalry was genuine but there was never any animosity between the two.

Chow passed away in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday at the age of 69.

“When I had my first game for the Hong Kong League XI [in 1972], Chow was in goal and we beat Hamburg SV 1-0,” said Currie, who is now based in Bangkok, Thailand. “Everybody thought we were enemies but in truth we were the best of pals. It was a great rivalry but we were really good friends.”

In fact, the former Rangers player says that taking pride of place at his home in Bangkok is a blown-up SCMP picture – given as a gift by former sports editor Robin Parke – of Currie clashing with Chow at Hong Kong Stadium.

Recalling a golden age for domestic football in Hong Kong when crowds packed Hong Kong Stadium and other venues for most matches, Currie and Chow were among the big names in a league that would reach its peak in the early ’80s.

“The Seiko-South China rivalry was very intense and, when it came to myself and Chow, everybody thinks the daggers were out,” said Currie.

“But the truth be told is that him and I were the best of friends. We were probably the first to shake hands with each other after the game.

“I remember the game when we beat South China, and I probably scored more goals against Chow than any other player. Chow caught me with an aluminium stud and I had to go off.

“Chow went over the top for sure. He was just doing his job to stop me. Not once did that friendship waver.”

While European players tend to dominate the headlines when playing in Asia, Currie and fellow pioneers Walter Gerrard and Jackie Trainer were often sideshows to Chow – who first arrived in Hong Kong in 1970 as the five-time Asian Football Confederation goalkeeper of the year.

Indeed, such was his reputation that his first Hong Kong club, Jardines, paid him a record salary for a footballer of HK$2,500 a month – more than any other professional, Europeans included, in the league.

Some years later, he joined Tung Sing for what was then an unthinkable HK$7,000 a month plus housing.

When playing for South China, the club once transported him to a game at the stadium by helicopter, such was his importance to the team. Fans nicknamed him “Crazy Sword” and “Asian Steel Gate”.

He represented the Malaysian national team at only 15 years of age and was the first from his country to play abroad when he signed for Bedford Town in England in 1967.

He had two major spells in Hong Kong between 1970 and 1982, playing mostly for South China and Tung Sing as well as short stints with Jardines and Rangers.

Chow, who played for his country at the 1972 Munich Olympics, caught the eye of Hong Kong clubs when he toured the city in 1968 with a Malaysian Chinese squad.

“He was an inspiration,” said Currie, nicknamed “Jesus” because of his flowing locks and beard. “When you go on to the playing field and have confidence in your goalkeeper, it just makes one hell of a difference.

Hong Kong mourns ‘Crazy Sword’ Chow Chee Keong – earned more than Europeans and once arrived at a game by helicopter

“When we beat Hamburg 1-0, he made a great save and that gave us extra incentive to do well. He was just a great goalkeeper.

“I had the utmost respect for him. We had many campaigns together in Hong Kong for various select sides. He was from Malaysia, and I was from Scotland and we were the only ‘non-Chinese’ so to speak.

“I’m very sorry to hear about his passing. I will raise a glass to an old friend.

In Malaysia, he was revered as a legend and his death received wide coverage in the media. Prime minister Najib Razak also sent his condolences via his Twitter account.

“He was the best Asian goalkeeper for five consecutive years, and a Malaysian football legend. My condolences to his family,” said Najib.