Meet the Maradona-obsessed Hongkonger bringing a taste of Argentine fan fervour to the city this World Cup

Supporters club president Christer Leung looks back at his romance with the South American side and singing for players from Aguero to Zabaleta

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 11:26am

If you are strolling around the city and see someone wearing an Argentina goalkeeper’s jersey – sleeves cut off in homage to Sergio Romero – chances are he is Christer Jorge Ariel Leung Chun-sing, president of the Hong Kong Argentina Football Team Supporters Club.

That is “Jorge” for Hernan Jorge Crespo and “Ariel” for Mario Ariel Bolatti, two of Argentina-obsessed Leung’s favourite footballers.

He tunes in for the country’s matches from the under-15s all the way to senior level, waits at Hong Kong International Airport for any current or former players in transit and, if you look down, you will probably see Leung’s custom blue-and-white shoes.

“My first World Cup was probably in ’86,” said Leung, who works for a sportswear manufacturer with the dream of one day helping to design an Argentina national top.

“In Hong Kong you didn’t really watch live football – we would watch a local TV show, loosely translated as ‘Football Fan World’, or my dad would record the highlights.

“I found out about Diego Maradona – that was the tournament with the Hand [of God] and the amazing goal – and that is when I started liking Argentina.”

Within four years Leung became a diehard fan of Los Albicelestes, falling in love with backup goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea’s heroic performances and crying after their 1990 World Cup final loss to West Germany.

“I would only know their names in Cantonese back then,” recalled the 39-year-old. “I try not to listen to those translations and stick to either English or Spanish.”

Moving to Canada for his teen and university years, a country which prioritised North American sports like ice hockey and basketball, could easily have put Leung’s football fandom on hold. But he doubled down.

“Toronto is a multicultural community and you would see flags sticking out of car windows everywhere,” said Leung. “I got myself a 5x3m Argentina flag that said Batigol [nickname of legendary forward Gabriel Batistuta] and stuck it on my hood and drove around.

“They probably found it really strange – a Chinese guy who, for some reason, supports Argentina.”

It did not take long for a native Argentine to clock the unmistakable light blue and white flag sprawled across the car.

“I met my first Argentine friend after he saw the flag and ran to meet me. We went to San Diego to watch Argentina play Mexico and eventually went to Argentina for the 2011 Copa America. We arrived on July 9, Argentina’s Independence Day.

“That’s probably when my obsession for Argentina increased the most – two weeks in Argentina with a friend from Rosario, the same city [Lionel] Messi was born in.”

Leung returned to Hong Kong and in 2009 opened the supporters club, which now boasts more than one thousand Hong Kong-based Argentina fans.

The devout group frequently meet up for casual kickarounds and live viewing parties – on a couple of occasions, they would resort to huddling around a smartphone and streaming the game via free public Wi-fi.

The Club has since appeared on popular Argentine television show Por El Mundo, with Leung leading chants alongside hosts Lali and Marley.

Having developed one of the most successful national team supporters clubs in the city, surely Hong Kong football fans could do with some of Leung’s passion?

“I have this identity crisis all the time,” he conceded. “But I always ask the same question: if I was a really good footballer, who would I play for?

“It’s pretty obvious I’d play for Argentina; then again, Hong Kong would probably need me … the good thing is they rarely play against each other. Hong Kong holds a special place in me but my football heart is definitely for Argentina.”

So much so that the likes of Crespo, Manchester City forward Sergio “Kun” Aguero and West Ham defender Pablo Zabaleta recognise him.

“There are quite a few of us ‘star chasers’, as they call them in Hong Kong, but I’m only interested in Argentine players,” said Leung. “I’ve had a few good experiences, like when Zaba and Kun came to Hong Kong.

“I had a sign in Spanish saying ‘I’ve seen you play in Cordoba, Manchester and San Diego – can I take a photo with you?’ and he saw it. Kun got off first, pointed straight at me and we took a photo. Zabaleta got off the bus and I started to sing traditional Argentine chants.”

The dream, unsurprisingly, is to one day meet the legendary Maradona and Messi, which Leung says is a question of “when, not if”.

Argentina are in group D in the World Cup along with Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria. Manager Jorge Sampaoli will be hoping star players Messi, Aguero and Paulo Dybala can lead the team to their third-ever World Cup (after victories in 1978 and 1986 from five appearances in the final).

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will win – that is how we go into every Argentina game, under-15 or senior level,” said Leung, adding that the viewing party for their first match against Iceland on June 16 will be held in Ovolo Southside, Wong Chuk Hang.

“But win or lose, there’s going to be parties. There will definitely be an asado [traditional Argentine barbecue social event], wine and mate [South American caffeine-infused drink], grass-fed beef, dulce de leche [Latin American caramel-like confection] … all kinds of Argentina goodies.”