George Best, Bobby Moore and Arie Haan: when Hong Kong football attracted World Cup and Champions League winners
- Two of England’s 1966 World Cup winners turned out for Eastern in the 1980s
- Manchester United players at Kitchee, Rangers and South China
Former Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Mohamed Sissoko can now add former Kitchee midfielder to his resume and this weekend his place in the heart of the champion’s midfield will go to the returning Kristian Vadocz.
Kitchee fans will hope the reigning Hong Kong footballer of the year can carry on where he left off last season as they look to get their title defence back on track against newly promoted Hoi King at Mong Kok Stadium on Sunday.
Sissoko’s four-game Kitchee career ended with the team having dropped more points in the league in four games than they did during the whole of last season but he is far from the first big name player to shine either briefly or not at all in Hong Kong football.
Winner of the Ballon d’Or at 22, European champion and dubbed “El Beatle”, Best was the first footballer to transcend the game and be consumed by popular culture. His struggles with fame are well documented but his time in Hong Kong, which came just a year before he finally retired from the game, is less so. Best played twice for Sea Bee and once for Hong Kong Rangers in 1982.
England’s unflappable captain played a grand total of 12 minutes in the Senior Shield final in December 1981 but he added another winner’s medal to go alongside the World Cup victory in 1966. Coach Peter Wong resisted pressure to put him on earlier and waited until the game was in the bag. Moore would then take over from Wong in 1983 when he was coaxed back to coach the side. He lasted just eight months and left the following March. Moore also played in Hong Kong at the start of his career in 1961 when picked as a 19-year-old for a FA touring side captained and selected by Tom Finney.
Another World Cup winner to have played in the Hong Kong First Division, it was Moore who brought his England teammate over to play under him. The 37-year-old swapped Southampton for Eastern and played for three months before returning to England with Bristol Rovers. Ball would go on to manage Southampton and Manchester City.
Winner of three European Cups in a row with Ajax, Haan also finished twice on the losing side in a World Cup final with the Netherlands in 1974 and 1978. In the 1984-85 season, Haan added a Hong Kong stop on a career that had been played purely in his native Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium when he signed for Seiko. He made five appearances as they won the title, their seventh in a row. Haan would later manage China and several Chinese Super League sides.
Considered to be among Arsenal’s greatest ever players, George was part of their league and FA Cup double winning team in the 1970-71 season. He also got one England cap in a career that brought him to Hong Kong where he turned out for Hong Kong side Bulova during the 1981-82 season.
Hailed by Pele as the star of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, the Champions League-winning midfielder ended his career with South China after a four-month stint with the club in early 2011. He scored a free kick on his debut but that proved a false dawn. After being dumped out of the AFC Cup and beaten to the league by Kitchee, South China went on to lift the Hong Kong FA Cup but Butt had already returned to England by then.
A teammate of Butt’s at South China, the Serbian international was a let-down during his time in Hong Kong. He won himself no fans when he called the AFC Cup “stupid” and “the worst tournament I have played in”. He did at least win the HKFA Cup, coming on as a substitute for the last 20 minutes of that famous victory over Tai Po.
Moved to Sing Tao three years after being part of the Aston Villa side that won the League Cup at Wembley by beating Manchester United. Teale had moved to Tranmere Rovers but after a falling out with incoming manager (and teammate) John Aldridge, the defender went on a short-term loan to Happy Valley and enjoyed it so much he stayed for the entire 1997-98 season. He then moved to Scottish side Motherwell, returning south with Carlisle United and then back to first club Southport.
The big name that Sissoko was brought in to replace lasted longer but was equally as ineffective. Forlan arrived with much fanfare and was tasked with leading Kitchee’s charge in their debut AFC Champions League campaign. It was telling that he was not on the pitch when they scored the goal that would give them Hong Kong’s first ever win on the continental stage. The 38-year-old won the league and cup double but failed to deliver more than flashes of his talent, finishing with five goals for the champions.