Goals wins games, so goes the football adage, and The Guinness Book of World Records gives Pele the crown of being the most prolific goalscorer in history. More specifically they give the Brazilian the record for “Most career goals (football)” with 1,283 between September 7, 1956 to October 1, 1977, but there are others who can lay claim to the crown. Josef Bican is rumoured to have scored 1,468 – although he claimed it was closer to 5,000 – but only a handful more have been credited with scoring more than 1,000 in their careers: Franz Binder, Arthur Friedenreich, Gerd Muller, Ferenc Puskas and Ernst Wilimowski. However, there is another player – once mentioned in the same breath as Pele – who has been forgotten, a man who was known as “The King of Asian Football”. Lee Wai-tong was said to have scored 1,260 goals, although some claim it may have been closer to 2,000 over the course of a 25-year playing career with a figure of 1,860 often reported. What is not in doubt is the talent of a player who dominated the region. Born in 1905 in Tai Hang, which was then a fishing village on Hong Kong Island, Lee (known as Li Huitang on the mainland) was born into a Hakka family, with his construction worker (sometimes called craftsman) father hailing from Meizhou. Years later in the 1990s, reports from China – fueled by the Meizhou local government – claimed that Lee spent some of his childhood in Meizhou but he was certainly in Hong Kong as he honed his craft. While Ip Kwai-chung noted in his book Soccer in China , published in 1925, that parents discouraged and even prevented their children from indulging in outdoor exercise or sport of any description, Lee was different. Lee Wai-tong (also known as Li Huitang) with some of the trophies he amassed over a 25-year career in Hong Kong and Shanghai. pic.twitter.com/PsszIOlAwe — Jonathan White (@jmawhite) April 2, 2020 He is said to have developed his skills by playing with oranges and grapefruits in the absence of a ball and when they ran out he made his own, filling cloth with sand to add weight, no doubt contributing to his nickname of “Iron Foot” years down the line. By the early 1920s, the 17-year-old was forging ahead with his career and making his first strides to becoming a South China legend. He was soon playing for the national team and he was just 18 when he represented China at the sixth Far Eastern Championship Games in Japan in 1923. Lee would star and needed only five minutes to score a hat-trick against the hosts. Son shines for Spurs but is he Asia’s greatest ever? China, who were represented by the South China club side, were crowned champions after the final against the Philippines was called off amid violence. On the way back, South China played in Shanghai before touring Australia later in the year. Lee impressed on the tour, where the team played 24 games, including five “tests” against the Australian national team. He was top scorer, starting with a hat-trick against Australia’s champions in the opening game and by the end of the year he had his regal nickname. Photos of Lee Wai-tong's teams in action, including their 2-0 loss to Great Britain in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. pic.twitter.com/1tmwWDKdg1 — Jonathan White (@jmawhite) April 2, 2020 China would retain their title in Manila two years later, with Lee scoring a hat-trick as they beat the hosts 5-1, on a run of winning the tournament five times in a row. They won in 1923, 1925, 1927, 1930 and 1934, with Lee managing the team for the last of those, aged 28. He helped South China to their first league title in 1924 and would end up winning seven more championships with them before retiring, but there were adventures in between. It was after that second Far Eastern Games triumph in 1925 that he moved to Shanghai’s Fudan University, where he was hired to coach and play for the team. His time in Shanghai saw him move to another team, Lehua, who in 1926 would go on to beat the British in the Prentice-Skottowe Challenge Cup, the most illustrious tournament at the time. They would win several more as Chinese players and their public realised that they could compete with the foreign teams who had dominated. A popular saying emerged in Shanghai and spread around the country, comparing Lee to a pre-eminent Peking Opera star – “Watching drama depends on Mei Lanfang, watching football depends on Li Huitang.” Little wonder that Lee is said to have described Shanghai as the “most unforgettable” years of his life. He also wrote a book on football around this time before he returned to South China in 1931 and carried on where he left off. Old footage from a friendly game in November 1945 in Hong Kong's King's Park Stadium, featuring "Asian football king" Lee Wai-tong https://t.co/82Eh35Y3mt — Tobias Zuser (@duwenzhe) October 25, 2018 Domestic success was paired with more for his country, and an unprecedented run. With Lee as the star striker, China went 13 years unbeaten in competitive fixtures between his debut in 1923 and 1936, with the first loss coming in the Olympic Games in Berlin. Lee was the champion of the team that went to the Olympics in 1936 to represent China, with eight of the team from Hong Kong, and reportedly from his Tai Hang neighbourhood. Without enough financial support to get to Europe, they had to make their own way and Lee organised a tour that saw them set off for Berlin two months before the Games began. Greatest Asian footballer of all time was key to Barcelona’s ‘first golden era’ They played in 27 games along the way without a single loss, winning 23 and drawing four. By the time they arrived they were undoubtedly fatigued and ill-prepared to play their opening round opponents. They played Great Britain in their first and only game, losing 2-0, but they had made their mark. “In the matter of ball control and positioning, the Chinese were superior,” British captain Bernard Joy, who would later become a journalist, said after the game. Joy played for Arsenal and afterwards the London side offered Lee a trial, as did Paris Red Star. He turned them down to return again to South China. Lee only left South China when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation. He joined the Chinese Army and spent the war raising money through exhibition games. He returned to South China after the war and played there until he retired in 1948, aged 43. That same year he coached the China team at the London Olympics. Photos of China's 1936 Olympic Team, made up mostly of Hong Kong players and led by star Lee Wai-tong. They played 27 matches in the 60 days before the Games to earn enough money to get to Berlin. pic.twitter.com/DVo5jDjeFK — Jonathan White (@jmawhite) April 2, 2020 Legends built up around Lee over the years, which was easy enough given the lack of surviving footage of him in action. These included that he broke the net in a game for South China and that opposition goalkeepers would get out of the way to avoid being injured by his shots, after other keepers had reportedly been knocked out. Coincidentally, Lee would be paired with another opera star some years later in a tale that could be among these legends were it not recorded. He and Cantonese opera star Li Shifang were recruited by the US to “boost audiences of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia” with their anti-Communist propaganda in the mid-1950s, as recorded in Hong Kong in the Cold War . Because of his close ties to the Republic of China, reports of his exploits in the mainland ceased in the 1950s so they missed out on several of his greater achievements as an administrator for the game he loved: in 1954, he served as the first secretary general of the AFC, and in 1965 he became the vice-chairman of Fifa. In between, Lee became the Republic of China coach, a team for which Hong Kong players were eligible, and he guided them to victory in the Asian Games in 1954 and 1958. The side was largely made up of Hong Kong footballers, including Cheung Chi-doy, who later achieved what Lee never did and became the first Hong Kong player to play in England’s First Division when he joined Blackpool in 1959. He also helped found the women’s team for the ROC that would dominate later as Taiwan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His contribution to the game also saw two of his sons follow in his footsteps as footballers, with one playing for the ROC. Lee would even become the subject of his own opera, Field of Dreams , which told the story of the 1936 Olympic team. It was produced by Hong Kong playwright Anthony Chan after he was told the story of the Hong Kong players representing China and their journey to Berlin by China researcher Vincent Heywood. In 2008, Chan had just taken the position of artistic director at Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and it premiered the same year, winning multiple awards. The musical played again in Hong Kong in 2013 and also toured China, including Beijing in 2017. Not all of his honours were quite so musical, of course, with the greatest tribute of all reported to come three years before he died, aged 74 in 1979. A report in one Hong Kong newspaper in 1976 cited an article in a West German football magazine that year which named the best players in the history of world football in 1976, the five they picked were: Pele, England’s Stanley Matthews, Alfredo di Stefano of Spain and Argentina, Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas, and “Asia’s Football King”. It is a story that has been re-reported over the years with many outlets suggesting that it was Germany's renowned Kicker magazine, however they confirmed that they only featured Lee once in their 101-year history. He was interviewed in 1976 but there was no top five. Nonetheless, Lee deserved to be included among such illustrious company and his legend should live on.