By the time he was a teenager, Joao Moreira had already given up on becoming a professional footballer, but on Friday the Magic Man will don a number 10 jersey with his name on the back, run on to the pitch at Mong Kok Stadium and fulfil a childhood dream – all in the name of charity.
Every kid in the star jockey’s native Brazil wants to be a footballer, but it didn’t take long for Moreira to realise he wasn’t going to be wearing the Verde-Amarela of his nation’s famous football side.
“I think I was about 12 when I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a professional,” he said. “Everyone plays football, day and night, and there were a lot of talented players were I was growing up.
"It was clear I was going to have to find a different sport if I wanted to make a living as a professional athlete.”
A relatively limited footballing skill-set – and of course a career as one of the best jockeys in the world – hasn’t stopped Moreira from being an active social player, and his passion for the world game has led him to starting an exhibition contest featuring jockeys and local football stars.
Moreira has teamed up with good friend and local footballing icon Peter Wong Hing-kwei to bring together leading jockeys and local football stars in the 11-a-side charity match that will act as curtain raiser for the annual Hong Kong Jockey Club Community Cup.
Moreira may be a wizard on the back of a horse but he warned fans not to expect much magic on the field in the 30-minute-long match.
“I think the expectations on me are pretty high, but I am not as good as some people think,” Moreira said. “I think it will be more like comedy than real competition.
"I think everyone will run like hell for the first 15 minutes and then get very tired. The main point is that we are out there to help people and raise awareness that there are people in Hong Kong that are struggling.”
Moreira’s team, dubbed “Joao’s friends”, features Zac Purton, Brett Prebble, Karis Teetan, Sam Clipperton, Derek Leung Ka-chun and Dylan Mo Hin-tung.
They will square off against a side containing Nash Rawiller, Neil Callan, Chad Schofield, Howard Cheng Yue-tin, Vincent Ho Chak-yiu and Jack Wong Ho-nam.
“I think our team is better,” Moreira said. “Let’s see how the coaches use us.”
Each team’s manager will make a donation to a chosen charity while a share of proceeds from the main event between Kitchee and Eastern Long Lions will go to United Christian Hospital and Pok Oi Hospital.
The exhibition match kicks off at 3.50pm and main match starts at 5.30pm.