Back in Blackpool: Hong Kong filmmaker on mission to send Cheung Chi-doy back to his old club in England
Chan Fun-man made a documentary on the player’s old teammates, now he is raising funds for a sequel culminating in a reunion of old colleagues
Hong Kong filmmaker Chan Fun-man nervously placed a picture of Cheung Chi-doy on the banquet table, hoping someone would recognise him. A few seconds later a deep voice called out: “Oi, I played with him! That’s Cheungie!”
The scene was a special dinner in Blackpool to celebrate the 100th birthday of late Tangerines and England legend Sir Stanley Matthews and the voice was that of Barrie Martin, a defender who played alongside Hong Kong stalwart Cheung in the Blackpool side of the early 1960s.
For Chan, it was the breakthrough he was looking for. What started off as a final year university film assignment had turned into a major project to help Cheung return to England after more than 50 years for a reunion with his former teammates from the once-elite northwest English club.
“When I spoke to his old teammates, they remembered him quite well. They called him ‘Cheungie’ or ‘Doyee’ and were keen to meet up with him again,” said Chan, who last year made a documentary, Finding Cheung Chi-doy, featuring those very teammates and is now raising funds for a sequel that would see the ex-Hong Kong international returning to England to meet his former colleagues.
“While speaking to them, it inspired me to make a sequel so Mr Cheung can return to Blackpool and see his ex-teammates. It would be interesting to see how they would react when they see each other after more than 50 years.”
Cheung is an Asian football pioneer and one of Hong Kong’s most famous sporting names. He was the first ethnic Chinese player to play in the top flight in England when he turned out for Blackpool in the earlier 1960s.
Watch clips of ‘Finding Cheung Chi-doy’ and Chan Fun-man’s appeal for funds
Chan’s documentary was part of his media studies degree at Coventry University in England. The film enjoyed a number of screenings in Hong Kong and received a positive response, strong enough for
Chan to pursue the idea of a part two and complete Cheung’s story with his journey back to Blackpool.
To help fund the project, Chan has turned to the Hong Kong public through online crowd-funding platforms. His aim is to raise at least HK$200,000 and he has given himself until the end of July to meet his target.
“I need to cover quite of bit of costs, including airfares and accommodation as well as other expenses,” he said. “I can’t keep working on this project for too long. I myself am freelancing and need to work so I can’t keep waiting for this to happen.
“I think this is the time to make this documentary because I don’t think I will have a chance to do it a few years down the road.”
Chan’s vision to take Cheung to Blackpool is shared by the player himself but the filmmaker said one of the most difficult aspects of his project was actually tracking down his subjects.
“I had this project in mind but I had no idea where to start because I didn’t have access to Mr Cheung or his former teammates. I didn’t even know their names,” said Chan.
“But I thought being in Coventry at the time, it would be easier to find his teammates than it would be if I was in Hong Kong.
“So I called the club and I was pleased to hear that they remembered Mr Cheung and that four of his former teammates are still around. Later on, I was to discover there was actually five of them.
“They told me about this dinner for Sir Stanley Matthews so I went along. I had printed leaflets about Mr Cheung with a picture of him when he played for Blackpool and when I put it on the table, Barrie Martin was the first to say something.”
Locating Cheung was an equally difficult proposition. Here was a university student with no football contacts looking for an elderly man who had been keeping a low profile for the past 40 years, during which time he also worked as a taxi driver.
“It was quite a complicated route to finding Mr Cheung,” said Chan. “My dad knows a former referee who played in a team of oldies. The president of the club knew Mr Cheung.
“One time Mr Cheung went to watch one of their matches and that’s when he was informed about my project. It took about a month to find him.
“But once he heard about it, he was quite happy. He has been very helpful and he is keen to make it happen. That’s why I’m raising funds so that this vision of mine and that of Cheung Chi-doy can come true.”
Chan’s interest in the Cheung Chi-doy story also raised alarm bells in his own mind about the lack of information about Hong Kong’s sporting stars from a golden age.
And he hopes his films will help Hongkongers take more pride in their athletes and spur the government to do more to preserve the city’s sporting heritage.
“Even when I was a small child I knew about Cheung Chi-doy,” said Chan. “But finding good information about him was very difficult. I looked on the internet but the data was quite ambiguous, even the English and Chinese wikipedia pages had different dates of birth.
“I feel that not enough is being done to preserve information on the old sports stars. In that way England is very different. The football clubs there have deep archives and are able to hang on to their heritage.”
Cheung’s road to Blackpool started in 1958 when the English side led by the great Matthews and featuring football pundit Jimmy Armfield stopped over in Hong Kong after a tour of Australia. They beat a Hong Kong team 3-1 and then walloped a Combined Chinese XI 10-1.
Both matches were played in front of a packed 28,000 crowd at the Hong Kong Stadium.
Though the victories were convincing, the performance of Cheung caught the eye of Armfield, who suggested he come over to England for a stint with the club.
Cheung ended up playing two matches for the Tangerines, scoring once against Sheffield Wednesday in November, 1961.
For most of his two years at Blackpool, Cheung played for the reserve side in the Central League and scored a number of goals at the inside right position – in the days when teams deployed up to five forwards in the front line of attack.
He left England after two years because of the lack of opportunities in the first team. He and his brother, Cheung Chi-wai, then had a stint with the Vancouver Royals in the North American Soccer League under former England manager Bobby Robson.
In Hong Kong, he represented Tung Wah, Kitchee and Jardine and had a spell as a coach of Double Flower in the mid-’80s.
Cheung would later ponder what would have happened had he stayed on in England, where he also struggled to cope with the weather and lack of social life.
“I was homesick,” Cheung would say many years later. “The training was not very hard as we only trained two hours in the morning each day. I had nothing to do the rest of the day. There were only a few Chinese restaurants and a beach. My main hobby was listening to the radio.
“I did not go out with my teammates very often. There were a couple of times when I joined their weekend parties.
“I always wonder what I would have become if I had stayed in England. I still believe I could have done much better there. But that’s fate. I have no regrets about what I have done,” Cheung said.