When ‘Jesus’ Came to Hong Kong: The remarkable story of the first European football star in Asia

Alongside the ‘King of Football, Pele.’ My first game against him in December, 1970 at the HK Government Stadium.

It took balls to go to Hong Kong.

When Scottish footballer Derek Currie was made an offer to travel to Hong Kong to play against the one sportsman he had dreamed of meeting on the field, he couldn’t say no. From apprentice printer in Glasgow to playing football against Pelé in the Far East, singing with Stevie Wonder and shadow-boxing with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Currie enjoyed a magical life as one of the first three European professional footballers in Asia. He was quickly nicknamed ‘Jesus’ by Hong Kong football fans.

Here he traces the early development of professional football in the then-British colony through his own career: the games, the places and the characters he met along the way. Given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he didn’t think twice – travelling 6,000 miles across the world to pursue his dream of professional football. In the years that followed, he met international stars from music, showbusiness, boxing and horse racing.

Catching up with ‘Fergie’ at the Hyatt Hotel (Hong Kong) in 2005.

“The excellent read that is this autobiography makes me regret that, although I had the responsibility of the Scotland national team for nine years, I never had the opportunity to rectify the fact that a player of Derek’s ability was not the recipient of a Scotland international cap. He did get selected for Hong Kong but I’m sure a deserved accolade from the country of his birth would have been worthy acknowledgement for a man who was a fine player and a thorough gentleman.” – Craig Brown CBE, manager, Scotland national football team, 1993-2001.

“I took the Swedish team Malmo to Hong Kong in the late ’80s for a tournament Derek had organised. Walking down the street after a game everybody seemed to say hello to ‘Jesus’. I took the Switzerland national team there in the mid ’90s and it was the same again. I never saw him play, but he has some story to tell!” – Roy Hodgson CBE, manager, England national football team, 2012-2016.

“If you ever walk down the streets of Hong Kong alongside Derek Currie, you’d better be prepared to stop frequently. Football fans of various ages, aunties who remember his beard and once-long hair, F&B professionals who encountered him during his time as a marketer for Carlsberg… they all excitedly stop to greet the man they affectionately call ‘Yeh-so’ (Jesus) because of his iconic look. These encounters are always filled with smiles and genuine affection for a man who symbolised a special era for Hong Kong – a time when sport and showbiz went hand in hand, when East and West met in the exotic, thriving melting pot that was 1970s and ’80s Hong Kong. And at the pulsing heart of it all was this twinkling-eyed Scotsman and adopted Hong Konger.
As someone who spent his formative years there, I was privileged to both watch Derek play football and to witness him work his magic at sporting events, press launches, race meets… all of which you will read about here. This is both a captivating story of one man’s journey from Glasgow to the Far East and a nostalgic throwback to a magical lost age in a truly unique setting.” – John Dykes, sports television anchor.

Meeting Geoff Hurst before the Viceroy Cup final in the late 70’s.

“I first met Derek when I came out to Hong Kong for the Sevens in 1990 just after Scotland had won the Grand Slam. We thought we were the heroes but the real Hong Kong heroes were ‘Jesus’ and his great pal Walter Gerrard, aka the Water Buffalo, who we enjoyed so many happy times with over the years. What a pair of Scots they were together.” – Gavin Hastings OBE, former captain, Scotland national rugby team.

“Derek is one of the friendliest and smartest people I have ever known. He is not only an extremely talented football player, but also shows outstanding sportsmanship – I don’t think I have ever seen him lose his temper, on or off the pitch. Even before retiring from football, he was a great businessman and developed numerous partnerships with people from all walks of life. Due to his iconic long-haired, bearded look, we, the Hong Kong media, nicknamed him ‘Jesus’.
Derek was one of the first foreign footballers to play in Hong Kong and played a pivotal role in bringing quality to the Hong Kong game. His skills and performance brought us to new heights, kickstarting a 10-year breakthrough period in local football – the most remarkable period post-WWII. Derek truly is an icon for Hong Kong football.” – Lai Yuching, sports television producer.

“Like Derek Currie, I was a youngster when I first went to Hong Kong, only 18 when I first met him; by then he was already a local football legend. But our joint love of racing led us to becoming great friends. Derek went on to become champion tipster in the racing sections of the Hong Kong Standard and South China Morning Post and I’m tipping this book will be another winner.” – Philip Robinson, winner of five English & Irish Classics, twice Hong Kong champion jockey.

Doing the draw for the 1994 Carlsberg Cup Chinese New Year tournament with Peter Schmeichel. The draw was made at Old Trafford but played in Hong Kong.

About the author
Derek Currie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1949. At the age of 21 he travelled to the then-British colony of Hong Kong to become one of the first three European professionals to play soccer in Asia. Over a 12-year career he played against greats such as Pelé and Eusébio, but also met celebrities from a range of fields, including Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood and Marvin Hagler. During a spell playing for the San Antonio Thunder in the NASL, Currie scored the official first goal in the Bicentennial League against the St. Louis All-Stars.

Derek Currie is now a resident of Naklua and his fascinating novel can be purchased from Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong on their website. Postage free in Asia.

Published by Blacksmith Books

ISBN: 9789887674801Categories: BiographyMemoir Tags: 1970sfootballHong Kong

Presenting the Carlsberg Cup to Lars Olsen, captain of Brondby from Denmark alongside Victor Hui, Chairman of the HKFA and two delightful PR girls. Peter Schmeichel was also in the side that day.

When Jesus came to Hongkong and played football against Pele.
Outnumbered 7 to 1 in a game against Djugardens from Stockholm in 1970.

“I just called to say I love you.’ A night out with Marvin Hagler and Stevie Wonder at the HK Hotel.
Derek Currie, Rodney Marsh, Don Rogers, Ernie Hannigan and David Anderson prior to a game against Benfica and Eusebio at the Hong Kong Stadium in 1972.

Winning the Senior Shield, one of the oldest football tournaments in Asia with team mates, Walter Gerrard, Jackie Trainer, Ian Petrie (Manager) and Archie McCuaig.
With Jimmy Howard, Duncan Miller and Trevor Allen in Jomtien.

My Carlsberg social side in 1982. George Best on the far left was the linesman that day. Just in front of him is Micky Horswill, who won the FA Cup with Sunderland in 1973. I am next to Micky.
Walter Gerrard, Tommy Hutchison (Coventry/Man City) Alan Dugdale (Coventry City) Sonny Chan, Derek Currie and Hugh McCrory (Seiko) getting ready for a 5-a-side match.

With young Chinese fans in 1971.