From Hong Kong to a hon­ey­moon in the Shearer in­spires world­wide de­vo­tion to United

Shearer-ma­nia swept Hong Kong when the United leg­end paid a visit. John Gib­son wit­nesses the global reach of the Mag­pies and their record goalscorer

The Chronicle - - Nufc -

A YOUNG man mak­ing lav­ish wed­ding plans may well eye with envy a hon­ey­moon to a far-off land.

It is, af­ter all, an oc­ca­sion of a life­time and should be marked as such.

So it is with Ivan Sum, only he is a husband-to-be with a very big dif­fer­ence.

Be­cause he is bring­ing his bride from home in Hong Kong all the way to New­cas­tle next month, not for the fes­tive sea­son but to cel­e­brate their nup­tials with a visit to the trea­sured turf of St James Park!

It’s a round trip of 12,000 miles just to spend an hour-and-a-half watch­ing United play Brighton.

Ivan, I must ex­plain, is a fully paid-up mem­ber of the 4,000-strong Hong Kong Mag­pies’ Sup­port­ers Club and has just forked out a whop­ping £300 so that he could meet his hero Alan Shearer I ac­com­pa­nied United’s finest to the for­mer Bri­tish colony on a fly­ing trip to pro­mote Wallsend Boys Club HK, the Hong Kong branch of Eng­land’s most fa­mous star mak­ers, who pro­duced Shearer him­self, of course.

The glit­ter­ing cen­tre-piece of Alan’s visit was a din­ner at the plush Hong Kong Foot­ball Club where Ivan and 14 oth­ers from United’s sup­port­ers club who had saved up for VIP tick­ets met the Ge­ordie su­per­star.

Such is the world­wide ap­peal of Shearer that for the first time ever such an event held at the foot­ball club sold out with 540 folk pack­ing the place.

Ba­sic tick­ets cost £100, with scores of VIPs shelling out three times that price, and the auc­tion, con­ducted mag­nif­i­cently by Ge­ordie whirl­wind Graeme Forster, raised a mind­bog­gling £130,000.

Part of that will be used to spread the name of Wallsend Boys Club by help­ing un­der-priv­i­leged Chi­nese kids get into a soc­cer sys­tem that is over-sub­scribed and re­quires big money. This was Shearer ma­nia but then the whole trip brought an un­be­liev­able re­ac­tion wher­ever he went.

“I be­gan supporting New­cas­tle in 1995 at the height of the En­ter­tain­ers just as Alan Shearer was join­ing us for a world record fee,” en­thused Ivan Sum. “I’ve never wa­vered in my de­vo­tion ever since.

“Now to be go­ing to New­cas­tle to see my team play is a dream come true. My girl­friend agreed to it all so we are fly­ing a cou­ple of days af­ter Christ­mas to watch United against Brighton on De­cem­ber 30.

“Usu­ally I watch them live on tele­vi­sion in the Trafal­gar pub here in Hong Kong. All our sup­port­ers club do. We go in our black-and-white shirts and cheer our­selves hoarse.

“Alan Shearer com­ing to our city is awe­some. I sim­ply had to meet him. Not just be in the din­ing room with 500 oth­ers but meet him per­son­ally up­stairs, shake his hand, get his au­to­graph, and have a selfie taken.

“He is a Ge­ordie hero. Fif­teen of us were able to af­ford the tick­ets af­ter sav­ing up and it has been worth ev­ery one of the 3,000 HK dol­lars.”

Sup­port­ers Club chair­man Ed­win Chu con­firmed: “We are grow­ing in num­bers and en­thu­si­asm. Maybe other Pre­mier League clubs win more tro­phies but New­cas­tle are special be­cause of the fans, the packed sta­dium and the in­cred­i­ble pas­sion.”

Shearer has seen much as he has strode the globe for club and coun­try, but even he was taken aback as we spent five days of the in­ter­na­tional break criss-cross­ing Hong Kong.

He was fol­lowed by a CNN tele­vi­sion crew who were mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary on our trip to go global, was awarded an honorary mem­ber­ship of the pres­ti­gious Hong Kong FC and is al­ready on the hon­ours board in gold in­scrip­tion, and was en­gulfed by en­thu­si­asts through­out a Happy Val­ley race night.

“It was in­cred­i­ble,” Alan told me with a shake of the head. “The work my old boys club are do­ing is mag­nif­i­cent and was matched by the re­sponse of the folk, both Chi­nese and ex-pats, scores of whom were Ge­ordies.

“I’m used to at­ten­tion but this was

non-stop from the mo­ment we got off the plane af­ter a 14-hour flight to be met by ex­cited fans to the night we left. It was non-stop meet and greet.

“There seems to be Ge­ordies in ev­ery corner of the world and we met most of them.

“How­ever, I don’t mind. The time to worry is when no one knows you or no one cares.”

I too was gob­s­macked to see count­less ea­ger faces at the bar­rier as we ar­rived in Hong Kong blearyeyed. Many decked out in Mag­pie plumage ... there were even a cou­ple of Steven Tay­lor and Jonas Gutierrez shirts among the milling crowd. Shearer was in HK when Gazza was fa­mously caught sit­ting in a den­tist’s chair swill­ing the hard stuff back in 1996.

Eng­land re­turned home to crit­i­cal big head­lines but bonded in the face of ad­ver­sity to storm through the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships with Shearer the tour­na­ment’s top marks­man. Here he scored again.

HK vice chair­man Neil Jensen, work­ing in fi­nance af­ter leav­ing Ty­ne­side, un­der­lined the Shearer im­pact.

“We knew we had a special per­son on our hands but what hap­pened was be­yond our wildest dreams,” said Jensen.

“Alan never turned down a re­quest for an au­to­graph or selfie and there were hun­dreds of them from first thing in the morn­ing to last thing at night. The PR for Wallsend was im­mense.

“And fi­nan­cially the tour broke all bound­aries. The auc­tion alone raised £130,000 – ster­ling not Hong Kong dol­lars. That’s with­out ticket sales, spon­sor­ship and other events we or­gan­ised. “Of course we have con­sid­er­able ex­penses to bring over such a show but it will keep us go­ing here in Hong Kong for the next three years o r so. Not that we in­tend to rest on our lau­rels.” Three old Wallsend Boys Club mem­bers at Sta­tion Road are the brains be­hind an am­bi­tious and rapidly in­creas­ing Hong Kong op­er­a­tion – ex-Southamp­ton and Le­ices­ter City flier Tony Sealy, ably sup­ported by top busi­ness­men Neil Jansen and Chris Vale. Our trav­el­ling party was com­pleted by for­mer Wallsend BC, New­cas­tle United and Gateshead de­fender John Wat­son, who was joined by one-time Mag­pie loa­nee striker Ian Baird, now as­sis­tant man­ager of Sut­ton United. Auc­tion­eer Graeme Forster, a full­time fire­fighter with Durham & Dar­ling­ton Fire Res­cue Ser­vice with whom I’ve worked on the chat-show cir­cuit over many years, has be­come a val­ued friend of the boys club.

“I do a lot of shows all over the place, but the sheer vol­ume of fans hound­ing Alan ev­ery minute of the day tells you how pop­u­lar a foot­baller he was,” said Forster.

“Nat­u­rally, this has been the most lu­cra­tive auc­tion I’ve ever con­ducted. I opened the bid­ding for a Liver­pool shirt at 20,000 HK dol­lars and a guy just said ‘I’ll give you £10,000 and that was it.”

When Shearer at last had to make his long farewells, Chris Vale, an­other Ge­ordie work­ing on the Wallsend im­age in Asia, told me: “This has mas­sively strength­ened the friend­ship be­tween two coun­tries and cul­tures.

“Pre­mier League foot­ball is hugely pop­u­lar out here and we’ve just had its top scorer and New­cas­tle United’s top scorer giv­ing of his valu­able time on our be­half.

“We’ve had Kevin Kee­gan and Terry McDer­mott over, and now to have had Alan fly­ing the Ty­ne­side flag has sent the name of Wallsend Boys Club re­ver­ber­at­ing round the city.”

Alan Shearer is greeted by ec­static New­cas­tle fans in Hong Kong, in­clud­ing Ivan Sum (front row sec­ond right), who is bring­ing his new bride to St James’ Park next month

Alan Shearer at a coach­ing ses­sion for young­sters in Hong Kong

Our man Gibbo in­ter­views Alan Shearer in Hong Kong

Alan Shearer with Graeme Forster (left) and John Wat­son

Alan Shearer on the hon­ours board at Hong Kong FC, join­ing an il­lus­tri­ous list also fea­tur­ing Jack Charl­ton, Alan Kennedy and Peter Beard­s­ley

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