Born: 1 November, 1943, in Glasgow. Died: 30 March, 2014, in Hong Kong, aged 70.
IF DEFINITIONS came in human form, then Walter Gerrard would be the very embodiment of “larger than life”. The man who went from journeyman footballer in the Scottish Second Division to living legend in the former Crown Colony was always full of joie de vivre. He was also a devoted family man, a rock to all his friends in their time of need, and a tireless fundraiser for charity, especially the Hong Kong Society for the Protection of Children.
Although he had not been in good health for some time, his death in Hong Kong at the weekend came as a great shock to all his many friends around the world, and he will be deeply mourned in particular by fans of Hong Kong Rangers FC, also known these days as Kim Fung.
Born in wartime Glasgow and brought up in Maryhill, due to family circumstances he was largely raised by his grandmother, Margaret Gerrard, a formidable woman who insisted that her grandson learn a trade after his education at East Park Secondary. As a schoolboy and apprentice carpenter, Gerrard’s preoccupation was always with football and after starring with Possil YM and Campsie Black Watch, a well-known producer of football talent, he switched apprenticeships to that of footballer with Barnsley FC.
At the age of 20, he returned north to join East Stirlingshire. It was a momentous time in the club’s history after its owners, the Steedman brothers, forced a merger with Clydebank Juniors and relocated the club to Kilbowie Park in the Dunbartonshire town. The merger lasted one season, before East Stirlingshire returned to its home town of Falkirk, and Gerrard lasted one further season with them, playing 27 times in all, mostly at centre-half, before moving to Berwick Rangers in 1966.
His time with England’s Scottish club was perhaps coloured by the momentous occasion of the Scottish Cup first round on 28 January, 1967, when the “wee” Rangers beat the big boys from Ibrox by the only goal of the game at Shielfield Park.
In later life, Gerrard, who had been in the match day squad but did not feature in the game, loved to tell how he, as a lifelong Rangers fan, went home to Glasgow in fear for his life.
He left Berwick Rangers a little more than two months after their greatest victory and joined Clydebank, itself a nearly new club following the de-merger with East Stirlingshire. Gerrard then had spells in non-league football before the move that made his life.
In Hong Kong in 1958, Glaswegian emigre Ian Petrie had formed a football club which he named after his beloved Rangers – even the new club’s crest was a copy of that flying over Ibrox. In 1970, Petrie advertised for British professional footballers to come and try their luck with the club, and Gerrard, Derek Currie and Jackie Trainer arrived in the then colony on 10 September, 1970.
They were the first European professionals to play in Hong Kong and were treated like royalty on arrival, greeted by an excited media pack and hordes of fans. Gerrard’s size, marauding play and hitherto unnoticed striking abilities were soon to the fore and in his first season he scored 37 goals as Rangers won the Hong Kong League for the only time in their history, with crowds of up to 30,000 chanting his nickname Dai Shui Ngau, the Water Buffalo.
He sampled Australian football, where his great friend Willie Beatty played before prospering as a businessman, then moved on to Seiko and Caroline Hill, enjoying similar goal-scoring success and playing alongside or against the likes of internationalists Willie Henderson and the late Alex Willoughby who all joined the invasion of foreign footballers into Hong Kong.
Famously, he played for Caroline Hill against Santos FC of Brazil, Pele and all, and told the story of being substituted at the same time as the world’s greatest-ever footballer. “Pele,” he said, “these coaches don’t know a good footballer when they see one.”
Those who doubt the tale should know that a souvenir ticket from the match signed by Pele has pride of place in the home of Gerrard’s great friend Alan Guthrie, who said yesterday that Gerrard’s passing was “the end of an era” in Hong Kong.
On retiring from playing, Gerrard helped coach local players and is credited with being one of the founders of modern football in Hong Kong.
He was always an astute businessman and spotted opportunities in the wines and spirits trade, starting with East Asiatic and promoting a variety of whiskies before switching to the wine trade with the Fine Vintage company. That move did not stop him being appointed a Keeper of the Quaich, an honour he greatly appreciated.
A talented singer and musician, as well as a much-in-demand raconteur and Burnsian, Gerrard was happy to try his hand at various activities, which led to him being featured as Napoleon in a Chinese television advert for Courvoiser – the audience was 440 million – and singing on the Chinese version of Top of the Pops.
He even had a part in a Hong Kong film, the 1983 comedy All The Wrong Spies, playing a hapless Gestapo officer.
Gerrard always kept his links with football and when his friend Roger Perrin formed the Hong Kong Hamilton Accies Supporters Club, of which Perrin is now chairman for life, he was an enthusiastic member. Over the years the club raised money for charity, and former Accies and Scotland manager Craig Brown gave generous mention to Gerrard in his memoirs.
Gerrard’s greatest devotion was to his family. He enjoyed a long and happy marriage to Hong Kong-born Barbara, nee Ross, a former weather forecaster on Hong Kong television who became a school teacher.
Gerrard is survived by Barbara and their two sons, Stuart and Andrew, whose children, respectively Callum and Iona, were born on the same day in London and Hong Kong.
Revered for his personality as much as his contribution to football, for as long as they remember the Water Buffalo, Walter Gerrard will be far more than a footnote in the history of Hong Kong.