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Lee Wai-Tong: The Chinese Pelé

Lucas Gonzalez

Everyone has heard of Pelé. Even if you are not a very big football fan, you have probably at least heard this name at least once before. And for those who are even moderately interested in the sport, you will know why Pelé is so famous: he is the only football player in history to hit the astonishing benchmark of scoring more than 1,000 goals. Or was he?

Pelé’s Guinness world record achievement is of 1,279 goals in 1,363 games. And for most people, this is unquestionably the record for most goals, and it is even recognized by FIFA as being the record for most goals by a single player. But the man known as “the king of Asian football” is a name that was forgotten in the passing of time, and is barely even known by anyone nowadays. The name of this man is Lee Wai-Tong, and here is why he might be the only other player apart from Pelé to actually have scored over 1,000 goals.

Firstly, to clear up some extra information, it is important to note what exactly the 1,000-goal debate is. According to FIFA and most people all around the world, Pelé is the solitary owner of this record, even though some often claim otherwise. Some of these for example, are Josef Bican, Austrian star who has reports of having scored around 1,468 goals, even though he personally claims that he scored closer to the 5,000 goal mark. Some other names that usually pop up are the likes of Ferenc Puskas, Gerd Muller, Ernst Wilimowski, Franz Binder, and Arthur Friedenriech. Most football fans will probably recognize at least half of the names on that list, but this doesn't actually mean that they scored over 1,000 goals. If you pay close attention, you can see that these players aren't from football’s modern era, and actually played a long long time ago, which means that no reports can be genuinely trusted. But then what exactly makes Lee Wai-Tong so special?

To find out more about that, we need to go back in time to 1905 in Hong Kong, where Lee was born. It was in that city that he perfected his craft, and trained with grapefruits and oranges (sounds like someone?!), and when those started to run out, Lee would make his own footballs, filling them up with cloth and sand, which later earned him the nickname “Iron foot”. At the very young age of 17 years old, the man of many nicknames had already started tearing apart the Chinese league, representing a club by the name of South China, which eventually earned him a trip to Japan at the age of 18, to represent the national team in the 1923 Far Eastern Championship Games , where records claim that he scored a hattrick against the hosts in just 5 minutes.

Once he returned, he was offered a coach-player position at Fudan University, where he was able to command the team from inside the pitch. This could be one of the main reasons as to why he scored so many goals, because if he was in charge of the tactics, and had the talent to score goals, why would he not ask his teammates to pass the ball to him all the time? Well, if this is what he did, his 4 seasons at Fudan University were certainly capitalised on, as later on Lee returned to the national team, where the team went on an undefeated run of 13 years, spanning from Lee’s debut in 1923 to 1936, in the olympic games, where the team finally lost in the Berlin olympics.

The 2-0 loss to Great Britain saw the Chinese leave their mark on the world stage, and according to captain Bernard Joy, “In the matter of ball control and positioning, the Chinese were superior”. Which shows how well Lee Wai-Tong fitted into the tactical systems of that Chinese national team. In 1932, when Lee had returned to South China AA, he spent 16 more years there, until he retired in 1947, having a near 25 year career. But after all, what was his estimated goal count? Well, there are actually two numbers which are constantly brought up by experts and fans. Most people claim Lee scored 1,260 goals, falling just 17 goals shy of Pelé’s wonder record. However, the second number is the one that is scary. Some people claim that Lee Wai-Tong actually scored a whopping 1,860 goals. Yes, you read that right. 1860 goals.

Even though Lee Wai-Tong can guarantee himself as being one of the unknown all time greats, it is still impossible to know the truth behind his goal count, and the mystery which haunts many football historians and experts will never quiet down, or not until some historic documents are found. At the end of the day, Even if Lee Wai-Tong actually passed Pelé in goals scored or not, he is still a legend of the beautiful game that needs to be respected, and definitely deserves more credit that is currently given to him.

Lee Wai-Tong with many of his titles conquered over

his 25-year career


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