Saturday 19 October 2019

'Jason, it's your dad. He's been murdered' - Sherlock recalls 'no massive sense of grief' when father died

Jason Sherlock has overcome many hurdles, on and off the pitch. Picture By David Conachy
Jason Sherlock has overcome many hurdles, on and off the pitch. Picture By David Conachy
Jason Sherlock has overcome many hurdles, on and off the pitch Picture By David Conachy

Jason Sherlock

I looked Chinese and I didn't have my father around. Those were two biggies for a boy growing up in Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s.

It wasn't all my dad's fault that he wasn't on the scene. I didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for him. His name was Denis Leung and his family had moved to Ireland from Hong Kong in the 1970s. He and mam were not in a relationship when I was born but in my early years I saw him from time to time, although our meetings were few and far between.

I didn't get to know him. He would work out of Ireland and sometimes pay us visits when he was back in the country. The clearest memory I have of him is the time he brought me to a funfair close by.

Denis had three brothers - Martin, Peter and Robert - and two sisters - Dearbhla and Jane.

His parents ran a Chinese restaurant above a jeweller's just off Grafton Street, close to the Duke bar. Mam brought me in there a few times when she could over the years and Denis's family would always try to insist we ate.

To me, eating Chinese food would be accepting that I was Chinese so it was always fish and chips, much to the amusement of all.

It was only years later with my wife, Louise, when I could finally bring myself to have a Chinese meal with her family, that I felt I wasn't going to be associated with being Chinese because I was eating that type of food.

I'm sure Louise's gang just thought I liked bland food when we went out, but avoiding Chinese food was the real reason. That was what was in my head. And only after that could I see that the food offered by Denis's family had been a matter of hospitality and not some statement about my ethnicity.

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Denis's family were always warm and welcoming. They had this Chinese tradition where they would have their own red envelopes, they would pass them around and put a fiver or a tenner in them for good luck and give them to me.

That, not surprisingly, was one part of their culture I had no problem with and nudged me to go visit them on more than one occasion!

Extracted from JAYO: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Jason Sherlock published by Simon & Schuster on October 26 2017.
Extracted from JAYO: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Jason Sherlock published by Simon & Schuster on October 26 2017.

I also remember another visit when Martin Leung brought me down to a sports shop at the end of Mary Street and bought me a Liverpool kit.

In terms of my own sporting life, 1995 proved a landmark, but the year ended in tragedy when I got a phone call from Martin and he was absolutely distraught.

"Jason, it's your dad. He's been murdered in South Africa."

Denis had been living in South Africa and had his own family there. On the way home from work he was robbed and murdered.

I remember the strange feeling that accompanied the news. I wasn't sure how it should affect me. I rang Louise, who was my girlfriend at the time, and I also rang my close friend and team-mate Mick Galvin, who offered to call around.

But I didn't really see the need because there was no massive sense of grief. Not for a man I didn't know. Not even for the man who was my father.

That night I had a soccer match for UCD against St Pat's and I didn't share the news with any of my other team-mates. Instead I just went and played. So the news of Denis's death had nowhere near the significance it might have had and possibly should have had. It was a peculiar one to deal with.

I don't know all the details of how he was killed, or who was responsible, because it was something I never explored.

I am conscious, however, since Louise and I have had our own kids, that they know their grandfather was Chinese, from Hong Kong, and that they acknowledge it.

It was amazing for me to see the kids growing up, listening to them explain to their friends how one of their grandfathers was Chinese. That was that then. Done.

All natural. Out in the open and dealt with. Whereas in my early years most of what I recall is living with this nagging burden of denying that, coming from a Chinese heritage and hating it. Not fitting in. Being so embarrassed about it that it became a stigma.

Clearly, because of that I didn't want to know my father and had no urge to learn anything of his ancestry.

Whenever mam wanted to visit my dad or his family I would try to back out. Bad enough to look distinctive, I thought, the last thing I needed was to embrace that difference.

So it definitely was not all Denis's fault that we had no relationship. Nor his family's. They still live around Dublin but I've always felt that I shouldn't impose on them. They are not responsible for me and so should not have to make room for me.

Why would they even want to know me? I've seen them over the years but I don't seek them out. I always feel like an outside addition when I do meet them.

When Denis died they invited me to the funeral. It was maybe half expected that I would go, as it is in their tradition to have a son leading the funeral rites, but I said no.

I didn't feel going to South Africa to the funeral of a man that I didn't really know was something that I wanted to do.

They were lovely about it, but if I've seen them since a handful of times that's it.

There was a time when I tried to meet up with Martin Leung, who lived in Castleknock with his family, but that petered out after a while. I was also invited to Robert's wedding reception and I went along, but I didn't see much of them afterwards.


Extracted from JAYO: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Jason Sherlock published by Simon & Schuster on October 26 2017. Jason will be signing copies of the book in Eason O’Connell St Dublin next Saturday at 12.30, Eason Liffey Valley on Saturday November 4 at 1.30 and Eason Blanchardstown on Saturday November 25 at 1.30.

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