The World Cup kicks off this Friday. I’m looking forward to it. No other sporting event combines sport, geography and national pride quite the way it does. Around the world, millions of people will watch their countries and their soccer heroes do battle in South Africa. Whatever you think of the game itself, it’s hard to deny the sense of exuberance it creates as people gather in cafés, bars and in other public places to watch.
In Montreal, soccer championships — either the World Cup or the Euro Cup — are all-consuming, month-long festivals. People skip out on work to watch afternoon games on café and bar terraces; they usually become so full there are people standing on the sidewalks and in the street, peering over each other to catch a glimpse of the TVs that have been specially mounted outside. When a team wins, its fans will rush into the streets with flags and horns. They leap into cars, driving up and down the city’s main streets, honking and cheering.
The World Cup can be especially surprising. On a Friday afternoon in 2006, I sat in Café Olimpico and watched as Ecuador won 3-0 against Poland, its first match of the series. Ten minutes later, I heard cheering and honking outside. I ran down to the block: cars full of people waving Ecuadorian flags streamed up St. Urbain Street. I hadn’t even realized there was an Ecuadorian community in Montreal. (Needless to say, all of this is great business for the city’s flag shops, which mysteriously triple in number during soccer championships.)
Eventually, when Italy took the cup after winning the final against France, the streets of Little Italy filled with tens of thousands of very happy people. I was in Paris, on the Champs-Élysées, where I dodged firecrackers set off by angry fans who had been expecting a win. At the Place de l’Étoile, I was charged by a drunk man who somehow mistook me for Zinédine Zidane. “Zidane! Zidane!” he cried until his friends restrained him.
I have no idea what it will be like to watch the World Cup in Hong Kong. The city’s bars are getting ready, hanging FIFA banners above their entrance and posing game schedules in the toilets, but I doubt any are civic-minded enough to put TVs in their windows so that fans can still watch even when the bar is full. I can’t imagine people rushing through the streets to celebrate a victory, either — most people here are far too modest for that.
At the very least, it will be interesting to see who roots for whom. A lot of Hong Kong Chinese are fans of the big European countries — England, France and Italy — while mainland Chinese seem to be supporting North Korea, which has become an odd kind of proxy for the Chinese national team, which as usual failed to make the cut. If anything interesting happens, you’ll hear about it here.
Tags: Celebrations, Hong Kong, Montreal, Sports, World Cup