Cherish the next few Sevens because this charmingly ramshackle Hong Kong Stadium is on the chopping block
It will be nigh on impossible for the Kai Tak Sports Park to recreate the atmosphere and character of So Kon Po’s decaying stadium when it takes over the Sevens in 2022
It’s hard not to get emotional when the sun sets over Hong Kong Stadium on Sevens Sunday – but this year was particularly poignant, thinking about the future of this event.
With the construction of the Kai Tak Sports Park, set to be completed in 2022, Hong Kong Stadium is on the chopping block, with property giants lining up to build on the So Kon Po land.
Whenever a sporting event or club moves to a new stadium, it is fashionable to moan and say it was better the way it was before – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, etc.
But it really will be a sad day when the Sevens moves to Kai Tak.
While the Kai Tak sports complex has a stunning location, Hong Kong Stadium has its own culture and character that cannot be replicated.
The most iconic sporting events in the world usually owe a large part of their fame to the venue they are based in.
Think Augusta National for the Masters – the pristine, beautiful and challenging golf course is the most cherished in the world and makes the event what it is.
The other golf majors, which move around from venue to venue, do not come close to generating the same excitement, buzz and fondness among fans and players.
Hong Kong Stadium is just as integral to the fun, atmosphere and appeal of the Sevens.
Taking that and moving it into a potentially soulless, white elephant sports complex could rip away all of the event’s charm.
Yes, a large part of the Sevens’ appeal is the people that make it – all those raucous, boozed-up tourists will still be there in 2022, belting out Bon Jovi and Neil Diamond.
But it just won’t be the same.
Hong Kong Stadium feels like it was purposefully built for this event, which is has hosted since 1982. The surrounding area is its spiritual home, with the first eight incarnations held at the Football Club in Happy Valley.
Every aspect of the design of the stadium, which was upgraded to 40,000 capacity in 1994 to meet growing demand, has helped create the perfect party atmosphere.
Take the spacious upper concourses where revellers can enjoy a time out from the rugby and grab a beer or a burger in the sunshine, striking up conversation with a complete stranger. Are there many other stadiums in the world as sociable?
The lower concourses are suitably darker and danker, fitting the vibe of the raucous and raunchy South Stand and perfectly matching the mood. It encourages the madness, and perfectly facilitates it.
Stumbling around the hallways with a rotten hangover is a rite of passage.
Speaking of the South Stand, how can Kai Tak ever recreate its atmosphere and culture?
It has become a thing of legend, like the Kop at Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ground on a Champions League night.
The feelings that stand inspires, with its loud and passionate fans, are palpable and impossible to replicate – for players, there is nothing like scoring a goal in front of it and for fans, there is nothing like celebrating a goal in there.
Liverpool fans must be delighted the club’s owners opted to redevelop Anfield rather than build a new stadium elsewhere.
I wouldn’t even swap the cramped, ridiculously undersized media centre at Hong Kong Stadium for a pristine and spacious new one. It’s all part of the experience.
There are few nicer sights in Hong Kong than the beautiful hills rising out of the concrete back of the South Stand, or the skyline on the opposite side looming over the North Stand, inviting you out to explore it after the rugby ends.
Even the awful, bobbly pitch, which made for terrible football when the Premier League came here last summer, adds to the rundown charm.
It’s not just the stadium but the whole surrounding area of So Kon Po that stirs the emotions.
That walk along the bars of Caroline Hill Road and past South China Stadium is always a treat, the anticipation building as you make your way to the Sevens.
Equally magical is the walk out of the stadium.
Following the thousands of sozzled spectators casually stumbling to Wan Chai is an annual ritual.
All roads lead to Lockhart, a blurry mass of bright coloured costumes singing Hey Baby on repeat for 20 minutes after a long day of drinking at the stadium, ready for some more.
But leaving Kai Tak and getting a ferry across the harbour, or a soulless journey on the MTR to Wan Chai, won’t stir the senses as much.
Sitting up in the stands for the final matches of Sunday as a chill blows in and the floodlights come on, and Don’t Stop Believing blares out of the speakers accompanied by the world’s largest chorus of backing vocalists, this stadium feels like it is alive.
The booming, beautiful fireworks display that lights up the night sky after the winners lift the trophy is spine tingling.
This stadium has changed so many peoples’ lives – it has seen marriage proposals and even a wedding.
This is the home of the Hong Kong Sevens, and we must cherish the last few we have here.