From Elvis to Lehman Brothers, Sevens souvenirs are a treasure trove of memories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am

Up in the corporate boxes, the pundits predict the economic downturn will mean a slight change of tone next weekend. Eager to stay out of the media glare, many of the big-name corporates will cut back on the festivities, frolics and the ubiquitous 'freebies'.

Over the years, Sevens fans have collected a treasure trove of souvenirs. And while the likes of Elvis capes and cheese hats may rise again, items such as Lehman Brothers' inflatable hands and a Peregrine-sponsored ball have been kicked permanently into touch.

These collectors' items might not be worth much on eBay, but to their owners they provide a wealth of memories.

'I came to live in Hong Kong from Sydney around the time of the Sevens in 1991. I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about and couldn't understand why everyone insisted I had to go,' says Alex Zuchenkyo, who works in advertising as a creative director.

'It far exceeded my expectations. I've kept a rugby ball-shaped cushion as a souvenir of that first Sevens. It has survived seven house moves since then. Of all my possessions, it's probably the one I've had for the longest.'

According to Zuchenkyo, 18 years ago the Sevens was a world away from the swish affair it has since grown into.

'There were no seats at the stadium then - this is why they sold cushions, although many sat on the South China Morning Post and enterprising amahs made their own and sold them out the front.

'The stadium also didn't have a roof, and all the spectators walked around the front really close to the pitch. There was no concourse like there is now. I have no idea how I actually managed to meet my other half and our gang there after I came from the office. This method of walking out the front of the pitch was a life saver. You just had to walk around and find them in the old stadium that held 25,000 people.

'On the subject of lifesavers, I have inflatable life-saver rings, which are a memory of 2005. A sizable guy in the South Stand defied gravity, science and every rule of volume by managing to squeeze himself into about 40 of them, becoming the life-raft Michelin man.

'And who could forget the JP Morgan Elvis capes, wigs and glasses from 2004 when Elvis obviously hadn't left the building? I covet the full collection but alas, only have the sunglasses.'

Tania Mansfield, a primary school teacher and head coach of Hong Kong Football Club's under-six team, has been a regular since the beginning in 1976.

'I've only ever missed one Sevens, when I was doing a postgraduate course in New Zealand in 2005. I was weaned on the Sevens,' said the mother of two. 'My mother used to take me and my three siblings there at 3.30 in the morning. It was free seating and she was determined to have the same spot on the halfway line every year.

'When the gates finally opened at 7am, we'd all run into the same special spot. She'd go to church and leave us napping teenagers. She'd bring a big picnic box full of sandwiches, which helped us stick to her rule that we had to be back to 'check in' every three hours. There was no underage drinking back then.

'I was even a Foster's girl as a teenager,' Mansfield adds. 'Mum didn't approve of the outfit, and a few others didn't either, and it was changed by the next day!

'Despite multiple house moves, I have some programmes that I have saved over the years, like the one from the World Cup in 1997. And I have a poster of Jonah Lomu doing Superman, both of which I've just shipped into storage. I still have a Peregrine ball [The Sevens That Never Was] - the sponsor that went bust.

'The kids have their airplanes and stuff from the boxes and pilots' hats from the Deutsche Bank 'the sky's the limit' theme a couple of years ago. Their dress-up box is full of stuff.'

Jane Armstrong has two children at the Australian International School, and she says they like nothing better than roaring around the boxes and collecting freebies.

'For my two kids, the Hong Kong Sevens is better than Christmas. I think they've visited more corporate boxes than I have!' she says. 'Just as well PricewaterhouseCoopers gave away a duffle bag last year - my two needed it to carry home all the things they found.

'In the children's toy box I found a veritable treasure trove of Sevens past. There were hands from Lehman Brothers - they've got to be collectors' items. Sevens giveaways may or may not be extinct this year, but more than one bank sure is.

'We have Morgan Stanley James Bond gear. And a complete Merrill Lynch harem get-up, complete with face mask, genie turban, vest and a belly-dancing belt.

'Not to forget a cape from the UBS 'Sevens Sins' theme box last year - I think my children fit into one of those sins for acquiring so many souvenirs!'