Fifa World Cup: France and Croatia fans gear up to watch Moscow final in Hong Kong, communities coming together for a ‘common dream’

House parties and get-togethers for city’s large French contingent, while dozens of its fewer than 50 Croatians expected at screening of match which has ‘equal significance to declaring independence’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 11:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2018, 11:43am

Frenchwoman Fanny Riou had bought face paint and plastic sunglasses in the red, white and blue of her national flag, and on Saturday was eagerly awaiting the World Cup final between her team and Croatia the following night.

Riou, 30, who works for a travel agency, planned to watch with 800 fellow France fans on the big screen in the grand ballroom of the Kerry Hotel in Kowloon, at an event organised by the Union of French Expats (UFE).

“This is a great opportunity for the country to gather around a common dream,” she said.

And she was not the only one; a number of optimistic French nationals across Hong Kong said they were gearing up to watch their country win the title in Russia on Sunday.

The city’s French massively outnumber local Croatians. Currently, 20,000 French citizens live in Hong Kong, accounting for 0.2 per cent of the population, according to the national consulate here. In contrast, it is estimated there are fewer than 50 Croatians living and working in the city.

But dozens of Croatians planned to gather elsewhere in the Kerry Hotel, at its Dockyard restaurant.

“This [final] has equal significance to declaring independence I would say,” Alen Pavlovic, 28, working in IT at an investment bank, said. Croatia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Pavlovic, who moved to Hong Kong a year ago, said the World Cup had been a turning point, as his local compatriots emerged to follow the national team’s soccer success, proving he was far from the only Croatian in town.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” he said. “Football games are a great reason for people to meet and enjoy time together.

“This Sunday, it will not be just 11 Croatians playing the final; there will be more than 4 million Croatians tomorrow on the pitch in Moscow.”

Marc Guyon, 34, president of the French Association in Hong Kong, said the UFE “fan zone” event was meant to replicate the ones in Paris. A crowd of 1,000 was expected.

“We don’t want small events with 30 people. We want a huge crowd and to celebrate all together,” he said.

Saoud Maherzi said: “French people use very spontaneous ways to celebrate, like suddenly singing out loud. It’s just typically French.”

Maherzi is CEO of events company Rouge, which has organised, with the French Football Federation, screenings of Les Bleus matches at Spiga, a restaurant in Central, attracting more than 300 fans on average.

Maherzi described the passion of the French football fans as “heated and intense”. He recalled that for the side’s semi-final win over Belgium on Wednesday, about 200 people showed up at the restaurant, undeterred by the unfavourable 2am kick-off time.

Eric-Jean Thomas, a 68-year-old lawyer, said that he planned to throw a house party, with up to 50 people gathering to watch the final. “My friends and friends of my friends will all come, as it’s just a good time to get together,” said Thomas, who also planned to cook special French food.

“It’s an unusual thing for me [to hold a house party],” Thomas added. “There are not many chances to invite dozens of people to watch TV at your house!”

Having lived in the city for 23 years, Thomas still remembers how he celebrated when France hosted and won the World Cup in 1998. “A couple of friends and I were in a bar, and then we just left and went home after the match. There were no big celebrations,” he recalled.

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He said he expected the situation to be “a bit different now”, because the number of French nationals in the city has risen over the past 20 years, and the demographic has got younger.

“If we win this time, I’m sure the young expats will go all over the place on Sunday night, like Lan Kwai Fong, dancing and drinking,” Thomas said, laughing.

Reflecting on France’s first win 20 years ago, Camille Gayraud, a travel planner and blogger who was nine years of age at the time, said: “It was such a special day. Everyone was celebrating, even in my small village. I hope I can create new memories with a Hong Kong background this time.”

Jerome Campoy, 28, did not doubt France would retake the top prize in world soccer.

“I don’t want to respond to the question of if we lose, because we are not going to,” he said.

Emilie Guillot, founder and artistic director of the Hong Kong Theatre Association, said she would paint her lips in the colours of her national flag to show her support.

“I will probably end up with our wonderful ‘lipsyflag’”, she said, hinting at cautious optimism of a French triumph.

“I’m not trying to be rude but let’s be honest we haven’t had any great games for a while now!” she said. “Except this year!”