Fifa World Cup 2018: France v Australia ‘as busy as the royal wedding’ in Hong Kong bars
Two of Hong Kong’s biggest expat followings turn out in force to watch their teams, with fans spilling out into the streets of Soho trying to catch a glimpse of the match
As La Marseillaise blared from the speakers of French American Bistro on Hollywood Road, with dozens of France supporters standing to attention, hands on hearts, and belting out the lyrics, I was treated to the kind of cultural insight that only a World Cup can give you.
Instead of the pints you would see at a pub for an England game, champagne flutes and Dom Perignon bottles lined the tables instead.
A few of them clutched glasses of Pastis that was so strong I could smell it from a metre away.
Although we were three days into the tournament, this felt like the start of the World Cup for Hong Kong, with Australia facing France – two countries with sizeable expat populations in the city.
The bars of Soho were fully booked – a non football-enthusiast friend complained she couldn’t find anywhere to have dinner – and people spilled out onto the streets, peering inside any establishment smart enough to have a television screen on.
Down the road at The Globe on Graham Street, it was carnage, with more than 500 people packed in to watch the match.
“Today is the busiest time we’ve had,” said Pasi Gulang, a waitress at the bar. “When it comes to French and Australians, it’s very big for us.”
“We were as busy for the royal wedding,” said Toby Cooper, one of the bar’s managers. “I was surprised we were that busy for Australia v France.
“I was expecting to also show the Australia v Ireland rugby match, which was on the same time, but everyone wanted the football.
“It’s World Cup fever I suppose. It was a good match, too.”
Eight years ago during the South Africa World Cup, when Germany played England, a member of staff had to stand outside the bar as a de facto bouncer and stop people coming in.
“That will happen again as we get to the knockout stages,” Cooper said.
Up at Spot Bar on Staunton Street, it was standing room only – with people even lined up on the steps outside.
It was a similar scene at McSorley’s down the road, and a mighty roar could be heard from QiPao when a goal went in.
“Who scored?” I asked one patron on the pavement, after rushing over to check.
“Who do you think?” he said, laughing, as I watched a replay of Antoine Griezmann’s penalty. “France, of course.”
Australia did provide a little bit of drama, Mile Jedinak scoring a penalty to level the score in the 62nd minute, before Manchester United star Paul Pogba grabbed a late winner for Les Bleus.
Then the bars emptied out and normal service was resumed. “We weren’t nearly as busy for the Argentina v Iceland later,” Cooper said.
Sunday’s first game, Costa Rica v Serbia at 8pm, may not get the same level of interest, but Brazil and Switzerland could bring a few people out.
“The game times in Russia are good for Hong Kong, but the games themselves are not so good,” one Wan Chai bar owner said.
“A 2am game gets a good crowd in Wan Chai. But a few teams with a killer expat population in Hong Kong missed on qualifying, like the US and Italy. So it’s a trade off.”
At least there’s always England, who will be in action on Monday night.