Belgium fan club drinks in the World Cup emotion like its famous craft beer at Hong Kong brewpub
A modest turn-out witnessed an all-time epic World Cup clash in Hong Kong
“Where are you from?” asks the barman. “England,” I say.
“I’m sorry,” is his knee-jerk response, then after pause for thought, “oh, you’re still in.”
It’s not even a week since Belgium and England both went through the same World Cup group, although the Red Devils did win their dead rubber, even still it’s long forgotten in the first half of the round of 16 game against Japan.
The Belgian bartender works at The Artist House, which is the venue for the Belgian Club Hong Kong and according to signage on the street encompasses “craft beer, aquafarming, fragrance bar and events space”. Thankfully, somewhere between those pillars falls the football and there are 13 Belgium fans watching at kick-off, no mean feat for a 2am start in a bar that’s up an escalator in a mall in Causeway Bay.
The Belgian contingent swells to 18 as fans drift in during the first 15 minutes.
By then, there have been chances at both ends, enough to get almost every one in the room off their feet – but not the four fans occupying the individuals sofas in front of the screen.
One of those sports a current Belgium home shirt with Batshuayi on the back. The only other shirt in the room is from the last World Cup. One fan wears what can only be described as a tricolour troll wig.
The closer that Belgium get to the Japanese goal, the more ways I hear “Allez” shouted, screamed and even pleaded.
Occasionally, the “allez” is matched with a “c’est bon” but it is clear the Red Devils are underperforming and there is disbelief at the lack of “fini” to their first-half chances.
The biggest excitement is a “boom” that greets the replay of a Hazard shot that cannons off the Japanese keeper. But the playmaker is also questioned: “Ou est Hazard?” follows a Carrasco pass into the area that finds no one.
After 35 minutes, the fans seem emotionally drained. Several have swapped seats after moving around. There’s a tension in the air. Frustration at the golden generation not shining.
Most of these fans are in pairs or groups of friends with the odd individual, but come half-time it becomes chatty across the groups as most fans head for the light of the bar and for more fries. There’s at least one portion of fries per person in here. At least.
In the bar, the England-baiting barman tells of their beers: blonde, raspberry, wheat and a Belgian IPA that is “more subtle than the Americans but it’s still seven degrees so it will hit you at some point.”
Japan ended the half the stronger side and they carry that into the restart. They score within minutes and the Belgium fans become bilingual: “Oh, shit”, “Nique ta mere”, “Wow”, “Come on guys!” It is well after the watershed.
The goal has woken the atmosphere.
Hazard hits the post to a collective “Awww.”
Japan score again.
One fan in an aged Belgium training top says to his sombrero-sporting friend – perhaps the only other non-Belgian – “Come on, we go.”
A younger fan on the sofas takes the opportunity to post a selfie on social media.
There are 40 minutes for Belgium to save their World Cup and everyone’s head is in their hands after Romelu Lukaku has headed wide – “Allez, come on”. Seconds later those hands are in the air following a Jan Vertonghen lobbed header out of nowhere. Minutes later Marouane Fellaini has headed the Red Devils level.
A burst of “Ole, ole, ole” rings out.
Japan scored twice in four minutes, Belgium got their two in five minutes. There’s been a lot of emotion in the first half hour of the second half. There will be more to come with every half chance felt deeply to the point where “allez” and “ole” are being mixed up.
One fan flies into the back of my seat as he tries to get on the end of a chance as the end of normal time draws near.
It’s bouncing when the Japanese keeper absolutely Instagrams two top saves from Belgium headers and then Honda goes close at the other end, drawing a corner from a long-range free-kick.
Willing the final whistle as the corner is taken becomes wild celebration seconds later as Belgium break to score what has to be the winner. Every emotion of being a football fan is felt in between.
The Belgians go bananas, for about ten seconds. It’s not over.
Giggles greet goalkeeper Courtois clutching the ball after one last Japanese attack.
What a match – the best so far of a great World Cup – but such a shame that there are more people sleeping in the foyer outside as part of some TV show filming in a neighbouring cafe. One of their crew asks me the score as I leave. He’s pleased Belgium won but has no idea what he has missed.
Most people used to struggle when asked to name ten famous Belgians – come July 15 there could be at least 11 more.