When FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicks off today (Nov 20), it will be watched by five billion people, half of humanity’s population. Host Qatar takes on Ecuador in the opening match. The excitement will reach its climax at the Dec 18 final. So do not schedule any important work-related meeting for the next four weeks – or even weddings. Conversations will centre on who beat who in Qatar and all the drama that today’s smartphone can capture in HD glory and clarity. Anything else will be a distraction.
New excitement will be generated and new memories made. New star players will emerge and await to cash in on their talents in the top European soccer leagues, especially the English Premier League. And the strange thing is that Qatar will be some of the stars’ new owner through the EPL.
I am not a World Cup or a soccer fanatic. I am more an all-round sports fan. I follow many sports except cricket which I do not quite understand until today. You ask me anything about swimming, badminton, hockey, tennis, table tennis, track and field, Olympics, I would have a fair knowledge of each. Still, the World Cup and soccer have provided me a fair share of interesting memories.
I got slightly hooked on to the World Cup because of a special date many years ago. I was looking for an unusual place for dinner and found out that Hyatt Regency hotel on Scotts Road was having a World Cup special to celebrate not only the occasion but also the fact that match would be televised live and, for the first time in Singapore, in glorious colour. So I booked a table.
I turned up with my date and we had to squeeze ourselves through a boisterous crowd of mostly Germans and Dutchmen to get to our table. As you can guess, this was the final between West Germany and Holland. We ordered from a menu with food and drinks aptly called Dutch Orange, Cruyff Total Sandwich, Beckenbauer Bacon Bits and so on. When Johan Neeskens put the penalty ball into the net in the second minute, the Dutch half exploded. Then another penalty – to the other half, the Germans. Hyatt Regency became noisy again, with the German roar hitting the roof when Gerd Muller scored the Cup-clinching goal for Germany just before half-time.
Then in 1986, I won half of an office soccer betting pool. The pool amount was not bad but I had to share it with another person. It was for predicting which two teams would get into the final. I predicted Argentina and West Germany. The winnings compensated for the rather poor TV reception, unlike for the 1974 Holland-West Germany classic. It was patchy and spoilt many Singaporeans’ viewing.
After that, commercial greed crept in and started to spoil many people’s enjoyment of sports even further, in particular soccer.
Sports has become too commercialised. The moment I had to pay through my nose to watch soccer matches, my interest declined drastically. Singaporeans have been taken advantage of. I realised just how much in the mid-2000s when I was in Kuala Lumpur to help launch a magazine. For one and half years, I was enjoying live EPL matches there for free.
I will cue you in on a secret. I still follow the EPL. But I do not pay to watch any match. I catch EPL through BBC Online. The livestreaming, complete with first-class commentary, is always good enough for me.
For this World Cup, since the times are not unfriendly to Singaporeans, I may invite myself to a soccer-crazy friend’s house to watch certain matches – or go to a CC or coffeeshop. Maybe you should do that.
Singaporeans must not become soccer suckers.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.
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