‘No beer, no point’: England fans swerve booze-free Fifa fan park as only 200 watch Iran win
Pints of Budweiser were only made available to fans at 7pm in Doha’s official fan park, three hours after England’s opening World Cup game had kicked off.
A game of two halves and some early controversy on the uber cool Doha Corniche. England’s entry into the World Cup was met with chronic indifference at the Qatar 2022 Fan Park and an impromptu big screen blackout as the players took the knee.
In sequence, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane resumed their feet, the commentary team made reference to a gesture familiar to the English viewer, and pictures were lost, begging the inevitable censorship question. But who dunnit? Was it the Supreme Committee with a pair of wire cutters or did the complicit Fifa morality police pull the plug?
The question was put to officials on site, who like many a home manager in the dugout failed to spot the incident. “If that happened I didn’t notice it,” the media manager said. “It must be a Fifa thing. The feed is not Qatari controlled. It’s an international feed, which is why there is English commentary.”
Nothing to see there, then, still less at a festival brimming with emptiness. No beer, no point was the unmistakable message sent by the absent hordes.
It was a different matter when Budweiser turned on the taps at 7pm. The natural inclination of the South Americans to gather around a flag and sing allegiance to the mother country banished the austerity of a sterile afternoon.
Ordinarily, a rendition of Uptown Funk would get even my ageing knees knocking. It proved more an irritant spoiling the splendour of the late afternoon sunshine. A medal of honour goes to the early turn of the day, the White Keys, an ensemble of London session musicians and vocalists who belted out their menu of funk, soul, disco and pop covers like it was Glasto.
Those that had entered hours in advance to lay claim to a prime spot were left to amuse themselves with face painting and a wander around the Fifa store. An hour before kick-off 20-year-old Jack Smith from Blackpool and his 39-year-old uncle Oliver from nearby Parbold had the freedom of the house. It was the first World Cup for both and neither was sure what to make of the experience.
Interestingly the beer embargo was more of an issue than the controversies that have absorbed the media in the build-up to World Cup 2022. Smith, who has family in Doha, said: “The last few times I’ve been here it has been a really relaxed place to be. I don’t feel any of that. It’s a big issue in the media but not for us.”
We should not be surprised at this. Rightly or wrongly the demos tends to respond to issues that touch them directly. The fate of those persecuted for their sexual orientation, gender or status in a distant territory is not uppermost in their thinking. Smith did add, however. “Of course, it might be different if I were gay.”
Uncle Ollie was more disturbed by the buzz deficit at the start of his two-week trip of a lifetime. “It’s my first World Cup. We thought it would be rammed. But how often are you going to do this?” he said. “Disappointing not to be able to get a beer until 7pm when the match kicks off at 4pm. But you have to make the most of it.”
Travellers tipping out of the Doha Metro at Al Bidda are greeted by Steve, a typically friendly soul whose job it is to say hello and point punters towards the slow burn nirvana. “How far is it?” I asked Steve, who is from Kenya and has lived in Qatar for two years working, he said, in security. “Ten or 15 minutes,” he replied cheerfully.
Half an hour later I limped into camp expecting to be lifted by the swell of humanity. Instead, it was just me, the Keys, and a few good sports doing their best to simulate the mosh pit.
About 200 England fans were rumoured to be on site. They must have diverted to the library looking for excitement. The England goal rush triggered barely a murmur. Not even a boo from the Welsh who began to arrive in the second half ahead of their own grand depart against the USA.