19 October 2019
Hong Kong fans cheer the local side. Shenzhen police patrolled the stadium and banned 'Hong Kong Power' banners. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong fans cheer the local side. Shenzhen police patrolled the stadium and banned 'Hong Kong Power' banners. Photo: Reuters

This isn’t political football — it’s the real thing

It’s fair to say that China and Xi Jinping owned the big parade but the day belonged to Hong Kong and Edmond Yapp.

In the language of sports fans, that is.

Hong Kong fans, especially, think that Thursday’s scoreless draw against a highly fancied mainland side in their FIFA World Cup qualifier was more memorable than the sight of goose-stepping soldiers and tanks rolling down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing. 

We know that part of the story — Xi Jinping reviewing the mightiest display of military prowess since the founding of the People’s Republic — and onlookers mesmerized by it.

After all, it was a ceremonial event to mark the end of Japanese military power, 70 years after Japan’s surrender in World War II.

South of the spruced-up capital, in Shenzhen’s more austere Bao’ An Stadium, football fans were treated to a different spectacle, watching a Hong Kong hero emerge yet again.

The headlines — one of which simply crowed “Hong Kong is great”– said it all the next day and the stories left no one in doubt about Yapp.

The Hong Kong goalie was praised for letting nothing past him.

He was directly responsible for thwarting one of three solid attempts by the mainlanders.

In one instance when an opponent eluded Yapp, his teammates rose to the occasion to deny the mainlanders a goal.

The draw kept Hong Kong on top of Group C in the Asian qualifiers with seven points after three matches (two wins and one draw).

China sits three points down, behind second-running Qatar with six points.

That’s an unusual position for both Hong Kong and China.

FIFA ranks Hong Kong 67 notches below the mainland, which makes every match between the two sides every bit more interesting.

In fact, Hong Kong fans consider the goalless draw nothing less than a win for their side. Hong Kong and China meet again on Nov. 17.

Yapp has been a star goalie for Hong Kong since 2009 after the team won the gold medal in the East Asian Games.

He had gone to the match against a highly favored opponent with the weight of public expectations.

He delivered and was quickly anointed by Hongkongers as a hero but he did not impress the captain of the opposing side.

Zheng Zhi reportedly disparaged Yapp’s character.

In a Facebook post, Yapp complained that one Chinese player called him a “dog” during the closing minutes of the match.

He did not name the player but netizens from both sides of the border concluded Zheng was the source of the insult and went on to excoriate him on social media. 

The incident reignited cross-border animosity that began after Hong Kong fans booed the Chinese national anthem during the team’s two previous outings against Bhutan and the Maldives.

This time, Shenzhen police patrolled the stadium and banned “Hong Kong Power” banners after deciding that the 2,000 Hong Kong fans in the stands were a threat to security.

Nonetheless, it was a relief to see something that had nothing to do with politics for a change.

We did have a dose of it this week thanks to the ongoing saga over the long-delayed appointment of a pro vice chancellor for the University of Hong Kong.

Then there was the political football over the lead contamination crisis that has now spread to schools and a widening scandal over the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade redevelopment.

Who can blame us for obsessing about a scoreless draw? 

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EJ Insight writer