When the beer did flow, at the Al Bidda fan park

Published on Nov 20, 2022 10:15 PM IST

There were large queues, and checking of credentials took its time, but it was truly a coming together of passionate football fans when the World Cup fan zone was thrown open in the Qatari capital on Saturday.

Ecuador fan holding a beer at the opening of the FIFA fan festival(REUTERS)
Ecuador fan holding a beer at the opening of the FIFA fan festival(REUTERS)
By, Doha

Fifteen minutes to midnight on Saturday, the Al Bidda fan park was buzzing with a melange of humanity here to celebrate football. And beer, the brew that has been a source of discontent, was flowing.

So much so that one set of washrooms was not available to do the business. “We have run out of water,” said one of those minding the area. At 50 riyals, beer isn't cheap in this tony location between the West Bay and Souk Waqif, a marketplace of cobbled pathways, open air cafes, shisha bars and perfume stores. But you would be hard put to guess that given the serpentine queue for a pint of Budweiser, or several pints to avoid repeating the drill.

The first person spotted with a cardboard tray full of glasses got a cheer usually reserved for a Lionel Messi World Cup goal. The fan area can hold 40,000 and is open till 3am. Some of your teams will win, some won't but all of you are the real winners for coming to Doha, said FIFA president Gianni Infantino after the opening on Saturday evening.

Infantino took the stage after a parade of FIFA legends, among them Mario Kempes, Youri Djorkaeff, Marco Materazzi, David Trezeguet and Roberto Carlos for whom the crowd reserved the biggest cheer. Emcee Hamad al-Amani cranked up the mood and by the time Colombian artist Maluma (Juan Luis Londono Arias) and famous Lebanese singer Myriam Fares performed, the crowd was bouncing.

Ecuador's yellow was the most prominent colour though the paler shade of Socceroos', people in Brazil shirts and those who swear by ‘El Tri’ and happy to flaunt it were also seen in Mexico's new colours and the more traditional one in parrot green. But borders were blurred as people swayed to music one night before the rivalries began.

The spread of food is varied with African, European, South and North American and Asian fare, which included samosa, available. There is one beer court but the park has multiple giant screens to ensure a more even spread of the crowd. To get in though, you had to survive a security-check bottleneck made worse by the time taken to screen Hayya cards, mandatory for World Cup tourists, or some other document that would facilitate entry.

Chaos at entrance

With a lot of people fetching up to watch Qatar-Ecuador at the fan park, the chaos had multiplied on Sunday evening. As the crowd spilled out of the Corniche metro station and walked towards the park, they found most of the entrances closed. For over 30 minutes, they were made to wait and as people got restless, some tried to climb over the barricades. Around 6pm, one hour before kick-off, the gates were closed and people made to turn away. They were opened again some 10 minutes later. No explanation was available why.


    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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