Hong Kong soccer fans yesterday were left frustrated as a ticket Web site crashed and hundreds lined up in vain for a much-anticipated and politically charged World Cup qualifier against China.
About 4,000 tickets were allocated to home fans for the match on Nov. 17, but all sold out within three hours.
Hundreds of people lined up at Mong Kok Stadium, but tickets had gone by mid-morning.
Those hoping to buy online were greeted by a message that the booking Web site was “currently very busy” and asked to try again later.
Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe had earlier questioned why the hotly anticipated tie was being played at the 6,000-seat Mong Kok Stadium, rather than the much larger 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.
The association was fined US$5,100 last month after fans booed the March of the Volunteers anthem, which the territory shares with China.
“It’s outrageous. I feel like a fool for waiting so many hours,” a 69-year-old man who gave his name as Tsang told reporters as he lined up for tickets.
“We are all curious why there aren’t many tickets. Is it that the government does not want Hong Kong people to watch it?” one 64-year-old retiree surnamed Chan added.
Events revolving around Hong Kong’s soccer team further highlight the souring of attitudes to Chinese authorities, which was graphically demonstrated by last year’s “Umbrella movement” pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong fans have repeatedly booed their own anthem at World Cup qualifiers, which has prompted sharp warnings from FIFA, as well as last month’s fine.
There was also outrage when the Chinese Football Association released a poster describing Hong Kong’s players as “black-skinned, yellow-skinned and white-skinned,” which was criticized as racist.
The upcoming game carries much significance as Hong Kong and China, who are second and third in Group C and drew 0-0 in September in Shenzhen, China, vie to reach the next stage.
Hong Kong Football Association chairman Leung Hung-tak yesterday said its hands were tied over the lack of tickets, because the venue was just too small.
“There were so many fans and ... there were too few tickets,” he told reporters after tickets were sold out.
The larger Hong Kong Stadium’s operator has ruled out hosting the game, reportedly because of concerns over the pitch after a rugby sevens Olympic qualifying tournament this weekend.
All of the previous three home games were played at the smaller venue in Mongkok.
Sutcliffe wrote in his blog: “In my opinion, not holding the match against China at the Hong Kong Stadium is very disheartening and a great shame for local football.”
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