Football: Ready for a ball of a time

Richard Tan and Tilak Dasgupta are thinking of taking the Singapore flag with them to Russia to watch the World Cup.
Richard Tan and Tilak Dasgupta are thinking of taking the Singapore flag with them to Russia to watch the World Cup.PHOTO COURTESY OF TILAK DASGUPTA

Many fans making the trip to Russia, with over 3,000 tickets allocated to S'poreans

For George So, 67, many key events in his life have coincided with the World Cup.

The 1966 finals, won by hosts England, marked the first of the quadrennial competition the Singaporean saw. He was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Hong Kong, where he was born.

His time in the United States, where he did his undergraduate studies and MBA at Columbia University, saw him arranging a school outing to Madison Square Garden to catch the live screening of the 1978 World Cup Final. Four years later, he got married - the same year Italy became champions.

In 1994, So finally made it to the tournament proper and soaked in the unique World Cup fever in Los Angeles. He also travelled to Japan for the 2002 edition.

So and his wife Linda will leave on June 30 for Russia. They will catch one match each in Moscow and St. Petersburg and estimated that the entire trip of 13 nights will cost them US$6,000 (S$8,000) .

The banker said: "I'll enjoy this the most because, during the first one in America, there wasn't that soccer culture yet and very few households were watching. I look forward to watching it live in a football nation like Russia, where people are crazy about the sport.

  • Tips for travellers to Russia

  • A travel safety guide has been developed by medical and security specialists from International SOS and Control Risks for those travelling to Russia for the World Cup. The tips provide an overview of the health and security environment in Russia, risk ratings from a health and security perspective and other relevant travel information.

    Here are some of the tips:

    •If staying in private accommodation, check with your hosts that you are registered with the local migration services body within 72 hours of your arrival in a host city.

    •Avoid self-driving and use only official taxis. Ensure that you have your hotel and other key addresses written in Russian and that an online/offline translation service is available.

    •Avoid overt displays of wealth by leaving valuables in a secure location (i.e. hotel safe) and carrying only small amounts of cash on you.

    •If you are an LGBTQ traveller, avoid displays of affection in public, as Russian legislation considers the "promotion of homosexual propaganda" to be illegal.

    •Monitor international diplomatic affairs for issues that may impact you based on your profile, and avoid discussing politics in public settings. Consider carefully any social media postings.

    •In the event that you notice unrest brewing, vacate the area and return to a secure location (i.e. hotel or local office) until the situation stabilises.

    •Adopt measures to safeguard information security. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks and turn off your mobile phone's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions when not in use.

    •Travellers should have medical plans in place, in case of any issues.

"The World Cup is one event where you don't have to watch the final because every single match is so exciting and so close... in a match between Germany and a very low-ranked nation, for example, it doesn't mean the 'stronger' team will win for sure."

Fellow Singaporean Tilak Dasgupta attended the 2002 edition and is preparing for his second World Cup. The 43-year-old engineer will watch Argentina facing Nigeria on June 26 (Russia time) with his friend of 18 years, Richard Tan.

The pair are thinking of taking the Singapore flag to St. Petersburg with them. Dasgupta, who is rooting for Argentina, said: "It's less than two weeks away and we're excited that the day is drawing near and we have to start packing.

"What I'm looking forward to is also meeting other Singaporean fans, and maybe we can get together before the matches and soak in the atmosphere."

 

According to Fifa, 3,241 match tickets have been allocated to Singaporeans.

Interior designer Kenny Cheong, left for Sochi on Wednesday with his wife. He believes the atmosphere will be unparalleled.

"I've always wanted to enjoy the atmosphere at a World Cup. I've been to London to watch the English Premier League, and now I want to watch the World Cup," the 36-year-old said.

He paid US$200 a ticket to watch Portugal taking on Spain tomorrow and Belgium against Panama on Monday.

Cheong hopes either Portugal or Belgium will win the title, adding: "I want to see how fast (Cristiano) Ronaldo can run on the field. I've never watched him live before and I think it'll be interesting."

None of the Singaporeans were perturbed by potential challenges posed by the language barrier or security issues, expressing confidence that the organisers would make security the top priority.

In fact, Cheong is more concerned about ensuring that there is ample time between domestic flight transfers.

"We will use Google Translate and we are considering booking a local English-speaking tour guide if it is affordable," he said. "As for safety, we just have to be vigilant."

Dasgupta added: "There's going to be thousands of tourists and fans and I'm sure there'll be a lot of English-speaking people from all parts of the world.

"We still have to look after ourselves, but I'm quite confident that security will be taken seriously and everything will be smooth."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2018, with the headline 'Ready for a ball of a time'. Print Edition | Subscribe