SINGAPORE – Christopher Wong still remembers the date July 7, 1974, clearly.
It was the day colour television made its Singapore debut and his father had bought a set to catch the first programme to be aired in colour: the World Cup final between Franz Beckenbauer’s West Germany and Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands, which the Germans won 2-1 in Munich.
Wong’s love for the sport has only grown since, with the 59-year-old following the subsequent World Cups closely.
In the past decade, he has also gone to Europe to watch English Premier League (EPL) and Champions League games, but not the World Cup.
That is set to change this year as the pilot and his wife Jane are among several Singaporean fans who will be travelling to Qatar for football’s biggest spectacle.
They will be attending four group-stage games (England v United States, Spain v Germany, France v Denmark, Portugal v Uruguay) at the Nov 20-Dec 18 tournament.
“I have a regular diet of top-notch football through EPL, La Liga, but to be there for a global event – just being there, soaking up the atmosphere, experiencing what it’s like,” said Wong, who has spent at least $15,000 on the trip.
“It’s going to be very fun and it’ll be an experience with people from around the world coming together to have a good time.
“Sport is about entertainment and packaging everything together and there will be all these fringe activities for fans, so it’ll be a complete experience.
“I think every World Cup and host will try to outdo the previous one.”
Wong’s impressions of the atmosphere were reinforced by Jun Tan, who will be heading to Qatar for his third Finals, having been to the 2014 and 2018 editions in Brazil and Russia respectively.
Through his trips to previous World Cups, the 41-year-old has made friends with fans from other countries and is looking forward to meeting them again in Qatar.
One of his most memorable experiences was watching Argentina’s 2-1 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina at Rio’s Maracana Stadium in 2014, with Lionel Messi scoring La Albiceleste’s second goal.
He recalled how he felt overwhelmed by the atmosphere as part of the 75,000 crowd.
“We’re all gathered with people who share the same passion – I got to meet new friends and we keep in touch till now,” said Tan, who works in the Mice (Meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) industry and has spent about $3,500 on his upcoming trip to Qatar.
While there, Tan will be watching two games – Japan v Costa Rica and Ghana v South Korea – with a friend.
He added: “Apart from games, I’m really looking forward to experiencing a different culture.”
With the event being held at the end of the year this time, Dean Lee, a director in a tech company, felt Qatar would be the perfect post-PSLE treat for his son Hayden.
Lee, 41, and his son, who are both Manchester United fans, see the World Cup as a chance to watch “great football and experience the tournament atmosphere”, as well as an opportunity to catch Messi in what is likely to be his last appearance at the competition.
They will be watching four group-stage games: Iran v US, Poland v Argentina, Croatia v Belgium and Cameroon v Brazil.
They are also hoping to catch United players – such as Brazilians Casemiro, Fred and Antony and Argentina’s Lisandro Martinez in the flesh.
While they are looking forward to the football, going to Qatar has also started conversations about some of the more controversial aspects of this World Cup.
The decision to hold the tournament there has been marred by controversy, including allegations of corruption and human rights violations.
Lee, who has spent $10,000 on the trip so far, said: “This became a teaching moment for my son and I to go through multiple facets of the arguments, which we are still discussing.
“More importantly, we will go there to enjoy the football festival, but with an open mind to observe and understand the actual conditions, so as to come back with a balanced view of the football and real world.”
For another Singaporean football fan, who wanted to be known only as Zack, going to the tournament is a dream that has been two decades in the making.
The 54-year-old had wanted to go for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, the first time the competition was staged in Asia, but his plans fell through because of work commitments.
This time, Zack will be going with his wife, three daughters and a friend to watch two round-of-16 games and a quarter-final.
Zack, who has spent over $30,000 on the trip, said: “I used to watch a lot of matches live at the old National Stadium and Jalan Besar Stadium.
“I thought it would be great to sit in a World Cup stadium to watch a World Cup match and wanted to experience that once in my lifetime.”
Additional reporting by Laura Chia