In Hong Kong, what’s kicking is football

Each time I visit a foreign land, apart from snapping an estimated 585 photos, tasting eccentric local delicacies and absorbing each waking minute of the strange territory, I do one more act: I read the local newspaper.

While in Hong Kong for over a week until yesterday, I read two dailies: the South China Morning Post (which dates back to 1903 and should be Hong Kong’s top journal) and The Standard.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is huge. While our Sun.Star is suitably-sized for a metropolis like Cebu and, in comparison, both the Phil. Daily Inquirer and Phil. Star are bigger because they’re national, the SCMP is giant-sized. It covers stories not just of the seven-million-strong Hong Kong residents, but of China’s 1.324-billion population. It’s XL-size for a XXXL nation.

You need not ask which section I devour the most. The front page, obviously, I scan first, but within a minute of browsing, I flip the gray pages open to find the back, sports section. What did I uncover in Hong Kong? Plenty. One: that sports is aplenty. On Sundays, they devote a whopping eight pages to everything about the NBA playoffs, Rafa Nadal, the New York Yankees, etc.

Horse racing? Ah, of course. Last Wednesday, they devoted 12 pages (yes, one dozen!) to a sport I’d rather term as “gambling”… RACING. But, above all, one sport outkicks everybody else: Soccer. Maybe because the World Cup is just 46 days away or because Hong Kong was under British rule (and aren’t they a football-crazy people) for about 156 years. Hong Kong is Soccer Crazy.

Scanning yesterday’s South China Morning Post, the headline read: Ronaldo confident Real will win league title. “The Portuguese forward,” it read, “signed from Manchester United last summer, has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the sparkling form of Barca’s Leo Messi, but he feels that it will be Real who will come out on top in the fight for the title.”

Below the all-football-page was Soccer on TV Today which showed the full schedules of the world’s most popular sport. Another article was about David Beckham and how he reigns as world’s highest-earning footballer, pocketing US$40 million per year, mainly from sponsors like Giorgio Armani, Motorola and Adidas. The No. 2 top-earner is Cristiano Ronaldo at $30 million/year… “Ronaldo, the 2008 Fifa Player of the Year, became the highest-paid soccer player in the world in June when Real Madrid bought the 25-year-old winger from Manchester United for $130 million.”

With my compatriots—their columnists—I read two: Alvin Sallay and Jason Dasey (both of whom are terrific, as expected of a paper with this high-quality). Their columns? About football, of course.

From last Friday’s SCMP was the story on Mario Balotelli. In the article, I’ll be special: Balotelli, the 19-year-old Inter Milan sensation was quoted as saying, “Psychologically I am as I was before. I’m ready to become the best in the world.” Wow, what bravado from the teenager.

Forbes ranks United richest team in world was another piece that said, “English champions Manchester United have been ranked the most valuable sports team by Forbes magazine for the sixth year in a row.” How much was ManU valued? A whopping $1.8 billion. The second placer is the Dallas Cowboys (remember where Manny Pacquiao last fought, in their stadium?) with $1.65B followed by the New York Yankees at $1.5B.

Finally, from last week, a feature on North Korea and how, after 44 years, it’s going back to the World Cup. “In less than two months’ time, it is hard to imagine the footballers from the one of the world’s most closed nations being granted any greater freedom when they turn up in South Africa for the World Cup,” said one paragraph. The passion for the sport in North Korea is unparalleled, a status which owes much to the success of the team that represented the country at the 1966 old Cup finals.”
Soccer in Hong Kong, I’ve learned, is their sports counterpart of the Peking Duck.

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