Wales fans make Doha’s ‘Floor of Fun’ feel like home


DOHA, Qatar – Up a short spiral staircase in the healthful InterContinental Hotel in Doha’s posh West Bay area are three restaurants that at first glance bear little in common: The Curry House (Indian cuisine), Hive Lounge (Australian meats) and Prime (Australian meat). A steakhouse.) Yet these rooms, linked by a communal hallway, have become the social center for Wales’ first World Cup appearance for 64 years, and perhaps more than anywhere else the drama of their final Group B game on Tuesday will be clearly felt. Around 20 km away is the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium where Robert Page’s team will face England. Welcome to “Floor of Fun”.

All three venues are run by Rodry Williams, a Welshman born in Barrie whose career as a sports television anchor took him to Qatar, which he made his permanent home 10 years ago. The 54-year-old was a public figure in Wales who worked for Sky, Setanta Sports and ITV – mainly on rugby – while running various bars in Cardiff including the Cameo Club, a private club 10 minutes from the Millennium Stadium club.

A day after Wales beat Ukraine 1–0 in a June playoff to qualify for the World Cup, a mutual friend put travel organizer Leigh James in touch with Williams. James helps run “Gol Cymru”, a fan charity which aims to help disadvantaged children in the areas where Wales play and organizes experiences for traveling supporters.

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In Qatar, concerns differed from the general. The attraction of the first World Cup in more than six decades was offset by widely reported doubts over the Gulf state’s human rights record, particularly its treatment of LGBTQIA+ people. But at the same time, especially for the Welsh and the British, there was another important consideration: the prohibition of alcohol consumption in a Muslim country.

“All the information about Qatar was that you couldn’t get a beer, you couldn’t get a glass of wine,” James told ESPN. “People were wary of it. They wanted to go somewhere that was safe. We haven’t been at the World Cup for 64 years, we take away a lot of fans, but this was something different.

“We sold tickets on a portal. Tickets were free, but they had to buy a package at the hotel. I inserted 600 live. They went in 10 minutes, and I was surrounded by people. We talked to the general manager and we got another 600 places. met, then an additional 600 people.”

Packages started from £79 for five bottles of beer. Almost all the fans who came to Qatar had tickets to the match, so the partying started early in the day and then lasted late into the night, a wraparound haven for Wales supporters looking to go home from home.

‘The Curry House’ and the waiting area have been decorated with the scent of the World Cup. Photo credit: James Ole.

The ground was packed for Wales’ opening 1–1 draw with the United States and, according to Williams, there were 1,700 for Friday’s 2–0 defeat to Iran – a defiant climax that forced Page’s team into stoppage time. Two extra-time goals resulted in a defeat following the red card of goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. On the night ESPN visited the restaurant — last Saturday when France played Denmark — fans dressed in shirts from about 10 countries were cheering.

Curry House is a rare thing in Doha: a place where you can get some North Indian cuisine with a draft beer to wash it down. A clash of vibrant colors adorn the walls; Several booths have been set up with private screens; And cartoon artwork adorns the walls.

Famous faces are also not uncommon. Former England internationals, now pundits, Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand have visited the stylish Prime – opened at the start of the tournament – in early November, and former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderón is another prominent football figure who stops by for food. are partially known. on offer.

A 30-year-old Welsh fan, who chose to remain anonymous, told ESPN: “I’ve been here for the first two Wales games, and it was like being in Cardiff. The feeling here was unbelievable. People call it ‘ Floor of Fun,’ and I can see why.”

The fan base has become somewhat divided by external circumstances. An estimated 2,500 Wales supporters chose to travel to Tenerife Given the cost and concerns about the experience waiting for them in Doha, instead of Qatar. James of the split said, “What you’ll find with Welsh fans is it’s not cheap to come here, so some people will struggle to come, and the people who are here, demographically, they’re more mature in age. So some people come to Tenerife.” And some of the scenes are down there, that’s not our culture.

The Urd Youth Choir, consisting of over 30 young men and women from the Valley of the Clwyd in North Wales, visited Qatar with the help of the British Embassy and the Arts Council of Wales. After singing and teaching some Welsh to expatriate children at some of Doha’s schools, the choir performed on the “Floor of Fun” inside the Intercontinental Hotel on match day, a particularly spectacular performance in the wake of Friday’s defeat to Iran.

“By the way, he volunteered to perform here, I didn’t have to tell him,” Williams told ESPN. “It’s a Welsh thing. Once he started singing, it brought a smile to everyone’s face. Everyone mourned because the Welsh had lost, but a few drinks and a sing-along, all is well. “

They were not the only musical act in attendance. The Barry Horns, an 11-piece brass band named after former Wales midfielder Barry Horn, performed at parties held for the first two matches. Folk singer Dafydd Iwan gave a rendition of his 1983 song “Yama o Hide”, translated as “Still Here”, which brought the house down before the US match. Ivan sang it on the pitch at the Cardiff City Stadium before their playoff wins against Austria and Ukraine earlier this year, and thanks to growing popularity, it was chosen as Wales’ official anthem for the World Cup. The chorus of “We’re still here, we’re still here, in spite of everyone and everything” has an added poignancy given the reservations many people had about coming to Qatar in the first place.

Williams said, “I think because of this kind of negative press on Qatar globally, a lot of people are apprehensive, worried, nervous, scared, based on misinformation about a lot of things by some people.” were unsure of their decision to come.” “Based on that, you have a lot of people coming in who are all a little out of their comfort zones. We are all in the same boat, and I have enjoyed more than anything that people are realizing that Qatar What kind of country, how are the people and what can it do in the show. I am not the great protector of Qatar, it is not my duty. I am an expat who lives and works here, goes on with daily life is and enjoys himself.”

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There have been some hiccups. Wales Online reported that the Intercontinental Hotel had run out of beer before the US game, which Williams categorically denies. “We didn’t run out of wine, but we have flash coolers in a basement location here,” he said. “They are good for regular use but not for 1,700 Welsh. We had to replace them all and upgrade.”

A prematch party ahead of Friday’s Iran game had to be cancelled. Fans were expected to gather at 11am to have drinks before the 1pm start, but Qatari authorities banned alcohol sales at the last minute before noon on Friday because it is a holy day.

Staff have been hired and trained on short notice, suddenly thrown together to deal with hordes of thirsty people. And despite the package deals, it still doesn’t come cheap: on match days, anyone visiting The Curry House gets three hours’ access to an “upgraded drinks package” and a meal for 599 Qatari riyals (around £136). can buy

“I went to the Munich Beer Festival this year,” Williams said. “Six steins cost €80, cash only. I was spending €500 a day. What’s expensive? You go into central London these days, you’re into the same amount. You come to my hometown of Barrie, Probably not. At Hive, I provided five beers for 179 riyals [which is about] £40. I am giving them five bottles of beer. For an extra £4, I’m giving them onion rings and chips.”

Williams insists that “there hasn’t been a single problem” related to drunken behaviour, and the general consensus is that those who have spent such huge sums of money to travel from Wales to Qatar have made the most of the experience. is focused.

“The main thing I want to emphasize – in Qatar, it’s not easy to set up things like this,” James said. “England didn’t organize anything like this. Not many other countries did. We went out there and organized it because we knew what they wanted. It’s been a tough gig, but we got there.”

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