Chinese football fans are pouring money into a food stall run by Singapore’s goalkeeper. Here’s why

By Fu Ting

A Chinese football fan takes a photograph in front of Singaporean goalkeeper Hassan Sunny's food stall in Singapore, on June 14, 2024. Chinese football fans have poured their love into Sunny's food stall after his performance in a game this week indirectly helped China advance to the third qualifying round for the World Cup in 2026. — AP

Chinese football fans have poured their love – and money – into a Singaporean goalkeeper’s food stall after his performance in a game this week indirectly helped China advance to the third qualifying round for the World Cup in 2026.

Hassan Sunny, a 40-year-old goalkeeper on the national team, became an overnight celebrity on Chinese social media after Singapore’s 3-1 loss to Thailand on June 11. China would have been eliminated if Thailand had won by three goals. Sunny made enough saves to prevent that from happening.

Chinese fans have been lining up and buying out all the food at the stand Sunny and his wife run in Singapore. Those in China have been sending money using the stall’s QR payment code, which has been widely shared online.

Football is one of the most popular spectator sports in China, though the men’s national team has struggled despite investments of millions into the sport. The team has only reached the World Cup once, more than 20 years ago in 2002.

Cao Zichen, who sent S$8.88 (about RM31) to the goalie, said he was touched by the image of Hassan as a down-to-earth worker running a small shop, in contrast to the well-paid players in other countries including China. Eight is a lucky number in China that conveys wishes for wealth and prosperity.

Some fans said on social media that Sunny is the best 12th player on the Chinese team, while a few wondered if he would have tax issues with all the money pouring in. Others called it rather sad and embarrassing that this is how China advanced to the next round, with one saying it shows the Chinese team would rather rely on others than its own players.

Dapur Hassan, the food stand, quickly jumped to No 1 in the Singaporean snack and food section on Dianping, a Chinese restaurant review app. It specialises in “nasi lemak”, a popular rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, which it serves with fried chicken. On the first day, it was sold out by 1.30pm, said Hassan’s wife, Aidah Rahim.

The rush was stressful for the kitchen staff in the back, she said with a smile. “I mean, yeah, my mom, my aunt, who have to keep on frying the chicken over and over again and then the eggs, because the best seller is only nasi lemak.”

Fans have posted screenshots of their transactions, sending from S$1 to S$10 (RM3.46 to RM34.60) – or more – alongside comments of “Sincere appreciation from a football fan” or “Love from China”.

Sunny didn’t respond to an interview request via email and his Instagram accounts, but he made an announcement in Chinese on the platform on Thursday night urging people to stop sending money and warning that some QR codes masquerading as his shop’s had been posted.

“Thank you for the support in the last a few days which allows me to fully feel the enthusiasm of Chinese fans,” he wrote. “I call for rational support, stop transferring money to me through the Internet.” – AFP

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