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Soccer fans crowd Sue Bierman park for FIFA semi-finals

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Melissa Macomber (left) and Kevin Fehlenberg (right) watch England play Croatia in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup. Fehlenberg came to the match wearing a Harry Kane mask (Ian Williams/S.F. Examiner).

A mile and a half away from Mayor London Breed’s inauguration on the steps of City Hall Wednesday, hundreds of people chose instead to sit on the grass, eat hot dogs and watch Croatia play England in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup.

The match was projected onto a jumbo screen at Sue Bierman Park near the Ferry Building in a free event put on by San Francisco Recreation and Parks.

Sun and an uncharacteristically pleasant Bay breeze kept the crowd happy, even if Croatia’s victory didn’t. Much of the crowd came to cheer on America’s estranged cousin.

So much so, that one man even taped a favorite player’s face onto his own.

On Wednesday, Kevin Fehlenberg, who works close to the park, printed out the face of Harry Kane, number nine for England and one of its best forwards, cut out eye-holes and assumed the identity for the match.

“To get into the spirit of the games, fans need crazy get-ups,” Fehlenberg said. “We’re big soccer fans. It’s lunacy.”

With him was Melissa Macomber, his coworker, soccer chum and competition. Folded roughly into her pocket, too, was Kane, but rather than tape his mug onto her own, she drew tears upon his whiskered cheeks and kept the memento mori to taunt Fehlenberg in retribution for the time he plastered her cubicle with dozens of Kane printouts. She wore a Croatian flag on each cheek.

The park was pleasantly full at the beginning of the game, but by halftime the crowd doubled. Soon the lawn was circled by a lunch crowd dressed in blue Oxford shirts.

Not everyone came for the soccer game. Hans Giesler and his son came from the East Bay to watch the Giants play. They stumbled upon the viewing party and decided to stick around for the first half.

Hans’ son played pickup soccer on one-third of the field, which was fitted with child-sized goals from SF Youth Soccer. Nearby, Recreation and Parks had erected a mobile climbing wall and children played Frisbee golf under its shade.

Fans threw their hands in the air and exchanged sighs as Croatia mounted an aggressive and continuous attack on the English goal well into the match’s regular time. On the screen, the British fans in Russia could be heard singing “God Save the Queen” in an effort to embolden the team. It was loud enough to heard on Sue Bierman’s lawn, but couldn’t turn the tide of the match. Croatia won in overtime with a quick strike 109 minutes into the game.

For Vuk Djukic, a Bosnian, it was a big deal. This will be first time Croatia plays in the World Cup final. On Sunday, they will take the turf against France.

“We have a long tradition in football. I watched the ‘98 semi-finals between Croatia and France,” he said. “I think its going to be a tough victory, but we’ll win.”

The World Cup final will air 8 a.m. Sunday. San Francisco Recreation and Parks will again put on a free public viewing, this time at the Civic Center.

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A crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered to watch the FIFA World Cup semi-finals at Sue Bierman Park in San Francisco Wednesday (Ian Williams/S.F. Examiner

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