Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Big Game - Margin

I landed in Brooklyn three days ago. Didn’t know anything about the place other than it was cheap, but it turns out where I stayed was a lot like Hackney Wick. A few fashionable arty types have taken over a couple of abandoned warehouses as workshops or opened coffee shops. But mostly it’s just poor, industrial, and untidy.

As you can imagine, I felt right at home. Except that I wasn’t at home. I was abroad. And I was abroad for good reason. I wanted to see the world cup start through the eyes of a nation that doesn’t really see football. Some people even warned me the games might not be on in pubs.

How wrong they were. The world cup is everywhere in New York. There are guys on the street corners of Manhattan selling knock off world cup shirts. There are signs outside pubs promising to show every game, with half price pitchers on offer for the duration. And the people, well I have to say, never have so many strangers asked me about one game that hasn’t happened yet.

Yep, there may be a world cup coming up, but the moment people heard I was English that tournament went out the window. It’s all about USA v England. Two guys even told me in no uncertain terms that they expect a 1950 style upset. I mocked them of course, safe in the knowledge it can’t come back to haunt me as they will never see me again.

This atmosphere all came as something of a surprise. But apparently we’ve got the Yanks all wrong. Or at least New Yorkers.

Take Andy, a Brooklyn barman at a pizzeria. He is waiting for the Premier league fixture list to come out so he can see when Everton have two home games in one week. That’s the week he’ll visit. Again. He does it every year and is sorely put out at the lack of UEFA Cup matches next season as he likes to see Europe by flying out to watch his Toffeemen play abroad.

So OK, one tough looking bar tender doesn’t make for much of a trend. But there was also a street protestor outside the New York Stock Exchange. Having checked in and visited Liberty Island, I was later asked about Rio Ferdinand by a guy doing a subversive art project. He had a picture he’d painted of some Treasury big shot, and people were signing the empty space around him with anti-establishment comments. I added “2+2=5 on Wall Street” and we quickly got back to talking injured defenders. Apparently we (England) had nothing to worry about so long as Rooney stayed fit.

There was also April and Bret. I met these two at a burger bar near Broadway before I checked into my place the first night I arrived. April was 19 and had to hope no one noticed as she drank her cocktail. Bret was a couple of years older. They wore black, had fashionable piercings, and looked like poster children for Camden Town.

April has a part in a play once a week in Manhattan. Bret is a sound engineer. In England these are the people who ignore football most of the time, if not all. Here they wanted to know their (USA) chances against us (England) and whether the buzz of activity around football bought on by the world cup is what life is like in England all the time. I told them it that was spot on and drank with them for five hours, before finding my place to stay.

Better still was a different kind of poster pin-up. (I apologise to female readers for the next couple of paragraphs)

Imagine being in a dive of a bar at around 1am in a distressed part of town. Then imagine a well endowed 24 girl playing pool in that bar. She’s got on a slinky figure hugging short dress that barely reaches down to the tops of her long beautiful legs. Her bright red hair is outshone only by the ruby lipstick and her overwhelming energetic but genuinely witty personality. Every guy there is trying to help her play her shot as she copes surprisingly well with her high heels and the seemingly large quantities of beer she’s had. It was like an FHM photo shoot.

Now be honest. What’s the best that could happen in real life? Maybe you get an entertaining glimpse of a little more than you should? You introduce yourself and get lost in the crowd of aspiring pool mentors? Or she hears your accent while you order a pint, and strikes up a conversation. And not just any conversation. She asked about the big game.

Yep, suddenly the bizarre cliché had me reaching for the nearest ring and going down on one knee. That just doesn’t happen in England. At least not to me. But in East Williamsburg dreams come true. It triggered a collective smoke outside and a big conversation about how playing abroad has made American players better able to compete for their country.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Except it isn’t. It nearly made me forget why I wanted to see the states during a world cup summer. I don’t want Americans to get football. I don’t want them to be like the English. I want to experience something different. And although it is different in some ways, if they all start liking it properly they might get good at it. And then the rest of us are screwed.

So after just three hours sleep and with my head and muscles crying out for mercy, I am now at the airport waiting to board a flight to California. Hopefully there are real Americans there who don’t know where England is on a map, think a football is pointy, and at best support Mexico or Nigeria from afar instead of the USA.

Wish me luck.


guitou said...

hello Margin,
Thanks for coming back with a nice piece I have been reading with enjoyment. It's been a long time but what a perfect timing or opening the Balcony again;
I can assure you about californians, right now they are more concerned about the Lakers and Bynum's knee than the world cup.That the way it goes with these folks

Ebren said...

That's a much fuller (figured) account of the girl in the bar than you told me... How did the date go in the bar witha piano in it?

Also, Brooklyn felt more like Brixton to me. Young white proffessionals wanting somewhere near the city that's cheap and a bit cool, and poorer black families that have lived there their entire lives. I felt right at home too.

Margin said...

Thanks very much guitou - and you are not wrong about California. I'll have another article later on how I've found the West Coast so far.

And Ebren, the date was OK. Had a couple of drinks and chatted for a while, but nothing that interesting. Afterwards I got talking to a bunch more people though which is always fun. I now have people to watch the england usa game with.

munni said...

Nice travelogue, but I must speak up on behalf of my adopted city: LA is very different to San Francisco, and guitou's from a posher part of LA than me. East Side LA is basically a suburb of Mexico and the football culture reflects this. I've watched a few games at my local German pub, which has been full of lovely football fans of many nations, as well as plenty of Americans who know or care nothing about this soccer thing but don't want to miss out on a party.

And, no apologies needed - the ladies of pseuds have heard worse and we know how to handle ourselves round these parts.

Margin said...

Thanks Munni

I'm just posting my experience of the now infamous draw. And I'm sorry to say I won't get to see as much of California as I'd like because I'm here for such a short time. (few more days and I'm on a flight back to New York).

Oh, and I know the ladies won't have minded. But it seemed only fair as I indulged in a bit of idiotic male fantasy.

guitou said...

posher moi? I'm bumming around in Paris.

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