Friday, June 11, 2010

Pre-game nerves, Califnornia style - Margin

So as it turns out, California is different. Very different to New York in fact.


“I hate soccer” was the first thing I heard about the sport I love, and I heard it without solicitation.


The gruff and seemingly rather negative Mike who runs the hostel I’ve booked a room in hates the World Cup. It is everywhere apparently, and worse still the hostel will be showing it in its rather impressive mini cinema every day. I plan to watch it elsewhere but it is at least there as a back up plan.


Or I thought I’d be watching it elsewhere. But then I wasn’t so sure. A quick chat with adorable Alex, a pretty blonde Oakland girl, first thing on my first morning in the city made clear that football is not part of her world either.


Now as some of you know, Ebren and I are Oakland A’s fans. This surprised her as she assumed only Oaky locals know about their team. She even suggested I go see the Giants play as it is more central and means I won’t have to waste time in a dull part of town.


Football meanwhile: “Oh yeah, you guys get really violent about that don’t ya?” was pretty much all she knew of the subject. I reassured her that violent was the wrong word, just in case she got the wrong impression of us Brits. Aggressive would be more accurate.


Anyway, a quick wander around town and I wasn’t sure what Mike’s problem was. There are no signs up outside pubs. No one asked me about “the big game”. Frankly if football didn’t exist as a global phenomenon it seems the surface of San Francisco would change not one bit.


Fortunately the surface is superficial. The game is on. Not in the commercial money spinning way that New York has it. But sports bars will be showing games as a standard. The wide variety of supposedly Irish pubs will also have games on their screens.


One lad whose name I didn’t ask and he didn’t offer, was well up for the match tomorrow. His mate owns a bar in Presidio and they convinced him to open at 10am so they could all pile in there and enjoy while eating a barbeque breakfast. He’s confident the USA will win. I set him straight as best I could but his knowledge of the England team was pretty weak.


The same can not be said for the couple from Vancouver I met last night after my mini-date with a waitress from a downtown diner. Of course I didn’t talk football with her. That tends to kill dates in England and I had no intention of testing that aspect to Californian life right then.


The couple from Vancouver were from Ireland originally and were on holiday in California for a couple of weeks like me. She doesn’t like football, but he has forced her along to various games. We watched the basketball as the Celtics drew level in the series with the Lakers. Being Irish he wants England to lose. But he would happily see England win the world cup if France were humiliated along the way.


Along with that couple, I got chatting to a pleasant mother and daughter from Pennsylvania. The mother knew quite a bit about soccer and it turns out her husband was from Brooklyn. She was particularly keen to stress they were fans of Wayne Rooney, before moving on to other sports.


Eileen, her lovely daughter, had bought her out to California as she was on a business trip and it made for a nice treat. She however was not interested in sport. She knew there was a world cup, but had little to say about it.


Then the barman overheard us chatting and promised he’d be open early for the big game. So Colin from Vancouver and I will meet up at 10am for breakfast before supporting opposing sides.


Please god England don’t let me down!

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.

Tweet it, digg it