Does Dallas Give A Damn About The World Cup? It Does In The Right Frame Of Mind.
Unless, that is, you're Troy Dungan. Or Megan Fox's brother. Or some calf-ropin' cowboy over at the Mesquite Rodeo.
But don't tell that to soccer. Especially don't whisper a word to the wonderfully fanatical gaggle of American fans that converged on Trinity Hall in Mockingbird Station last Saturday afternoon for the U.S.-England World Cup match. They drank. They sang. They drank. They chanted. They cheered. They jeered. They drank some more. And in the end, they celebrated.
Final score: England 1, U.S.A. 1.
"It's a draw," crowed the obviously inebriated fellow in the sweat-stained U.S. jersey. "But for us it's a win. A big win. We tied fuckin' England!"
Never really understood exactly when or why soccer vanishes in North Texas. Seems like every kid under the age of 10 plays in a league. The Dallas Cup is one of the most prestigious youth tournaments in the world. FC Dallas is surviving, if not thriving. Shoot, in 1987 the Dallas Sidekicks held a championship parade through downtown and in 1994 I covered World Cup games right under our noses at the Cotton Bowl.
Ultimately, soccer loses the interest of our Yankee Doodle noodle because—like Russian roulette—you can keep score on one hand. At some point between puberty and enlightenment, or vice-versa, Texas teens come to the realization that the world's futbol may be bigger, but our football is better.
"This is it," says the guy high-fiving anyone he thinks might possibly be rooting for the U.S. on this afternoon. "America becomes a soccer country. Right! Here! Today!" He punctuates the bold claim with an emphatic high five.
Let's rewind a bit. It is 10:45 a.m. The match kicks off precisely at 1:30 p.m.
"It's gonna be something," says Trinity Hall owner Marius Donnelly, a Dublin native and forever a World Cup fan. "We had 20 people waiting when we opened the doors at 6 this morning. In Europe, soccer is in our blood. But after eight years I've seen the World Cup growing here. The American fans aren't quite as crazy, but they're learning to appreciate the game."
Down at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, Vice President Joe Biden is on hand to root on an American upset in what ESPN is shoving down our throats as the "most anticipated sporting event in the history of our country." Most of us—those who aren't beating the heat at the lake, that is— have at least one eye on Dallas Cowboys minicamp out at Valley Ranch or Texas Rangers pitcher Rich Harden up in Milwaukee, but let's try to roll with this.
There are soccer-watching parties at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, at Victory Park downtown and next door at my neighbor's house. But I don't just want to watch the World Cup, I want to feel it.
Immediately, I am not disappointed.
Just as there were in Uptown's Idle Rich Pub the night before, there are chants of "U-S-A!" echoing out of Trinity Hall three hours before kickoff. There are England fans, but they are drowned out by American temporary and convenient jingoism.
Chant at 12:30 p.m.:
Drunk high-fivin' guy: "I say England, you say faggots!"
Drunk high-fivin' guy: "England!"
Everyone else in the bar except the pocket of England fans: "Faggots!"
And so on.
It is alcohol-induced. It is offensive. It is...impressive.
Since forever, Dallas hasn't been a sports town, but more a winners' town. But these soccer fans have arrived early. They're battling claustrophobia by downing Carlsbergs. Their passion is raw, their support unscripted. It's refreshing.
Unlike fans of the Cowboys or Mavericks or Stars or Rangers or Neiman-Marcus, they are here not to be entertained, but rather to be involved. There is no JumboJerry to hypnotize them. No Mavs dancers to ogle or Dot Race to wager on. There is a body in every nook and cranny, and they're all paying attention.
When a hot girl walks in wearing a tight, sexy U.S. soccer jersey, the crowd erupts into an impromptu "Please get nay-kidd...clap clap clapclapclap!" And when English star Wayne Rooney is featured in a commercial, a generation of sports fans raised on high-defs finds it in its heart to boo the big TV screen.
(Editorial aside to the woman who brought her 2-ish daughter to the World Cup watching party, laid her to sleep in a long booth and then threatened anyone who got close to her with "If you wake her up we're gonna have trouble!": Um, WTF?!)
Once the game starts, the atmosphere almost immediately nosedives from boffo to buzzkill. In the fourth minute, England's Steven Gerrard scores for a 1-0 England lead. In a sport where scoring is about as prevalent as The Pope at a nun convention, it feels like 28-0.
"Enga-luuuund!" the small revolutionary pocket roars.
The news gets worse. Dallas police, fearing a mob scene they can't control, shut down Trinity Hall's patio entrance. The nearby Angelika is open—and air-conditioned—it is announced. Soon thereafter, the pub runs out of Bud Light, Coors Light and Amstel Light, leaving some to bravely order "whatever you got" and receive a bottle of something called Mothership Wit. Swear.
Spirits, however, are re-booted in the 40th minute when U.S. player Clint Dempsey—who played club soccer as a kid in Dallas for the Longhorns club—skips a seemingly harmless shot toward England's goal. Inexplicably, goalie Robert Green tries to field the ball slightly to the side. It ricochets off his hands to the right and slowly, unbelievably, trickles into the goal.
Never have I heard 215 people be so loud. Cheers erupt. Beers are launched. Hugs exchanged with sweaty strangers. The high-fivin' guy likely orgasms. One of the best sportsy chill-bump moments of my life.
God may have saved the Queen. But he let Dempsey's goal trundle in.
A salt-in-the-wound chant is born just before halftime:
Drunk high-fivin' guy: "I say 17, you say 76!"
Drunk high-fivin' guy: "17!"
Everyone else in the bar except the pocket of England fans: "76!"
In the second half there is no scoring. A typical possession went like so: Pass...Pass...Pass backward to goalie...Long kick...Bad pass...Throw in...Header to nowhere in particular...Foul...Pass...Pass...Pass back to goalie...Rinse and repeat.
Couple times it is so boring that shots sent high and/or wide of the goal draw applause. Imagine clapping for a Cowboys' drive that ends in a missed field goal.
England clearly outplays the U.S. down the stretch but fires two point-blank shots right into goalie Tim Howard's chest. The England fans enjoy the nuances, the subtleties and the build-up.
The American fans? On an English corner kick they chant "De-fense! De-fense!" Not exactly soccer savvy or sophisticated, but enthusiastic nonetheless. As if getting tied by a country that doesn't even embrace the sport's terminology—we dare call the pitch a field—wasn't bad enough, English soccer fans are also subjected these days to one of our nastiest exports: Liverpool owner Tom Hicks.
The English went home pissed, the Americans departed jubilant and I left enlightened.
Soccer still sucks.
But not if you're patriotic, passionate and plowed.
And not if you only watch it every four years.
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