Or, maybe, nobody knows your name. Either way, they’re always glad you came. Because at these bars, as long as you’re a soccer fan(atic), you’re always welcome.
Green was everywhere. Sports bars ordered extra kegs for the day. And outside Nevada Smiths, a bar on the gritty Lower East Side that can hold 500, the line stretched out the door before most people had finished their first cup of coffee.
But inside, there was no Jets paraphernalia in sight or any mention of the handsome rookie quarterback that had captured New Yorkers’ hearts. Rather, fans’ team jerseys ran the gamut from purple to red to yellow. There were no beer commercials or game-day analyses being played on any of the 13 plasma screens. Instead, the televisions showed a half-dozen soccer games from around the world, and in place of Troy Aikman’s analysis were the voices of game-day announcers who sounded like cliché college professors.
“We are not a sports bar that shows football,” says Jack Keane, director of football programming at the bar, talking about the world’s game rather than the United States’ game. “Football is religion here. Nothing during the day comes in the way of our football.”
Until recently, soccer fans have often been forced to worship in solitude in the U.S., following their favorite teams online or investing in a satellite dish to pick up the European channels. While friends gathered on Sunday afternoons to watch the big NFL games over wings and beers, these loners preferred to nap after taking in the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) games that began at 7 a.m. on the East Coast.
As Major League Soccer and the U.S. team continue to improve and to work their way into the collective heart of our sports-obsessed country, fans are finally finding people who share their obsession. And just in time for the World Cup in South Africa this month, U.S. Soccer has developed a network of bars so that fans from Florida to Washington will have a place to watch the games — even when they start at 5 a.m.
“It was clear that our fans were looking to connect with each other,” says Neil Buethe, senior manager of communications for U.S. Soccer. “[Through] this network of bars, they know where the games will be shown, and it will be an event for them to go to during the World Cup.”
CURRENTLY, 38 BARS PARTICIPATE in the program; they pay a nominal fee to become members, and in return they receive promotional gear as well as marketing assistance. U.S. Soccer even works to bring players to the bars, and every month the organization features one as the Bar of the Month on its website.
European league games start early in the morning in the United States, and, on the West Coast, catching a World Cup game live means dealing with a 10-hour time difference. For bars like Fadó Irish Pub and Restaurant in Seattle, that means opening the doors at 4:15 a.m.
“At that time of the morning, we’re open as a service for our regulars,” says Gerry Leonard, Fadó’s general manager. “We can’t even serve alcohol until 6 a.m. We serve breakfast and soft drinks.”
Essentially, to be a soccer fan in North America, you have to wander into a voluntary jet lag: Your body tells you that you should be fast asleep, but the bar is dark, it’s evening on the television, and the people around you are eating and drinking as if the night has just begun.