by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LONDON — Now that America has caught soccer fever — or, as medical experts call it, baseball boredom — I thought I’d examine how the World Cup is doing here in England.

England is a perfect country to study for two reasons: 1) I happen to be here; 2) The English, who love soccer almost as much as they love tea, ARE NOT IN THE WORLD CUP.

And America is.

To the true soccer fan, this is like keeping Chuck Berry out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and letting Barry Manilow in. Never mind that the English team failed to qualify this year, whereas the United States qualified

automatically because, as host country, we promised to put Jacuzzis in every player’s hotel room.

Never mind. The Brits have been playing soccer for as long as they’ve had kings, whereas we Americans, in their minds, have been playing for three minutes. And they’re out? And we’re in? How can the English fans, who have made great contributions in the area of — and this is a technical soccer term here — beating the snot out of each other, be left behind?

But that’s how it is. The Yanks are kicking the little checkered ball, while folks here suffer the world’s cruelest torture: watching British television.

BBC ANNOUNCER NO. 1: Good evening. We shall commence forthrightly with a rather delightful documentary on the stultification of the African fruit fly.

BBC ANNOUNCER NO. 2: Smashing!

BBC ANNOUNCER NO. 1: First, this word on soil erosion.

No wonder Brits love the World Cup. Unlike their normal programs, it actually has moving figures.

Anyhow, as part of my research into how England survives without soccer, I set out to watch the U.S.-Romania game at a British sports bar. This proved difficult, mostly because the British don’t have sports bars.

What they have are pubs. Almost all of these, for some reason, are named after animals, like “The Dog and Donkey” or “The Ox and Moose.” Sometimes, for variation, a pub will be named after a vegetable, such as “The Queen’s Artichoke.” I can think of no reason for this except the obvious: The British are insane.

You can imagine a couple of locals sitting on the porch.

“Hey. Wanna get a drink at The Swan and Anteater?”

“Nah. That place stinks. Let’s go to The Goat and Squid.”

“Good choice. I’ll get dressed.” Good for what ales you

And once you get past the names, there’s another problem: big-screen TVs. Pubs here don’t have them. After all, given British television, why on earth would you want the picture BIGGER?

I did, however, finally find a place, and when I asked over the phone if they’d be showing the World Cup game, the man said, “Certainly, mate. . . . Hey! YOU! COME BACK ‘ERE WITH THAT PIG AND TURTLE!”

Did I mention the drinking problem?

When American fans watch sports at a bar, we need certain fluids. In the case of soccer, that would be black coffee.

Ha! Just kidding, soccer heads! We Americans do, however, like the odd beer with our games. But getting a normal beer over here is as hard as getting a car with a steering wheel on the proper side.

“What’re you drinkin’ mate?” a chap at the bar asked me.

“Well,” I said politely, noticing his glass, “what are you drinking?”




“You mean, like, paint lacquer?”

“Lagah, mate! ‘Ave some! Bettah yet, ‘ave some ale.”

He pointed to his friend’s glass, which looked like mud. I politely declined. Personally, I would no sooner drink ale without the word “ginger” in front of it than I would drink pepper without the word “Dr” in front of it. But that’s just me.

Anyhow, let’s get to the game, shall we?

Hey! Come back here with that sheep and ox! The root of the problem

OK. The game. The World Cup. And the big question for the Brits: Whom to root for? On the one hand, they could root for America because we are, after all, their distant cousins, even though we THREW THEM OUT AND TRIED TO KILL THEM.

And then there’s the Irish. Many Brits would like to see Ireland win it all, because the English and Irish are considered countrymen, when they aren’t bombing each other.

America? Ireland? So hard to choose. While they’re thinking, the British sports fans kick back another pint of ale, then another pint of lager, and before you know it, in the middle of the game, they start singing:

Ayay, ayayayayayay,

Ayay . . . England!

And then someone reminds them that England, once again, is still not in the World Cup, and they begin to weep.

TECHNICAL ADVICE FOR THE U.S. TEAM: “They’re not usin’ their ‘eads,” said one British patron.

“Their eds?” I asked.

“You know,” he said, tapping his noggin, “their ‘eads. They got to play smahhtah.”

Got that, fellas? Use your eds.

I can also report that, because there are no commercials during the actual World Cup games, soccer fans here stay frozen in their seats, staring at the screen. Either that, or they’re asleep.

At one point, a Brit informed me that most of his countrymen like Jack Charlton, the Irish team’s coach, because of his explosive personality.

“He got into a bit of a row, didn’t he? On the touch line? The referee called him for unsporting, and ol’ Jack tol’ him to bugger off. Bloody ‘ell!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Damn right.”

Of course, I’d had a few pints by that point. Or was it points by that pint?

Anyhow, I stayed until the end, but, unfortunately, I still cannot tell you whether the Brits are truly behind our U.S. effort, because, when the game ended, the Americans had scored zero — or, to use the British term,
“nil.” (Translation: “Sominex.”)

I do know that much ale was consumed, and many songs were sung, some of them in English.

And we all went to The Pig and Skunk for a nightcap. Or was it The Bull and Giraffe? Maybe it was The Prince’s Radish.

I’m not sure. But I promise, by the time the U.S. plays again — which is what, a month? — I’ll have all the answers to the World Cup’s biggest questions. It’s a big task, but I can handle it.

I’ll use my ed.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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