Chasing the Cup around the Apple
Few places in the world present as much of an opportunity to delve into ethnic enclaves and soak up the atmosphere of the World Cup as New York City does. In New York, you're just a few subway transfers from going to Warsaw, Poland to Cologne, Germany to Sydney, Australia. Well, not really, but you get the point. Nothing beats being in the host country for the World Cup, but New York just might be the next best thing to actually being in Germany.
So, with a Metrocard and a notebook, and fresh off repeated viewings of "Victory," I decided to check out as many games in as many World Cup-crazy locales as I could during the first four days of the World Cup. Here is what it would have looked like if you had called "Shotgun!"
Germany v. Costa Rica
Loreley (Bowery, Manhattan)
You know it's World Cup time when the bouncer at Loreley -- a German beer garden located off the Bowery in Manhattan -- is telling people on the sidewalk a half-hour before the noon kickoff to find somewhere else to watch the Germany v. Costa Rica game. I was half-expecting him to look around at the forlorn mass of people by the door and scream, "Don't you people have jobs?!?!" That's what my mom would have done, anyway. The bar was at full capacity... and then some. It was if Oktoberfest came four months early.
After sweet-talking my way inside ("My friend knows Beckenbauer!" Not true, by the way), I navigated my way to the back of the bar running a gauntlet of face-painted fans and beer steins the sizes of shin guards. Loreley, not messing around, even had a satellite truck parked around the block, sending them the German television feed for the game. Between the announcers and the fans in the bars, I didn't hear a word of English.
The fans broke out in song after the first goal, a real cracker from Philip Lahm, but nobody wanted to follow that with the Chicken Dance, sadly. Germany took the game handily 4-2, and it was off to the next game. Auf Wiedersehen, Loreley.
Note: I resisted the obvious temptation for a Hasselhoff reference. I'm banking on World Cup karma.
No Goal Poles
Poland v. Ecuador
The Europa Club (Greenpoint, Brooklyn)
A 6 and L train later, I was in the heart of the New York expatriate Polish community -- Greenpoint, Brooklyn -- for the Poland v. Ecuador game. The venue, The Europa Club, is a dance club by night, and for this day at least, ground zero for Polish soccer fans. Oddly, the lighting there is probably the same for dancing or watching soccer. It was so dark, I would have kept bumper-carring into people had they not been belting out "Polska!" chants to help me navigate. But somehow I was still able to see the waitresses... the sweet, sweet waitresses.
As with Loreley, The Europa Club had the live Polish feed for the game, meaning that with the exception of "Goooooooooooooooooal," I was in the dark... literally.
Wait, is that... face paint... on the Ecuadorian goalkeeper? Surely that's a violation, if not the rules of international soccer, then surely the rules of being a guy. I am now actively rooting for Poland. "Polska!"
Down 2-0 to Ecuador with three minutes left. Not good times in Greenpoint. 150 Polish fans (95% of them guys) are extremely unhappy campers. And a few have turned on themselves. Come on fellas, solidarity. Order is quickly restored. The final whistle blows and after two hours in a cave, the sunlight outside feels like a studs-up challenge to my eyes.
La Pequeñito Paraguayan
Paraguay v. England
Fernando's Apartment (Battery Park, Manhattan)
There is no shortage of England fans and bars that love them in New York. But I wanted something different, so I headed to Battery Park, Manhattan, to watch the England v. Paraguay game with an old friend named Fernando, his Paraguayan wife and their two-month old daughter. It didn't hurt that they offered a food spread.
(Photo by Youngna Park)
Right as I walk in I see all three clad in Paraguayan jerseys, and then England...er, Paraguay, scoring...on themselves. I'm immediately branded as bad luck and it looks like my chance at a food spread is in question.
Working the remote with utmost dexterity, Fernando shuttles back and forth between the ABC HD station (God bless you, HD) and Univision to get some choice commentary from ex-Paraguayan keeper Jose Chilavert, on the mike for Univision.
Chilavert, a bit of a loose cannon in his playing days, is ripping into the players still on the team from his day. He's settling old scores. I'm settling after some eggs and toast from the food spread.
As the game drags on, and I do mean draaaaaaaaaags on, I start to feel sleepy. Fernanda, the two-month old daughter, has already beaten me to it.
"Pippino!" Apparently it's a call for a Paraguayan substitution. I was hoping it was a call for a sub sandwich. The game mercifully ends, with England taking the 1-0 victory.
Early Christmas in Hollis
Trinidad & Tobago v. Sweden
Club Mangoville (Hollis, Queens)
I got a hot tip that the place to catch all the pride and pageantry of the Trinidad & Tobago fans would be out in Hollis, Queens, at Club Mangoville. I was expecting a packed house of Soca Warriors madness. I wasn't even discounting the thought of showing up to find Billy Ocean belting out some numbers pre-game.
Alas, I got there and was greeted by five T 'n' T fans. I know Trinidad & Tobago are the smallest country in the World Cup, but come on.
Also never helps when you have faith in a "hot tip." Has any hot tip ever panned out... EVER? Hot tips are how retirements are lost at racetracks.
Anyway, the game was miles better than England v. Paraguay. Despite the lack of goals, the Trinidad & Tobago v. Sweden game was end-to-end exciting stuff.
Update: six more T 'n' T fans come by for the second half, so once Trinidad & Tobago's defender Avery John is sent off, the fans at Mangoville finally outnumber the T 'n' T players on the field... which is nice.
This one ended scoreless, but by the T 'n' T fans reactions, you'd think Trinidad has won, which in a way, they have.
Delay of Game
Argentina v. Ivory Coast
Novecento/Felix/Village Lantern (SoHo/West Village, Manhattan)
I made my way back to Manhattan for third and final game on Saturday -- Argentina v. Ivory Coast. Novecento, a restaurant in SoHo, is a gathering spot for all things Argentinian. By the time I show up, they are packed to the gills, but have opened their windows to the sidewalk, and there are 50 people outside the bar straining to see the game.
Across the street, the Brazilian restaurant Felix has done the same, with another 50-odd people on the sidewalk trying to see the game. I'm at Felix when Argentina notches its first goal. Due to the vagaries of TV transmissions, the Felix customers see the goal five seconds before the people at Novecento.
Somewhere in there is a joke about how Brazil is always a few seconds ahead of Argentina when it comes to soccer.
(Photo by Grellan Harty)
Felix was nice enough to put a foosball table on the sidewalk for those so inspired, but watching from a sidewalk has its limitations, so I head to the West Village to catch the second half. I settle on Village Lantern. The crowd, more into underdogs than actual Ivory Coast fans, cheers on Ivory Coast, but it's not meant to be, and Argentina gets out of town with a 2-1 win.
I've now been all over New York and seen six hours of soccer. Belmont Stakes anyone?
Iran v. Mexico
Mundial (East Village, Manhattan)
While most of America woke up to go to church on Sunday, Mexican and Iranian soccer fans worshipped at their particular citadel: any television showing the game. My particular one was Mundial in the East Village, Manhattan. Spurred on by an Iranian diplomat's e-mail, the Iranians came out en masse to pack the place.
A sea of men in Ali Daei jerseys routinely break out the "EEE-RHAN!" chants, but after an early Mexico goal, a few brave Mexican souls showed their presence and voices.
Because of the capacity crowd, I find myself watching the game at an angle that would make a chiropractor think "future business," and am struggling to hear the sound. I think I hear an Iranian player described by the announcer as being "a Persian carpet floating in mythical times." I translated that into "Bloody Mary, please."
And then our old friend makes his first appearance: Mr. Air Horn. I'm a little surprised it is just now making its appearance this World Cup weekend, but it's good to know he's still around and being set off five feet from my ears in a bar. Where was that air horn for the "Persian carpet" bit?
The crowd starts to get really restless, but then Iran scores. Bedlam. And apparently bedlam in Iran is beer being thrown everywhere. But in a spirit of sportsmanship, the Iranian fans flung Mexico's finest, Corona. See, we CAN all get along.
But it was all for naught for the Iranians. After the third Mexican goal ices the game 3-1, the "MEX-EE-KO!" chants drown out the "EE-RHAN!" chants. Time to go. We have international relations to attend to.
Angola v. Portugal
Diplomatic Residence (Westchester County, NY)
When the TV schedule for the World Cup games came out and I had the idea of watching as many games in as many interesting places as I could, I thought, "Where would the Angolans watch the Angola v. Portugal game?" So I called the Angolan Ambassador to the UN's office to ask if they knew of a place to watch the game. Ever-helpful press officer Estevao Alberto responded, "Why don't you come watch it with us at the Diplomatic Residence in Westchester?"
Uh... really? Oooookay!
This was Angola's first trip to the World Cup. This was my first trip to anything remotely diplomatic.
So, with a few friends, I jetted up the Taconic Parkway, arriving just in time find out that Portugal has scored a goal in the fourth minute. After some introductions and no major violations of protocol on our part (we think), we settled in to watch the game with Ambassador Ismael A. Gaspar Martins, his family and friends.
first-ever World Cup game. (Photo by Youngna Park)
The game was a pretty tame affair, but a near-miss bicycle kick by Angola in the first-half nearly blew the roof off the Diplomatic Residence. Begging the question, if something crazy happened, just whose laws were governing this viewing?
Despite a solid effort by the Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes), Angola was not able to overcome Portugal -- the country that colonized it until 1975.
After the game, the ever-gracious Ambassador Martins treated us to a traditional Angolan dinner of Muzonge (fish soup), cassava root, rice, etc., while discussing Angolan history and letting us know, among other things, that the biggest Angolan community in the U.S. is in Houston. Who knew?
(Photo by Youngna Park)
Reluctantly, we headed back to reality in New York City.
Men Not At Work
Australia v. Japan
Eight Mile Creek (NoLita, Manhattan)
Oddly, despite heading to a bar at 8:30 a.m. on a Monday, I felt no shame. I don't think the other 80 people packed into the downstairs of Eight Mile Creek -- an Aussie bar in downtown Manhattan -- did either.
There were plenty of guys in business suits, having no doubt practiced their "the train was late" spiel for their co-workers. And to my surprise, a few very brave -- and badly outnumbered -- Japanese fans were in attendance as well.
The Aussies were in good spirit and voice to begin, but once Japan scored, the place grew silent. And quite frankly, attention spans wavered, as demonstrated by the guy next to me, who smelled like he had spilled half a carafe of cologne on himself and spent more time looking at the few girls in the place than the game.
But then, just as Australia looked done for (ESPN2 even had Japanese players as 3 of the 4 "Man of the Match" choices), they rattled off three goals in ten minutes, a performance that was two parts Crocodile Dundee, three parts Crocodile Hunter. (Actually, I have no idea what that means. I just wanted to write Crocodile twice.) The place went bananas. From then on in, it was "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!" chants ad nauseum.
Oh, and the girl in front of me, weighing not a ounce over 100 lbs., finished off four beers during the game and looked none the worse for it. Impressive, those Aussie girls.
Czech Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself
Czech Republic v. USA
Bohemian Beer Hall (Astoria, Queens)
Only one place to watch the Czech Republic v. USA: the outdoor beer garden of the Bohemian Beer Hall in Astoria, Queens. This authentic Czech beer garden, the last one in New York City, erected tents and brought in four massive televisions for the game.
(Photo by Grellan Harty)
I set up camp next to a large group of Czech fans in authentic Puma jerseys and one brave American fan in Stars and Stripes bandana. Was I proud of that bandana? Was I repulsed by bandana? I was conflicted.
(Photo by Eliot Shepard)
Wait... could it be? Yep, dueling pre-game air horns. That's always fun.
No sooner than the "CHEEZ-EEE!" chants started up, Jan Koller headed one in back of the ol' onion bag. This won't end well.
Reyna snaps the post. Finally, the U.S. fans can make some noise and, judging by the noise, I'd say they made up 40% of the fans in the beer garden.
(Photo by Grellan Harty)
Tomas Rosicky fires in a laser from 25 yards, and the Czech group of fans near me break out the shots for each goal. The way this game is going, we could be wheeling out passed-out Czech fans by the end of the game.
At halftime, I meet Dave from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Dave, in a classic U.S. '94 worn polo shirt, informs me that he had his colonoscopy moved up four hours so it could be done by kickoff. At least something is getting stuck in for the U.S. today. (Ba-dum-pum. Don't forget to tip your waitresses.)
Luckily, the procedure turned out well. The doctor told Dave not to drink for three days. Dave was on his second pitcher of pilsner. U-S-A! Somebody get me a bandana!
Rosicky with another clinical finish. This one is done. And now the Czech fans near me are breaking out the "Ziggy Zoggy" chant, with grins from ear to ear. Is the U.S. really ranked fifth in the FIFA rankings?
It's a long N train back to Manhattan.
In a slump after the U.S. game, I decide to watch the Italy v. Ghana at home, concluding my four-day World Cup run.
All teams in the World Cup are drawn into opening round groups with three other teams. By pure chance, some teams get easy draws, others the dreaded Group of Death. But in New York City, you get pick your groups and how many. And I decided to infiltrate as many of the multidinous soccer-crazed groups of New York City as I could.
Four days, nine games, nine bars, three boroughs, one diplomatic residence and countless languages later, I'm a better person for it.
Thing is, I have 27 days to go. Somebody should probably start warming up. I'm going to need a sub.
Grellan Harty has worked as an editor for NBA.com and FoxSports.com. Previously, he chronicled the Kentucky Derby infield experience for ESPN SportsTravel.