The street is blocked off. The aroma of brats cooking on a charcoal grill hangs in the air. Revelers clad in red, white and blue are swilling beer and chanting. I’ve seen this scene before — Wrigleyville in Chicago, one of my favorite places on earth. Where the party nearly always overshadows the Cubs games and rare high hopes are crushed.
Unfortunately, the same scenario unfolded at Dugan’s Pub Tuesday as more than 1,000 people gathered in the street to watch a big screen as USA took on Belgium in the first round of the knockout stage.
I had mentioned in this space after USA beat Ghana in the opener, that I wasn’t going to feel pressured into catching the fever. I’m with my Sync political columnist Bill Vickery, we are all for the country winning in everything but when the Cup finishes, soccer goes back to the back of the bus.
While I’m not quick to jump on a bandwagon just because everyone else has bought an authentic USA soccer jersey, I do love a spectacle. I also love Don Dugan, a fellow Cubs fan who happens to own a very cool establishment that serves great food.
So, I was positioned on the curb handing out Sync gear (people loved our sunglasses and fans on a hot day) with one eye on the action on the screen and another on the crowd.
I felt a great deal of pride as the outdoor crowd sang the National Anthem in unison (some very badly), and the old theory that is often used with hockey, “You have to be there to appreciate it” quickly was proven correct as I was cheering and groaning along with everyone else as U.S. keeper Tim Howard repeatedly batted away Belgium shots and the U.S. failed to cash in on shots near the goal.
There really was some high tension and drama unfolding as the game stayed 0-0 through regulation. It was very electric, and I was glad I braved the sweltering heat to see an unprecedented happening.
However, there were several reminders that this wasn’t the typical blue collar football crowds I’m accustomed to seeing on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. You don’t see too many football fans leading chants wearing an expensive pair of loafers, designer slacks and a jersey. I believe that gentleman was the “soccer snob” Vickery referred to in his column.
The wine and cheese crowd is a little testier, too. At halftime I tried to carry a lawn chair for my wife through the crowd. Most weren’t interested in making room for me, and one little guy with tinted prescription eyeglasses warned me three times not to bump into him with the chair bag again. Easy Skolnick. In a crowd of 1,000 people there is a good chance you are going to get bumped into or even have beer spilled on you. Deal with it. Obviously, he has never partied on the War Memorial Golf Course before a Hogs game or been to a bar after 9 p.m.
Then, there’s the lady who barks at a fan who had the audacity to raise his hand in the air. See the above lady. We are at an outdoor soccer fiesta, not The Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
Like baseball, soccer is slow and allows for conversations. Unfortunately, I had to hear an excruciating one that involved four twenty-somethings — three guys and a girl. One guy the other three knew, happened upon the group, and they hugged and shared pleasantries. The girl asked the new guy what hew was doing these days. He explained up until recently he was in the public relations/communications business but his heart wasn’t in it, so he quit to work at a bakery. “The Marxist voice in me said, ‘What are you doing, bro?’ Ahh Millennials. I bet his parents are happy after they spent thousands of dollars to put him through college.
The crowd got even more testy after the US fell behind 1-0. I could get behind that, though. I was as disappointed as anyone else. I believed they could win, just like I believed the Cubs could beat the Florida Marlins in the 2003 NLCS. It was a very familiar scene for me. Fun for the most part with a disappointing outcome.
I was happy for Dugan because I know it meant a lot to him, and I was glad Sync could be a part of it. Will I attend a World Cup watch party again? I don’t know. I am glad I have four years to think about it.