Last night I took a beer shower. It was three minutes into the game and England had just scored a goal. People around me screamed, jumped and waved their full glasses. I got soaked. After the spray had settled, the score was still 0:0. When the Italians farther back in the pub realized that, half a minute later, they erupted into cheers of their own, celebrating the hypothetical equalizer after England's goal that wasn't. No beer reached me this time, or maybe none was thrown.
Watching England play with English supporters in a crowded pub late at night was not a pleasant experience. The game had started at 11 and a large part of the audience seemed to have prepared by binging on ale all evening. The game began optimistic enough, with singing and hoping, but the atmosphere soon degraded into something vaguely rowdy. England isn't supposed to win in World Cup finals, but the self-deprecating humor that this country does so well was missing from the spectators' perspective.
The night before, in another pub, things had been different. The Goose is not a sports bar. It's a regulars' local, with carpets and cheap food, that even spiffed up after recent remodeling retains an air of home away from home. The Goose shows the games, but it seems as if many customers don't come to watch them. They sit there having dinner or a drink and chat with friends. Overhead, the TV's on, but that's just a distraction.
I was having dinner and a drink with a friend, but we had also come to watch the game. It could have been a quiet night, had it not been for the large group in orange that clustered near the entrance door. When Holland scored goal after goal against a shockingly lethargic Spanish team they got more and more noisy.
After the game, karaoke started. The World Cup doesn't break Friday night traditions at The Goose. Exuberant men head to toes in orange don't normally feature, but they're easily absorbed. I know it's unfair the compare the behavior of supporters of a winning team with those of a losing team, but the Dutch were a rather enjoyable bunch, never mind their competitive drinking.
From the small to the big, why are we watching football in pubs in the first place? In Germany, big screens are erected all over big cities. People gather from all over to watch together. The German term for this is "public viewing", as if it were something imported. The friend who visited me this weekend ask where we'd watch the games, expecting something like "by the Thames" or "on Leicester Square". He was disappointed that no such showings exist in London.
I told him, half in jest, that it wouldn't work, that English supporters drink too much and get too rowdy, that their doomed passions couldn't be contained if thousands were gathered. The truth is probably that the pub owners who already operate in a rather dense marketplace, see the World Cup as theirs and wouldn't want competition to spoils the takings.
The Famous 3 Kings where I saw England fall to Italy certainly makes a roaring trade during big games. Last night it was so busy that everyone through the door got a stamp on their hand and only those with a stamped hand were allowed reentry after the smoke-and-fresh-air break at half time. They sold their beer as fast as they could. There was never any slack on the bars.
For me, this works as well. I'll be back to see the Argies in an hour and for most of games afterwards. I want to watch in a crowd, with shared emotions and the energy of something important. But it needs to be contained. A hundred drunks, with superfluous beer showers, groping and stomping on feet, is all I can take.