All You Need is Love? Despite the Rancor & Divisiveness in Our Socio-Political Ether, Soccer’s World Cup Temporarily Calmed Fiercely Internecine Rivalries
As a kid growing up in south Wales with English, Irish and Scottish heritage and an American godfather, to this day, I remember the excitement of seeing international football and rugby games. My dad, Ashley Sr., would take me to the nearby capital city of Cardiff, where the iconic TV series, Doctor Who, is filmed. As a nipper, I was over-awed by the crowd of 30,000 with their flags and colors. But when the hometown Welsh crowd broke into singing the national anthem, Land of My Fathers, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It was chilling and thrilling to be part of an international fervor and spirit.
But, here’s another “international” scenario to consider.
Imagine if you will, you’re a lifelong New York Yankees fan at an upstate sports bar that is exclusively a Pinstripes’ patch during the baseball season. Say, you get 150 plus fellow Yankees supporters for the big series games. Now, imagine, that for a team USA (World Baseball Classic) match, you find that you still have 150 fans in attendance but — you also have interlopers present in Mets, Dodgers and even Red Sox jerseys. They’re all rooting for the USA but they’re wearing the colors of those damn hated rivals.
It’d make you feel a tad uncomfortable, right? It may even make your skin…well, you get the point.
The same thing has been happening at the Greyhound Bar & Grill in Highland Park in LA. During the NFL season, the Greyhound is an official Eagles home. At the same time — actually, more like 7.00am Pacific and way before any Philly games — it’s also the exclusive home to the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs fans are so passionate and dedicated that the Greyhound’s management opens for every Spurs game, even the 4am games when they can’t even serve booze. And for the big games against Tottenham’s fiercest top-6 rivals — Man City, Man United, Liverpool and most especially Arsenal and Chelsea. If any scattered rival fans deign to enter the Greyhound, the Spurs fans will pick them out and chant, “We can see you, we can see you, we can see you sneaking in.” And, then we send bad juju their way.
Mostly, rival PL fans stay away from the Greyhound (listed by The Travel Channel as a top-10 soccer bar) not wanting to create any internecine argy-bargy. Although, a few seasons ago when Spurs were chasing long shot Leicester for the PL title, a busload of LA-based Chelsea fans purposely turned up, even though their team had no stake in the game. The Chelsea fans couldn’t help themselves and started singing some of the chants that are normally reserved for games over in England — their not-so-good natured vitriol included making “hissing” gas sounds directed at Tottenham’s Jewish roots — Spurs fans call themselves the Yid Army. That’s for another, much deeper chat, about anti-Semitism in English football.
During the four seasons that the Greyhound has been an LA Spurs (and Philadelphia Eagles) bar, this was the one time when emotions were close to spilling over. Fortunately, Chelsea fans were firmly directed by management to not turn up again. All has been fine at the Greyhound, mostly — except, for the notoriously rowdy Eagles’ fans who’ll even argue and rumble with each other, apparently. WTF-ever, right?!
But then World Cup 2018 kicked off, and something completely different raised its head, its very pleasant head.
Not all Spurs fans, who frequent the Greyhound, are England fans — many with non-UK origins, support national teams like Mexico, Brazil, USA, etc. So, what happens when 150 England supporting fans turn up wearing England shirts, along with their various club jerseys — Man-U, Liverpool, Man-City and yes, even the hated “red” of Arsenal?
Something fascinating has been happening, which temporarily and positively puts paid to the “divide and conquer” politics and the general atmosphere of rancor seen not only here in America but also in Britain and elsewhere.
When Everton and England goalie Jordan Pickford saved the fifth Colombian PK and then Tottenham’s Eric Dier put away the winning PK for England in the shootout, we jumped for joy but within our club clusters. In the quarter final match, when Leicester’s Harry Maguire thumped his header in to give England a lead over Sweden, we vigorously high fived with rival club clusters. When Tottenham’s Dele Alli scored a clinching header, all 160 of us went crazee. I even spied an American fan in a rival Arsenal shirt but didn’t approach him, yet.
Just then we Spurs fans spontaneously sang our ode to Dele, that praises our young star while dissing the much more expensive rival, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. We joyously sang: “We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli. I just don’t think you understand. He only cost five mill, he’s better than Ozil, we’ve got Dele Alli.” When we revved up for a third verse — perhaps intrigued by our diss of Ozil, who had done absolutely nothing to prevent his Germany (and tournament fave) from crashing out early — some of the other England fans joined in. It made the hairs on the back of my neck rise up like when I was a kid at my first international game. We sang it as one.
It. Was. Awesome.
When the game was over, the whole bar just erupted into one bonkers party. I even called over the “Arsenal” fan, Ian, to chide him about wearing a North London rival’s shirt in the heart of LA Spurs territory. He hilariously revealed he wasn’t even an Arsenal fan, he liked Newcastle, and just wanted to wear an English club’s shirt in support of England. Who knew? He also promised not to wear Arsenal’s colors at the Greyhound, again. Very wise. No reason to tempt fate, eh?
Yeah, the World Cup may only come around every four years, but these game day and shared encounters by people, who may not have much in common beyond being fans of a shared national team, have been refreshingly special.
Maybe, The Beatles were onto something — All You Need is Love?!