A View From The Bar: There Will Always Be An England

Soccer fans at the Black Horse Pub in Brooklyn.

hide captionRosie Schaap's local soccer haunt, the Black Horse Pub in Brooklyn, New York.

Rosie Schaap

As I awoke one morning in 2007 from uneasy dreams, I found myself transformed into a middle-aged, male, English expatriate.

Alright. Not exactly. Some things had stayed the same: a taste for lager or bitter had not supplanted my usual preference for whiskey or wine or a good martini. I was not suddenly sticking perfectly pointless u’s into words like color and honor and favor. Most signs indicated that I was still female. And as for middle age, really, who can say with authority when that starts or ends?

But those uneasy dreams? They were about soccer—and, specifically, about Tottenham Hotspur F.C., a north London team that, at the time, wasn’t doing much to distinguish itself in the English Premier League. The previous year, one of my bar buddies here in New York—many of whom are British expats—had gently suggested that I watch a Tottenham game with him.

Geoff has been a Spurs fan since forever, and although his devotion to his team is rock solid, he’s not a hard-sell kind of guy.  His pitch ran something like this: You like soccer anyway (he knew I was already a fan of the Dutch National Football team); you’re used to supporting teams that lose a lot anyway (he also knew I’m a lifelong Mets fan); and: you’re Jewish (Tottenham has historically had a large Jewish fan base).  How could I resist?

What I hadn’t foreseen was that within just a few months after watching that first unremarkable game, Tottenham Hotspur would take over, if not my life, at least a good portion of my weekend social schedule for roughly eight months out of the year.

After years of being a fair-weather, World-Cup-centric, perhaps typically American soccer fan, a big shift had taken place. And it is hard to say why.

Yes, I found Tottenham (who, last season, ascended to the top four in the EPL, securing a place in the Champions League) undeniably lovable and fun to watch, and I fit easily into its fan culture—loyal, beleaguered, self-deprecating supporters of longtime underdogs. Up until then, most American EPL fans I knew followed Manchester United and Arsenal, and, frankly, could be pretty smug and self-satisfied as a result of their teams’ frequently winning ways.

Spurs fans could suffer no such unseemly sense of entitlement. And not only had Tottenham—and, by extension, soccer generally—invaded my dream life, it had also infiltrated my daily discourse, especially at the bar. Most of my drinking comrades talked about soccer. A lot. And looking back, I can’t help wondering if my enthusiastic embrace of the game partly represented a wish to assimilate even more deeply into the culture of the bar, where, as a woman drinking mostly among men, and as an American drinking among expatriates, I was, even as a regular, already a bit of an outsider.

Curiously, coming to love Tottenham Hotspur intensified my love of Oranje, the Dutch National Team, because it made me think more, read more, and talk more about the game year round—and not just during World Cup or Euro Cup years. And now, this has created a dilemma. This year, five Tottenham Hotspur players—Peter Crouch, Michael Dawson, Jermain Defoe, Ledley King, and Aaron Lennon—feature on the England’s World Cup team.

But like any good Spurs fan, I gotta be loyal. Even if, in this case, it means to the Dutch team, a team totally empty of Tottenham players. They were my first true soccer love, for reasons I’ll explain another time. And Geoff—as good-natured and gracious a soccer fan as you’re likely to find—cannot conceal his disappointment.

“I’m still getting my head around the fact that there are five of our beloved in the squad,” he told me, “and you're still Orange!” And Geoff is by no means doctrinaire: raised in England, the son of Scottish parents, he’d quite possibly be rooting for Scotland—had its team qualified. Although he has lived in New York for nearly thirty years, his feelings about team USA are measured. “I’d really like to see them do well in this World Cup,” he says, “but not at the expense of the English.”

The bar where Geoff first sparked my interest in Tottenham Hotspur closed more than a year ago, and I stopped commuting into Manhattan to watch games with him as often as I had.  By then, I was good and ready to strike out on my own as a soccer fan. And in an instance of very good timing, a full-on soccer bar — Brooklyn’s Black Horse Pub — opened last fall, only blocks from my house.

One of its owners is a Tottenham fan, but the bar honors an admirable equal employment opportunity policy: depending on the day, you might have a Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, or a Manchester City fan drawing your pints. English expats all, and all rooting for England to beat the USA on Saturday, all rooting for England to win the World Cup. Justin, the Man City fan, has been a New Yorker more than 20 years, and still has vivid memories of seeing England win the Cup in 1966, when he was a toddler in Yeovil, Somerset. “I watched with my dad,” he recalls, “on a little black and white t.v. at the bottom of our garden.” But he’s not letting nostalgia get the best of him. Mostly, he says, “I’m rooting for football. The beautiful game.”

Rosie Schaap
Rosie Schaap

I’ll be watching the game with them at the Black Horse today. And at least until Monday—when the Dutch team plays its first game—I’ll be rooting for England, too, if only on account of my five beloved boys from Tottenham.

Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortuneteller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, a manager of homeless shelters, and a ghostwriter for an inspirational magazine. Her work has been broadcast on This American Life, and her book, Drinking With Men, a collection of true stories set in bars she's known and loved, will be published next year by Riverhead. She supports Tottenham Hotspur FC and the Dutch National Football Team.

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