By the

September 6, 2001

On Saturday afternoon, instead of spending the day recovering from a night of partying or getting ahead in my school work, I found myself getting ready and getting energized for something far more important, a soccer match. No, I wasn’t going to play ball up on Kehoe, and I wasn’t going to the U.S. World Cup qualifier at RFK stadium, either. I was going to watch a soccer game being played half way across the World with a bunch of drunk Englishmen, at a sketchy bar called “The Rock” in downtown D.C.

Last Saturday, for those who don’t follow the sport, there was an important World Cup qualifying match featuring England and Germany, that had huge ramifications on who will eventually make the World Cup, which is being held this summer in South Korea and Japan. The outcome of the game would mean crucial points in deciding who went on and who stayed home, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

To give some background, my father, Tony, is from England, and while I have grown up loving American sports, I still follow soccer (or “football,” to use the proper term) quite avidly. Football, as I will call the sport from here on out, is the most exciting sport to watch in the world. There is nothing like being at a football match, surrounded by almost 100,000 fans, who all sleep, eat and breathe the sport. As in love with baseball and basketball as I am, there is simply nothing like the energy that one feels at a football match outside of the United States. Sports fans in the States simply pale in comparison with the fans outside the United States because they take the outcome of sporting matches personally. People in other countries sometimes kill each other, literally, due to the outcome of a game. I don’t mean to glorify violence at all, but that’s the true meaning of “die-hard.”

Anyway, there I was, surrounded by hundreds of fans, in a crowded bar on a Saturday afternoon. There were the crazy English fans, who were singing the British national anthem at the top of their lungs. There were the German fans, who were equally loud, but outnumbered; and finally there were people like me: American fans, who had come out in full force to show their support for which ever team they had allegiance to and were just hoping to avoid getting hurt. One thing all of the groups had in common, however, is that they were all about five beers in by the time I got there, and they were all screaming and dancing even though the game hadn’t even started. It was pretty exciting.

As I walked deeper into the bar, I was being pushed back and forth by the crowd. I got high fives from a few England fans and a few dirty looks from some German fans who saw that I was wearing my England jersey, but that didn’t phase me. I began to wonder: had all of these people had gotten here? I was almost positive that no one else knew about this bar. It was in the middle of nowhere, squeezed in a small alley of a small block on the outskirts of Chinatown, but it was as packed as any bar in England.

As I found a seat, at the end of a pool table on the third floor, two cute British chicks came up to me and asked if I would take their photo. I did of course, and as a reward they each gave me a kiss on the cheek. My day had already been made and the game hadn’t even started! Then, as I heard a hush fall over the crowd, the big-screen TVs came on. “Live from Germany, it’s the 2001 World Cup Qualifiers. Are you ready?” The game had begun.

As quickly as the match started, it seemed as if all was lost. Germany scored just six minutes into the game off a beautiful shot from Carsten Jancker that just squeaked by English goal tender David Seamen. Already, the English squad would have to come from behind against a European soccer powerhouse who had not lost a World Cup qualifier in Germany in over a decade. The crowd, mostly English supporters, immediately fell quiet and shouts of “Bloody wankers” could be heard from the far corners of the bar. Things looked grim, but I still believed.

For many like myself who did not give up hope, cheers soon followed disappointment as moments later, England scored to tie the game on a great shot by young footballer Michael Owen. The place erupted. It was pandemonium,with people hugging people they didn’t know, throwing fists into the air and spitting out beer as they screamed chants. Others gave silent prayers in the corners, thanking God they had not payed the $20 cover charge for nothing. The game was on.

The first half ticked away for what seemed like an eternity, but then right before half time, English striker Steven Gerard scored from 25 yards out on a fantastic shot that gave England the lead for good. The bar once again erupted, and I was buried in a mound of sweaty drunken Englishmen, for the second time that afternoon. They may have smelled, but it was OK, because now we were not just fans, we were brothers, and we needed to root our team on to victory.

Things continued to go well that afternoon and England went on to win 5-1 and to secure themselves at least a good shot at making the World Cup (which I have tickets to). I couldn’t believe that on a Saturday afternoon, while most in the D.C. area were setting off for brunch, I was being crushed in a mound of crazy football hooligans, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way. If the intensity at this small bar could be so great, I can’t wait until I get to Korea, where I’m sure the games will be 10 times more intense. Until then, I will try my best to make it to “The Rock” as England marches forward into the World Cup. Long live sport!

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