Monday, June 05, 2006

I Think of England

Ahhh... football. And not the big stadium, million dollar comercial variety. I mean Football, like the game we do actually play with our feet. Like the game that’s on the cover of National Geographic this month-- the one they say unites the world. The game that causes riots and is known for drunken fans and hooliganism. The game that made little girls everywhere want to be athletic because of Mia Hamm. Oh football, the game that makes me think of England each time I hear it uttered. Well, it’s here, World Cup Fever, kids. And it’s coming to the Royale (3132 S. Kingshighway).

I’ve never known Royale owner Steven Fitzpatrick Smith to be a football fan, but then again, he’s a man of many surprises. One thing’s for sure, Thomas Crone is about as big a football fan as I have ever known (and he coaches soccer for the munchkins)-- so I’m sure he’ll be about. The Royale will be playing all the World Cup games, even opening at 8am several mornings for the early games.

Just the word football makes me think of the rain. I lived in Norwich, England for two years, a city which might have the worst footy team in all of the UK. (Though they claim the Canaries used to be much better, I’ve never seen it-- although some stars did stand out. ) I just loved what football meant, in the same way I love what baseball means to this town.

Two American friends and I would go most weekends November through April to watch the matches. We’d wake early, usually after a late night of me closing down the pub I worked at, and we’d hit The Bells Pub for a fry-up and read the paper-- never talking. Then we’d walk or hitch a bus down to the city centre and go to the Angler (?-- some fishing-oriented pub name on the river by the train station) where we’d have a pint of Guinness and read a different paper. Then down to the stadium, following the men clad in the team’s colored scarves, the little boys walking so close to their fathers that the fathers would trip over the kids, the vast sea of people in yellow and green, the visiting team’s fans-- all drunken and singing-- and we’d go into the stadium.

The cheap seats were uncovered and behind the goal, but that’s what we liked the most. We’d stay through snow, rain, sleet, once even hail, and freezing temperatures, running inside at the half to neck a pint and get back outside (no more drinking in the stadiums in England). Andy and Doug, my American friends never missed a game, and they knew all the songs and would teach me the lyrics and the chants. It was such a feeling of being present-- if not often cold and wet-- and I loved it. It seemed as close to nationalism as England could suscribe to-- but more like cityism, and that was the part that was cool. It was about being a part of something.

When I think of England, I often think of those Saturdays. I often think of sitting in pubs in the summer, unseasonably warm some years, no AC, sweating, the crowd hushed and then cheering to the World Cup. Something beautiful happens when football is on the telly. Maybe that same beauty will come to St. Louis, and hopefully I’ll be behind the bar watching when it happens.

The Royale Food and Spritis, 3132 S. Kingshighway

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