My buddy Tom runs two great San Francisco bars, relaxed homey friendly places named Finnegan’s Wake and Bloom’s. As long as he’s running the show they are not, never have been, and never will be trendy–Finnegan’s Wake and Bloom’s are where neighbors hang out with neighbors. As long as they never turn trendy, they will probably run forever.
Though skeptical, Tom opened both bars early during the 2010 World Cup so fans could watch the games. Good move–he did well enough to justify the extra hours and work. I chose Finnegan’s Wake, the nearer bar, to watch the first American game of the Cup, a formidable challenge named England, one of the pre-tournament favorites to reach at least the semifinals. The English media felt highly confident in their players. One of their tabloids printed this headline when the World Cup draw put England in a seemingly soft group:
And that is your infamous “EASY!” headline.
Running into a few friends (because that’s what you run into at bars like these) who didn’t know much about soccer, they asked me for my opinion on the outcome and where they should focus their attention. I said that the United States faced serious trouble and had to be underdogs–mentioning something about the American back four being very weak and vulnerable to sudden diagonal movements by an opposing midfielder splitting defenders because the defenders won’t know who should cover him. In particular I cited a pair of midfielders named Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as very serious threats.
I felt a very light tap on my shoulder.
“Pardon me, sir, but I must correct you.”
I turned to face a five foot eight inch tall gentleman with a neat well-trimmed beard and impeccable undyed linen jacket, complete with a classic upper class English accent. He looked amused.
“Please don’t misunderstand me, I fully endorse your high regard for England, but I cannot agree with your assessment of Messrs. Lampard and Gerrard. They have both exhibited poor form in the run-up to the Cup and I doubt they can contribute more than defensive work and perhaps some good passes forward.”
“I don’t know. If I coached the English team I would install special tactics to use against the Americans.”
“We shall see about that.” He smiled and returned to his friends, shaking his head slightly.
The game began. Only four minutes later, Gerrard made a diagonal run through the American back four. The nearest defenders couldn’t figure out which one should cover him. He received an excellent pass and scored an “EASY!” goal versus a helpless Tim Howard. After groaning with my friends, I glanced at the English gentleman, expecting him to look delighted if perhaps a tad surprised.
He did not look delighted.
He did not look happy at all.
For lack of a better term, I would say he looked–terrified.
An American–an American!–had foreseen the course of the game. And he had not. That terrified him more than England’s temporary lead pleased him. Now I am most emphatically NOT a soccer expert. How can I be? I use the word “soccer,” and I never played on any organized level. My opinions were more lucky than good. Just this once I had been right about a match. (N.B.: of my predictions for the 2014 Cup, so far the only correct one is the prediction that all of my predictions would be wrong)
But I think it was the first time an American seemed to display greater knowledge of the game than his. Really, I felt bad for scaring the poor guy. I just got lucky.
Vonn Scott Bair
PS–Of course, “EASY!” turned out to be very hard, and England didn’t even win the group, finishing second to the USA on goals scored. They’ve had a rough go of it lately, which doesn’t seem right to me. Given their history, it seems only right and fair that they should always contend for at least the quarters.