Years ago I had this girlfriend.
Okay, yes, I realize that technically that covers a veritable multitude of sins, so let me clarify a little bit:
FOUR years ago I had this girlfriend. The relationship was, I suppose you could say, fraught. Someone else – a person more inclined towards factual accuracy than prosaic descriptors, perhaps – might say it was “doomed.”
Over the intervening years I have often joked that there were “signs.” Things that, had I been in my right mind instead of hopelessly in love and/or under the influence of some sort of hex or curse I would have noticed. (As a longtime lover of Supernatural I am ruling nothing out.) Things that should have made me say, “I don’t think this girl’s right for me.”
There were a lot of signs. I wish I could say I missed them all. I did miss some; there were absolutely things that I didn’t see until years later and go, “whoa, that was pretty obvious.”
Most of the signs, though… let’s just say I didn’t MISS them, Bob.
But I wasn’t the only one who missed, or chose to miss, signs.
This is the story of the US game against Ghana in the first knockout round of the 2010 World Cup.
“I got lucky with the order.” – Will Munny
There really is no better time or way to introduce someone to soccer than the World Cup. It’s piss easy. Everybody already has a built-in rooting interest. You can support your country (USA ain’t nothin’ to fuck with) or, if your country hasn’t qualified, you can hate Italy. You don’t have to worry about who owns what club or where they finished last year or whether their fans are ahistorical plastic glory hunters or the quality of the domestic league or any of the usual soccer bullshit. You wrap yourself in the national colors – or not, for some reason, thank you Italy – you do your best to learn the offside rule, and you yell your heart out for your national side. It’s cathartic. It builds bridges. It’s awesome.
Four years ago, I came to the surely witchcraft-driven decision that the US game against Ghana was the perfect way to not only introduce my girlfriend to soccer but to watching soccer games in an insanely crowded pub with shitloads of other people. Because, I mean, -I- loved those things, and those things were awesome, so she’d love them too, right?
So here’s a fun fact: for USMNT games in the World Cup – that’s US Men’s National Team to you, kid – if you’re going to watch them at a pub, you need to get there early. I mean EARL-LEE. Like hours early. We unfortunately only got to the Dark Horse (god rest her) about 90 minutes early, which meant that instead of getting seats in the crowded bar, we ended up standing just behind all the people who got seats.
Imagining that the old main bar at the Dark Horse was a clock with 12 facing north (that would be Pine Street), here’s how the seating and standing arrangements worked out:
My girlfriend and I were standing at 6 o’clock.
Sitting right in front of us were Ed and Jim. Ed and Jim were… not friends of mine, I would say, not exactly, but they were guys I saw at the pub every weekend for Premier League games and we were definitely friendly with each other. They were Manchester United fans, and Jim’s actually Irish, but today everyone was there for the US.
Well, not everyone: there were a small bunch of Ghanaian guys in one of the front corners of the bar, say around 10-11 o’clock. I made a point to head over there and say hi to them. I love talking to opposing soccer fans, do it every chance I get. It’s one of the things I love most about soccer in this country. You can walk up to a guy wearing the other shirt – any other shirt, really – say “hey, good luck,” shake hands, maybe take some pictures, and both walk away smiling. It’s a community like no other sport I know.
(Most of the time…)
My friend Mark and his wife Eileen were sitting in the dark corner near the jukebox at 2 o’clock. Mark’s from Ireland, a super-nice guy and now a newly minted US citizen, and his wife is this fantastic woman who I assume he somehow blackmailed into marrying him. 90 minutes before the game, Mark is already quietly drunk.
Paul, who ran the show behind the bar during Quizo for many years, was tending bar along with about five bar backs.
My girlfriend was standing to my right.
Sitting at roughly my 11 o’clock, next to Ed, was a small thin white woman with very frizzy hair. She did not appear outwardly drunk.
That was how things stood 90 minutes before kickoff. By the time the game actually started, the place was packed solid. You couldn’t move.
(Sign my ex-girlfriend missed #14.)
By the time kickoff rolled around, there was nowhere to go.
“Memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation. They’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.” – Leonard Shelby
It’s funny – in retrospect I recall very little of the actual game itself. I remember Landycakes converting the penalty, and Gyan’s early goal in extra time, but precious little else.
Part of that is because I don’t have great “game memory” in general – I can remember a couple specific plays from games of years past but usually not much more than that. My memory of Landycakes’ goal in the Algeria game a few days prior to these events is fresh as though it were yesterday. I remember Jozy Altidore’s ridiculous goals against Brazil in the 2007 U-20 World Cup. I still remember David James stopping a screamer from Frank Lampard with nothing more than his thumb on the day the Eagles lost the Super Bowl in what is still the greatest 0-0 draw I have ever seen.
Another part of that is because of the insane shit that was going on around me during the game.
It was a World Cup game for starters, and the knockout stage to boot, so people were fired up more than usual. This wasn’t Chelsea v. Newcastle on a dreary Sunday morning in February. It’s the World Cup. It’s summer. It’s hot, even with the air conditioning – god, the Dark Horse used to get so hot when it got crowded in the summertime. All that, and pretty much everyone but me had been drinking for hours when the game started, never mind in the second half. So everyone was pumped. They were… not violent, no, but rowdy. There was shouting. There was jumping. There were obscene gestures. There was cursing. Oh my, the cursing. Cursing at the ref, at the opposing players, at Ricardo Clark, you name it. Dear gods above, the cursing.
Even still, for most of the game it was all good-natured. There were the Ghanaian guys at the one end of the bar, sure, but they were just cheering their side, and they were being positive about it – no, “USA sucks!” or whatever, and so long as you’re not being a total jackass about it no one is going to give you crap for cheering for your team.
Unfortunately – and four years later I can still scarcely believe this – they weren’t the only ones cheering for Ghana.
The woman sitting in front of me was ALSO cheering for Ghana.
Actually, no, let me rephrase that:
The clearly American woman sitting in front of me was cheering against the United States.
She wasn’t cheering for Ghana, not really. She was booing the US. Screaming at players to get up when they were fouled. Screaming at the ref to card US players after rough challenges. Telling defenders they sucked when they missed clearances.
Jesus, writing that down four years later it STILL doesn’t make any goddamn sense. But there it was.
This American woman was rooting against the United States.
For most of the match it was pretty silly – recall that Ghana scored early and we were fighting back for most of the next hour so, hey, whatever. She’s a front-runner. Fine. Stupid drunk-ass woman, let her do what she wants. We’re mounting our comeback.
When Landycakes equalized with the penalty, though, it got worse. She actually turned it up.
At one point, she literally booed a US player. Stood up on the footrail of her chair and shouted “BOOOOOOOOOOO!” at the television.
People who had been making snide comments under their breath and muttering to their friends started shouting at her. “Shut the fuck up!” was the most common. A lot of people shouted something like “what the fuck is your problem?” Her answer to that was to shout “I’m cheering for the best soccer!” which was, to say the least, not the smartest thing to say.
As the second half wore on and the clock got shorter and extra time became more and more likely, she got louder and meaner and stupider. At one point I looked at my girlfriend and saw a look on her face that would have melted butter. A look I would, over the next few months, become very well-acquainted with. Me and that look, we became REAL good pals.
She was, to say the least, not having a good time, largely because of this idiot woman.
I decided I had to say something.
After one play in which she lustily screeched at a US player for a tackle, I waited just the right number of seconds after she finished shouting until the bar was almost silent and said, loudly, “what part of Ghana are you from?”
She stared at me and didn’t say anything.
I swear to god the entire bar was looking at us, not saying a word.
I let her stare at me for about 8 seconds, then said, “God keeps a special place in hell for traitors.”
The bar went wild, everyone doing a strange combination of a scream and a laugh.
It was at once the most religious and the most patriotic thing I’d ever said.
“Because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.” – Ugarte
In the time between the end of regulation and the first extra time period Jim went to go to the bathroom and I talked to Ed, and tried to talk to my girlfriend.
“We got this,” I said. “Thirty more minutes? We’re fine.”
“We’re not all fucking fine,” Ed said, tilting his head at the crazy woman sitting next to him. He wasn’t far off. Already, with regulation over, there were things being muttered about this woman that were very, very unpleasant.
“It’s all right,” I said. “She’s gonna look pretty stupid by the time this is over.”
Ed just gave me a look that said “yeah, sure, right.”
I turned to look at my girlfriend. “This is fun, right?”
She stared at me and said nothing.
(Sign missed by me #47.)
Not too long after, extra time started, Gyan scored very quickly, and now the game degenerated into us desperately searching for an equalizer. Jim came back right after all this, but because of the way the crowd had shifted he couldn’t get back to his seat at the bar, so he ended up standing just behind me to my left.
Right around the middle of the second extra time period, Jim leaned into me and said, “this is great. You’re gonna love winning a World Cup game on penalties.”
I gave him a look that said, are you nuts? We were chasing the game and losing ground. Penalties certainly didn’t look like a sure thing.
About two minutes later, Jim shouted “oh fuck me, it’s 2-1?!”
Now, if you haven’t been there you won’t know this, but if you have you may remember that the TVs at the Dark Horse didn’t have great sight lines. The TV we were watching specifically – the one at 12 o’clock high, recall – especially had this problem, where if you weren’t sitting at the bar you lost the top quarter or so of the television. Where the banner with the clock and the score were.
Jim had been in the bathroom when Gyan scored.
“Oh, fuck, sorry mate,” he said. “I thought it was still 1-1. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Donovan will come through.”
At one point with a few minutes left in the game, a US player fouled a Ghana player again and the woman in front of me started her shit again, hurling anti-US invective at the television.
The dam broke.
Ed, who was already pretty lubed up and pretty depressed over the impending outcome, snapped and lunged at the woman, screaming, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU! YOU BETTER SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
I jumped between them as quickly as I could and started to push Ed away from her, shouting, “ED! ED! Fuck her, man, forget her!”
Ed leaned over my shoulder, pushing against me, and was still shouting “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” at the woman.
Finally I pushed him a foot or so in front of me and shouted “ED! STOP!”
He looked at me for a split second, and I said, loud enough for others to hear, “we’re better than this.”
Ed looked at me and deflated a little bit. Then he clapped me on the shoulder and said, “you’re right.”
He sat back on his stool and looked at the woman and said, “and you’re lucky.”
I thought that she wasn’t going to be lucky for much longer.
When the second extra time period got into added time and she started loudly jeering the US again, and the other people in the bar started yelling “shut the fuck up!” or worse, I motioned Paul over, leaned over the bar, and shouted, “you’ve gotta get her out of here, man!”
Paul nodded and shouted something like “I’ll try!”
When the final whistle blew, the woman started cheering, and the bar went berserk.
No one actually DID anything, mind, but what they were screaming ranged from crude name-calling to things that were perilously close to specific threats of phyiscal violence.
There were only three people in the bar not actively engaged in pillorying this woman. One was Paul, behind the bar, who was trying to calm down the people he knew.
Another was my girlfriend, who even though I couldn’t see her I knew was staring daggers into my back.
The other was Mark, in the dark corner, who was asleep with his head on the bar. He’d had a long day drinking and cheering and had been peacefully passed out since the first period of extra time
The noise in the bar started to get louder and uglier.
I said to the woman, “you really need to get the hell outta here!”
She looked up at me and, in quite possibly the stupid single sentence I have ever heard a person utter, shouted, “I have a right to be here!”
I yelled, not out of temper but exasperation, “there’s five hundred of them and one of you, you’re about to get fucking killed!”
And over the din I heard Mark’s wife Eileen’s voice, as clear as church bells on a Sunday morning, scream, “I’M GONNA RIP OUT YOUR HEART!”
It is worth noting here that “heart” is not actually the word she used, though the word she did use was also biological and also ended with the letter “t.”
I looked over and while Mark was still sound asleep, she was drunkenly swaying off her bar stool and looking every bit like she was about to come over to where we were standing and perform the proposed surgery with her bare hands.
I looked back at the stupid woman and said, “your tab is paid! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.”
This, apparently, finally got through to her and she ducked out – literally, she ducked as she scrambled for the back door as people in the bar either laughed at her as she left or screamed for her blood.
Once she was out the door, the bar let out a cheer. Jim, who was back in his seat at the bar, turned to us and said, smiling, “football, eh? Good times!”
I turned to look at my girlfriend.
I wasn’t sure she appreciated how good a time we had.