A few fans cling to hope at the bar, the others retreat to play pool, hearts wiped clean from their sleeves. And then it happens. The 93rd minute, man of the match chosen, the whistle wet in the referees mouth, a cross flung across the box, and the ball meets the back of the net.
3,000 miles away, in a bar in Manhattan, a bar stool flies over the heads of the Bundesliga fans. The jubilant roar from one man, deafening all seven people in the room. He tumbles forward, sinks his beer, and rushes to the street outside, screaming the words ‘Strip club!’
The time was roughly 1.00pm, EST. The day, Sunday. As Richard Dunne stands on the sunbaked turf of a West London football pitch, head in hands; four Qpr fans sway on the sun-blistered sidewalk of 3rd Avenue, arm-in-arm.
Football’s brilliance lies in it’s unpredictability, but not just on the pitch. Away trips can be dull, boring affairs. A long drive to Coventry, a warm Budweiser in a pub under the M6, and a two-mile walk in the driving rain. Fantastic.
Away trips can also be fascinating; a chance encounter with interesting people, in interesting places, and a tale or two to be repeated for years to come.
This Sunday was my first introduction to New York. No work to do and a faded Google Maps printout in hand, I searched for a downtown sports bar, sticking to the shaded side of the street for fear of death by sunstroke.
Quiet, peaceful, dark. Two English fans at the bar, staring at the small TV, while the Germans sat watching the big screen. Small-talk about games watched, what could have been, should have been, and what will be. A nice way to spend a jet-lagged morning.
Then arrives the third. A former cockney with an acquired wise-guy accent, he threw his arms around every fan of his colour, and flicked Vs at those who weren’t.
‘Oi, Sanchez. What ****ing language do we speak in this country?’
His opening gambit, in reference to the German commentary trickling from the speakers. The barman had heard it all before and pointed to the white-shirted Klinsmanns, a group far larger than our own.
‘What the ****?! Did we lose the War?!’
The first of many barbed comments flung across the room, to be followed later by the stool.
Two hours and six pints. That’s an impressive record, especially for a Sunday lunchtime session. The barman poured, the beer flowed. Hearts should be worn on sleeves. Live for your club. Die for your club. Love those in your colours. Hate the rest, especially the Germans.
The never-ending roll of violent cliches never ended.
Then we were a goal down. Tempers frayed. Blood boiled. Klinsmann and in his friends had drunk their fill too. Stares bore across the room. A few comments in reply. Even after six pints, most men can still count, and we fans of the same colour made it clear that death at the hands of fellow Europeans was not on our agenda that day.
90 minutes. We’ve lost. It’s game over. The ball still bouncing around, but never threatening the net.
And he’s left. The toilet door swinging on its hinges.
Then it happens. The cross. The goal. Through the glass of the small TV we see the net ripple and a West London stadium erupt in celebration.
3,000 miles away, in a bar in Manhattan, a bar stool flies over the heads of the Bundesliga fans. The jubilant roar from one man, deafening all seven people in the room. He tumbles forward, sinks his beer, and rushes to the street outside, screaming the words...
I pose for one picture - taking the risk for a single record of the memory - turn on my heels and sprint two blocks in the opposite direction.
New York, meet football. Football, meet New York.
Images: My own.