The Sum of All Beers
WITCHING HOUR ARRIVED AT LUCKY Baldwin's in Pasadena last Thursday, with the British pub packed with people swilling lager and watching the televised World Cup match between England and Brazil. Two young Chicanos among the SRO crowd got stiff necks craning for a view of the action on a patio monitor. When one of the men made a crack about the American team, which days before had dispatched Mexico 2-0, his friend quickly reproached him.
"Dude!" the man chided. "This is the USA -- you're in The Land and you're pissing on it!"
"I know," conceded the other, chastened. "I guess I'm just mad at the soccer god."
Indeed, it seemed that many Mexican-Americans with a bone to pick with the fútbol deity had gathered here to watch a vicarious rematch and were rooting for Brazil.
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"Orale, orale, Brasil! Let's go!" another man encouraged.
Mindful of the match's surrogate subtext, the local English fans obligingly amended their national chant to "Inger-land!/ U-S-A! Inger-land!/U-S-A!"
This was easily the most PG-rated and P.C. mantra the Brits unleashed, and Pasadenans unacquainted with the volcanic vulgarity of terrace chants would be in for a crash course tonight. English football chants are largely taunts set to American music (pop, traditional gospel or even Sousa) and range from critiques of subpar performances by players and refs ("Wanker! Wanker!") to more existential questions of identity ("Oo the fuckin' 'ell are you? Oo the fuckin' 'ell are you?"). The English language, hardly renowned for its bel canto grace, sounds strangely lyrical in the service of soccer -- even if its rhythms make for a rough pagan poetry, the kind you might have heard ricocheting at Stonehenge on solstice night.
Like Brazil's lithe and ebullient players, however, that country's samba-driven Portuguese chants ("Ole, ole ole ole, Brasil, Brasil!") were infinitely more melodic than their Albion counterparts. And, at first, Lucky Baldwin's "Brazilians" seemed more sportsmanlike too, but after enough beer and the ceaseless barrage of abuse from the "English," an inevitable give and take erupted between fans of the two sides. "Go back to the Amazon, you fuckin' anny-mal!" crowed one man after Brazilian striker Ronaldinho received a red card for elbowing an English player. "Shove this up the queen!" the Brazilians responded, while fully availing themselves of the opportunities provided by the name of England's goalie, David Seaman.
What was truly amazing was how people who were neither British nor Brazilian got caught up in the game's fever and in the fervor of shouting support. The plain truth is that the cup has brought out a culture clash of loyalties in many Angelenos. Just before the Mexico-USA match, Boyle Heights had been a sea of tricolors, with massive Mexican flags rippling from pickup trucks and porches in the neighborhood around El Mercado on First and Lorena streets. Not only that, but normally staid Koreatown saw a burst of spontaneous energy last Saturday as thousands of fans marched through its streets around 2 a.m. after Korea beat Spain. Like England's chants, the games have scratched in many of us something from a lost time -- memories of a home before America, perhaps, or a desperate need to root for someone, or rather anyone, not America.
I CHEERED ENGLAND LAST THURSDAY, EVEN though my connection to Britain now consists of a few scattered relatives, some old Manchester United buttons, and grainy memories of eating fish and chips out of coned newspapers. Soon enough, I'd be leaving Lucky Baldwin's in a funk after the superhuman Brazilians handed England their return-flight tickets by winning 2-1. Years before, during the 1984 Olympics, I left Pasadena in a similar state after the French football team defeated Yugoslavia at the Rose Bowl, even though Yugoslavia hadn't even existed as Yugoslavia when my grandparents emigrated from Croatia to America.
For all the angry words, smashed beer glasses and trampled shrubs, no fights broke out at Lucky Baldwin's. Later that morning, Team USA, which had shattered so many Mexican hearts in L.A., would itself be beaten by Germany, as would Korea the following Tuesday. Now all Angelenos stand equal before the soccer god and can perhaps turn to England for one more of its inimitable chants: "If you hate Germans clap your hands! If you hate Germans clap your hands! If you hate . . ."
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