Slowly, Ye Olde King’s Head bar in Santa Monica begins to fill with Brits — an airline host, or whatever they’re called now, in a clip-on tie; a single woman who orders fish and chips and takes a front-row seat to drool over David Beckham; and a guy who sits next to me on my left with an accent as thick as Eton mess and a tattooed armband that reads, I kid you not, “God Bless America.”
We were all here to see European powerhouse Real Madrid, the New York Yankees of the soccer world, take on the Los Angeles Galaxy, the best Major League Soccer team. The match is called a “friendly” because it has no bearing on either team’s standings, but there was a lot at stake. For Real Madrid, cultural imperialism in the form of increased brand awareness and merchandizing dollars, and for the Galaxy and MLS, a chance to show American soccer isn’t stuck in the dark ages.
When Real Madrid takes to the field in its all-white uniforms, the players look almost godlike; it was as if Zeus and his pals were coming to kick a ball around mere mortals. No one expects Galaxy to win; we all just want to see a good game.
In the first five minutes of the game the Galaxy’s “Pando” Ramirez slams into Zinedine Zidane, perhaps the best player in the world, checking him like Marty McSorley would Mario Lemieux. He gets a yellow card. And for a brief shining moment, L.A. seems to be giving the big boys some tough talk, street-style, but it’s short lived.
A minute later Zidane, Baryshnikov with cleats, as the announcers keep reminding us, jukes out several Galaxy defenders and passes the ball to Michael Owen, from England, who deftly chips the ball over the Galaxy’s keeper for Real Madrid’s first goal. If only the European Union got along this well.
Owen’s goal fuels a conversation between the tattooed Brit and a faux-hawked American soccer fan sitting next to me about who’s better, Beckham or Owen. They both agree that Owen is a better player. I suggest that it’s meaningless to compare the two since they play different positions.
“Do you even know the game?” the salty Brit interrupts.
“I played soccer in college and all through high school.”
“Women’s soccer,” he snickers.
“I’m just saying Owen and Beckham, apples and oranges . . .” He gives me a blank stare. “You know, bangers and mash, two different things. Whatever.”
Beckham gets the ball, and the announcer counts 25 dribbles before Beckham takes the shot and misses wide. For a moment I am distracted by the close-ups of Beckham (shoot me – I’m an American girl who likes soccer and good-looking men, which often go together).
Beckham has the ball. I am distracted again — by Beckham’s hair, most of Real Madrid’s hair actually, which, except for the buzz heads, is long and glorious. Beckham misses a wide-open shot. “FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!” yells most of the bar.
We are joined by another Brit, who gets a full run-down of the game: “Beckham’s playing like shite, mate.”
During halftime we peruse a menu peppered with delicacies such as Brit dog and British quesadilla. My British roommate, U.K. Craig, uses the time to explain to me that the Anglo misogynist to my left is a typical Brit soccer fan.
“Soccer is a very sexist game in Europe,” he says and reminds me that soccer is to Europeans as football is to Americans. I guess I knew that, but I didn’t know that there were European meathead soccer fans. Granted, this guy hadn’t painted himself the color of his team or donned a cheesewheel hat. But this was a revelation. This means that there is a Universal Meathead. Wow.
The meathead returns and we gohen Roberto Soldado goes in for Beckham, he screams:
“Beckham you pouff! You big pouff — go and get your hair cut! Here w, the annihilation
of America! THE ANNIHILATION of America!”
I remind you again this man has a God Bless America tattoo on his arm.
Soldado scores the second goal of the game within two minutes of his arrival on the field.
“So, you played soccer, huh?” The conflicted expat nudges me.
“Have you ever been to England?”
“Yes, I lived there for a month.”
“So, you know the goals are smaller in England, yeah?” he says, thinking he’s being clever.
“Actually,” I reply, “the goals are the same size in England, it’s the balls that
are smaller.” He retreats to the back of the bar to talk to the airline host with
the clip-on tie.