One of the side benefits to being between gigs is having the time to pursue watching European soccer. This is, in fact, practically a full-time job. Following the Euro leagues requires diligent Web-searching, multiple VCRs (since much of the stuff comes on odd channels at strange hours of the morning), and a more than healthy dose of masochism. There’s a weekly morning show on Fox Sports New York that shows either at 5 or 7 on channel 26 or 25–you can never really know for sure–and a pay-per-view game that is almost always unadvertised that may or may not be shown on Sunday mornings at 11. The anchor on the weekly highlights show, a guy quite fabulously named Lionel Bienvenue who looks like he’d rather be emceeing almost any other show, dutifully pumps up the action with doses of ESPN-style “attitude.” It doesn’t quite work. “Chelsea is going with the flow,” he barks out. “Tore Andre Flo, that is!” “Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is surfing the Internet!” At least this is better than the last announcer, Kevin Wall, who would provide English commentary for Italian games, presumably from a studio somewhere in Burbank, by excitedly informing us: “It’s a THROW-IN!”
Must we suffer so? For a while, Time Warner cable ran a few hours daily of Fox Sports World, a cable network that featured several soccer games a day. Presumably it was Murdoch-Turner politics that got it killed. The soccer weenies, as a friend calls us, have been in mourning ever since. I have, however, discovered a cell of weeniehood at an East Side bar called McCormicks, where on many Wednesday afternoons, mobs of English louts, pseudo-English louts, and pseudo-English pseudo-louts gather to watch the weekly midweek game, roughly the English equivalent of Monday Night Football. The bar’s 20-odd televisions are turned up to deafening volume, and the patrons, some of whom work at The New Yorker and at top jobs in book publishing, yell like pigs in heat.
If nothing else, the scene has answered one crucial question for me: what those fans are always singing about at odd moments in the game. I had always thought they were hilarious and/or moving sendups/odes to passionate fandom, and I secretly felt contempt for American sports fans who could manage nothing more imaginative than the wave. This bit of Anglophilia was rather rudely undercut at a recent Manchester United-Arsenal match. After every tackle of a Man U player, the fully logo-bedecked Arsenal fans would hoist their tankards and sing out, “Stand up, stand up if you hate Man U.” When the Man U player stood up they would convulse in laughter. Now I can see how those lad mags do so well.