June 21, 2010
World Cup Soccer & Brazilian Samba
A reasonably thorough inspection of soccer pubs and restaurants in San Francisco and Berkeley over the past ten days reveals that while there may be more people supporting the English and Mexican soccer teams in the Bay Area there is nobody having as much fun as the Brazilians.
On Sunday the Brazilian World Cup team once again gave its fans a reason to dance (as if they need an excuse) with a 3-1 trouncing of Cote d'Ivoire. Of the several places in the Bay Area which are hosts for Brazilian fans this time we chose Martin Macks on Haight St. in San Francisco. You might ask yourself how an Irish pub has become a place to samba....
So we have Thierry Henry and FIFA to thank. What a way to convert the Irish mourning and outrage at being cheated out of the World Cup into something positive that we all get to share. In addition, the pub burned down less than two years ago so we're lucky it's here at all. This is a review shortly after it re-opened.
On this perfect San Francisco Sunday the seats were gone 30 minutes before the match and most of the standing room taken by the national anthem, as you can see.
The kitchen and floor staff did an excellent job of getting food and drink to the mob, no easy task. There were plenty of TV screens, flags everywhere, and even a samba band at halftime and after the match. There is nothing like a room full of happy people doing the samba to make you want to move and to remind you to make sure that at least part of life be a party.
Brazil's next match is Friday against Portugal, the match soccer fans have been waiting for since the first round groupings were announced. Brazil is ranked first in the world and Portugal is third - it's unusual for two highly-ranked teams to be in the same group so expect a great match. Play hooky.
June 18, 2010
Joy in the Mission As Mexico Beats France in the World Cup
The top shelf of the bar at El Farolito Soccer Club is lined with trophies won by the team over the past 20 years or so. They must be nailed to the wood because that's they only way they didn't come crashing to the ground during Mexico's dominating 2-0 victory over France Thursday in both countries' second World Cup match.
There were whistles and horns and flags and songs and a couple of television crews. It was so loud you couldn't even hear the vuvuzelas.
To our left was an 86-year-old Nicaraugan with a firm handshake and a bottomless glass of vodka. He was looking for bets at the bar and was probably the only person rooting for France. I asked him why and he said that he'd lived in the U.S. since 1945, raised a family here. The United States is his team and that if everyone wants to support Mexico they should go back home. He also said that he'd been paying his bar tabs for 30 years by betting against Mexico. But he didn't collect today.
To our right was an elegant 50-ish Guatemalan who looked like she was playing hooky from her job at the school library. In fact, everyone was playing hooky (or out of work) which added to the fun.
The announcers in Spanish also contributed to the atmosphere. ESPN made a great choice by using English announcers rather than Americans for their broadcasts but they are usually somewhat subdued. This guy, on the other hand, went 45 minutes without punctuation, sounding like a cross between an auction and a horse race.
With the taqueria shuttling burritos from next door it was a perfect day, the most fun of the tournament so far.
Capturing goals in real-time at a bar is next to impossible, unless it's a penalty kick. Here is the goal that gave Mexico an insurmountable 2-0 lead.
June 16, 2010
SF Spaniards Gather on Belden Place for World Cup
Head east down Bush Street from San Francisco's Union Square and you will come across an alley called Belden Place, with maybe 10 restaurants on one block, most of them Mediterranean or seafood. Two of them are also a home base for World Cup soccer.
The French gather at Cafe Bastille while Spaniards congregate a few doors down, at B44. Spain is one of the favorites to win this year's tournament and they had their first match this morning, against Switzerland. There were about 35 people watching the big screen, some of whom were rooting for the Swiss, which won the match in the biggest upset of the first week.
Food was tasty and everyone was cheerful and alert for 7 a.m., even with the loss and also considering the Spanish reputation for late-night living. A quick check of the schedule doesn't reveal a single day in which more than one or two countries are represented by the restaurants on the block, so there is no opportunity to have an all-day all-you-can-watch soccer buffet. Maybe we'll be lucky in 2014.
The Mission will be hopping tomorrow, with Mexico playing Group A favorite France at 11.30. If you can't wait, or can't sleep, the Mercury Lounge will show their beloved Argentina against South Korea at 4:30 a.m.
Basketball Players' Moms in Ballpark All Star Moms Contest (using Social Media)This is pretty interesting. Basketball player Chris Paul retweets about his mom's involvement in the Ballpark All Stars Moms Contest using social media to share a few words. Here's a Fotobabble (talking photo) of Robin Paul, his mother sharing a little history about her children growing up and what she cooked.
June 15, 2010
Horatius, San Francisco's World Cup Host for Portugal
Horatius, in San Francisco's Potrero Hill, is an art gallery, bistro, event space, wine bar and culinary specialty shop. It is also one of the few places in San Francisco open for the 4:30 a.m. matches from South Africa, and offers the biggest screen in the city on which to watch them.
Horacio Gomes, founder and CEO, has like others given us a gift by sharing his passion for soccer, especially the Portugese variety. This morning Portugal played its first match of the 2010 World Cup, against the Ivory Coast. The match started at 7 am but by halftime most of the seats were taken by a crowd that included at least a few fans of Cote d'Ivoire's Elephants.
The space is more like a gallery than a bar or cafe, lit by candles on either side of the large screen. Folding chairs take up most of the floor and there are couches along the sides if you get there early enough. Farther back are tables where you can set up a laptop and eat breakfast.
Though the match was scoreless it was entertaining, with much artistry, and the crowd appreciated the drama and flow. Here is a short tour of the space, followed by an interview with Horacio (his last name is pronounced GOMSH, not Gomez, as it was mangled in the video). He'll be here every day, for every match. Come share a few.
June 13, 2010
Mercury Lounge is Argentina's SF Home for World Cup
Argentina won its first 2010 World Cup match on Saturday, beating Nigeria 1-0 on a goal in the first several minutes. Lionel Messi spent the rest of the match showing us why he is the best player in the world but Nigerian goaltender Vincent Enyeama had the answer every time, including a couple of truly spectacular reach saves.
But never mind that. What really matters is that there is a place in SOMA where soccer fans of any country can come and watch matches in a setting that was built for the World Cup from the heart. Check this out.
Urns of water and coffee, a free beer for anyone dedicated enough to arrive before the 7 a.m. start. A yummy "chicken or egg" breakfast wrap. Lots of TV screens. Here's an interview with Andrew (left) and Aaron (right).
They're open for the 7:00 games every day and expect to open for the 4:30 Argentina game next week. Come share the lunacy and love.
U.S. vs England in San Francisco's Lower Haight
By the start of today's match between the upstart Americans and the soccer heavies from England, every inch of standing room was filled at Nickies in San Francisco's Lower Haight. The Brits were in the back, judging from the cheers when England scored just a few minutes into the match.
Actually, most of the fans of England in the neighborhood were down the street at The Mad Dog in the Fog. A sign outside said it was rated the ninth-best soccer pub in the world (think about what that means, in an American city, for this most global of games). Arriving two hours before match time the place was already packed like an agribiz stockyard. There was definitely a buzz, just no place to move. There was also a $10 minimum/cover which seemed ungenerous, given the freebies offered by some of the other meeting points for the matches.
So off to Nickies it was, with its World Cup banners, country flags and U.K. beer signs. I sat across from a Latina couple playing cards while waiting for the start of the match. One of the managers tried to navigate her bicycle through the crowd, then came back and switched all the TV channels before the feed moved from ESPN to ABC, which meant that for ten minutes an increasingly drunk and rowdy crowd was watching Hannah Montana. Who says we don't love soccer.
Although the patrons included many who were there for the event value and the excuse for a handful of Bloody Marys, based on conversations with the fans and the way they followed the flow of the match there was a basic understanding of the game, its rules and strategy, more than one would expect given the reputation of the U.S.
There was perhaps a little too much cheering for Tim Howard's saves (he was named Man of the Match). It's better that he stop the ball, of course, but if your goalkeeper is that busy it's bad news. In addition, at least a couple of the saves were gifts from England's players, who looked to be aiming for Howard's midsection instead of the net. There were a few of us standing on chairs in the corner looking down at the rest of the bar and you could see that some fans were shaking their heads with anxiety.
Still, when Clint Dempsey's shot trickled through the hands of England's goalkeeper Robert Green like a greased pig, the match was tied and the roof raised, creating an instant electric memory as full of energy as any pivotal moment in an American sport's championship game.
A pub that crowded is impossible to get into or out of, nor can one top off their refreshments. So a black market emerged for 16 oz cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, furtively fed through the front window at $5 a pop by one of the dozens of people on the sidewalk trying to catch a glimpse of the match. The same windows were opened wider for people to defenestrate so they could use the loo at the pizza place next door.
Back to Mad Dog after the match to watch the exodus. If you have no interest in soccer or the Cup it is still worth witnessing this moment. Soccer matches are not long by American sports standards (2 hours including intermission). But they are very intense, so when people emerge from darkened pubs into the sun it's like they're coming out of a sweat lodge or some tribal ritual.
In any case, Mad Dog truly is an international soccer pub. People streamed out with jerseys and flags and other accoutrement for perhaps half of the 32 countries in the tournament.
England's fans were relatively stoic given that the catastrophic miscue of their keeper probably cost them the match. Still, given the superior attitude lorded over American fans by the English this must have been killing them inside. (Good luck wishes before the match were usually answered with "We won't need it.") This suffering was confirmed by walking back into the pub and witnessing over the course of the next hour the salve of complete inebriation.
As for the U.S. side, the match made an excellent start in getting to the Round of 16, which is a minimum requirement in order for this to be a successful tournament for the Yanks. If you want to see who the U.S. still needs to play, get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning to watch Slovenia and Algeria. Now that's a true fan.
June 11, 2010
The Bar Less Traveled: Mexico vs South Africa in World Cup Opener
A Yanqui walks into a taberna and... GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!
The El Farolito Soccer Club is the place to watch Mexican football in the Mission, but it was already mobbed by the time the second half began. Just on the opposite side of the BART station entrance is Carlo's Club, which had two TVs and about 25 patrons devoted to the match. Day workers, a few tourists, some neighborhood fixtures, but mostly people of all sorts ducking in for a few moments on the way to the train.
Before being able to order an orange juice the ball was in the back of the South African net, an unmarked Rafael Marquez recipient of a cross-field pass which he calmly deposited, generating an impressive early-morning roar from the assembled. 1-1.
One patron noted that Mexico scored upon my arrival so I was made a good-luck charm. This was confirmed as regulation time was running out. South Africa played long ball for most of the rest of the match and almost converted, a shot from a speeding Katlego Mphela hitting the outside of the left post in the 90th minute.
Back to Farolito for the exodus. Most of the patrons were dressed in team colors. Many looked as though they had spent the night with their heads on the bar. This, by the way, is the great challenge of the tournament for social drinkers living on the West Coast. San Francisco, for example, is dry between 2 and 7 but the first match starts at 4:30. Does one get a few hours rest, an early breakfast, disappear into the darkness and drink out of a bag? Maybe a pickup game at the nearest soccer pitch. Match of the Living Dead.
The fans looked pleased with the result, perhaps relieved given the fact Mexico fell behind and almost lost in the final moments. South Africa is not an elite team but the host nation is always a danger lurking in the high grass.
Something has happened between 2006 and 2010 in the United States, or at least on the coasts. The World Cup has gone from under-appreciated to ubiquitous. The U.S. match with England tomorrow is even going to be shown at AT&T Park for free (and there's a ferris wheel for after). Have we finally fallen in love with the world's sport? Is this part of the Obama effect, our global re-entry? Or is it just another event to market and over-expose with product tie-ins? A little of each, maybe.
Here, by the way, is a great resource for finding out where to watch matches in the Bay Area, especially if you're looking for a country's home field advantage, as it were. They're looking for additions if you know where the North Koreans are hanging out.
Uruguay and France in less than 30 minutes. Meantime, chapeaus off for Bafana Bafana, as the South African side is called, extending the streak of host nations never losing the opening match.
May 19, 2010
Should You Pack Candles for the World Cup?
In January of 2008 South Africa endured blackouts that crippled the country, shutting down some of the major industries for days and causing a general drag on the economy.
Power has been rationed to the major consumers and general public since then and other conservation measures have been in effect.
Yet blackouts continue, in spite of a reduction in demand due to the global recession's effects on South Africa's economy. The problem is a result of decades of neglect in capacity generation and is exacerbated by power cable theft. Increased supply is supposed to help the problem but this isn't coming until 2012.
The problems were serious enough to draw the world's attention and questions have been raised about whether the country would be able to power the World Cup.
A trip to South Africa 18 months ago included a meeting with Eskom, the public utility which supplies 95% of the country's electricity and is one of the world's ten largest producers, and a meeting with FIFA, the international football organization presenting the tournament.
Questions to Eskom were met with brief and confident responses, and FIFA's answers focused on the games themselves, with reassurances that power generators would provide sufficient electricity for the stadiums during play.
When the same questions were asked of business leaders and the general citizenry the responses were much less certain. Many people mentioned crime and public safety as a trouble spot, but electricity was the primary infrastructure concern cited, with ground transportation a distant second (freight transport workers are on strike and the passenger train unions joined them earlier this week).
Now with the tournament less than a month away it is clear that authorities are worried. Eskom recently released a statement saying that they "expect quantities to be sufficient" but acknowledge pressure on the system and increased their calls to spare usage. Color-coded referees will appear on television to alert citizens and visitors about imminent reductions in power, at which point people will be asked to limit their usage to one light and one television.
Hopefully they are also asking people to "power pool," something that would make sense for a social activity like watching football. Perhaps an ad campaign of "Got Torch?" (We call them flashlights in the States).
The scheduling of matches can't help. FIFA understandably wants to avoid overlap. But 19 of the preliminary round's 48 matches are at night, with an additional 19 finishing after dark. Only 10 are day games. Among South Africa's biggest electricity consumers are the natural-resource extractors, but these consume electricity day and night. Residential consumption increases dramatically in the evening, and the games are taking place during South Africa's winter, so people are going to need heat as well as light.
In addition to concerns about the effect on the games themselves, there is the considerable matter of public safety, particularly with large crowds. It's not going to matter that FIFA has sufficient generator capacity to keep the bulbs on in the stadium if the traffic lights, street lights and public transit are shut down.
Meanwhile, here in San Francisco the first matches begin at 4:30 in the morning, or at nautical twilight, which is the point at which seafarers are able to discern a soccer ball against the horizon. Our biggest concerns are whether to stay up all night or wake up early, and how to change the city's liquor laws so that the game's first match can be met with a civilizing Bloody Mary or Mimosa. How about a new pub tradition called Groggy Hour? Ah, the problems of a first-world nation in consumptive decline.
Which brings us to the matter of global perception. This is being pitched as South Africa's coming-out party. It's been 17 years since the end of white rule, close to a generation, and the country is eager to demonstrate its modernity and readiness for a prominent place among the many new players in the global economy.
But what happens if the lights go out while everyone is watching?
May 10, 2010
Web 2.Ouch: Facebook Wants Your Testicles Too
Vancouver Canuck defenseman Sami Salo blocked a slapshot with his crotch in a playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.
Salo is recovering and taking inventory at a Chicago hospital. In lieu of flowers, please send your thoughts to his testicle's Facebook fan page.
The announcer said Salo "took that one in a bad spot." Well, sure, now it is.
It is amusing the care that was taken to prevent the camera from intruding as Salo was loaded onto the ambulance, only to have his testicle splattered all over the internet in a matter of hours.
Looks like a scene from Wagner...