The following is an excerpt from my Kilimanjaro travel journal, written June 14, 2010
Fourteen years ago I made my first trip to London. With the exception of my layover day en route to Tanzania, I hadn’t been back.
Unlike 1996 when my family was here as part of a three-week, 11-country European tour, the goal this time wasn’t to see all of the major sites and take all of the tours. I didn’t care to see the royal jewels or the inside of any churches.
What I wanted were hooligans.
The World Cup was in full swing, and I wanted to experience futbol fans at their finest. What better place, I figured, than London?
Of course, I was a bit out of luck in that England wasn’t playing on the one evening I was in town. It had played 48 hours earlier and disappointed its fans with a 1-1 draw against the United States. It was still a positive result in the standings, but the England fans certainly didn’t see it that way. Thanks to a goalkeeping blunder not even befitting of a junior varsity backup, the local tabloids were in full attack mode. Every paper on the newsstand had scathing stories about goalkeeper Robert Green and every ounce of dirt they could find about him.
As a journalist myself, the sight of the tabloids was part comical and part embarrassment for my profession. At the same time, it provided a glimpse into the heart of English futbol culture that I enjoyed quite a bit.
With no England game on this day, I searched for the next best thing: another European team’s World Cup match showing in a local bar. Surely there would be fans of either the team of the event itself. Surely they could provide the glimpse I was looking for.
After a whirlwind, three-hour walking tour from Piccadilly Circus to Buckingham Palace, on to Big Ben and down to the London Eye for a 30-minute ride, I headed back to Piccadilly and searched for a bar near the train station.
I stumbled upon a place called The Comedy that offered a comedy club on the main floor and a large sports bar upstairs. A sign on the front door advertised that the World Cup games would be showing. The Italy-Paraguay match was just a few minutes from kickoff, so I pushed the door open, trotted upstairs, grabbed a cold beer and plopped down on a barstool next to a group of fans decked out in Italy jerseys and T-shirts.
This, I figured, was my golden opportunity. Paraguay was an up-and-comer, and Italy was the defending World Cup champion. This would be great.
The rabid fans I’d been eager to witness were humbled quickly, however.
Paraguay struck in the 39th minute, and a crowd that had been on edge grew silent. Looks of worry and frustration occupied their faces the rest of the way, even as Italy tied the match in the second half before finishing in a 1-1 draw.
There wasn’t the passion, enthusiasm or outrage I’d expected from the Italy fans. Perhaps they were content with the tie, or maybe they were saving their emotions for bigger, later games that might be more meaningful. Or maybe it’s just one of those things where if I’m going to watch Italy, I’d better be in Italy. I’m in England, so I should be watching England.
Regardless, it’s fair to say these fans didn’t live up to the hype. Perhaps I should’ve gone to see the sights instead of people-watching.
Maybe I should just be getting home.