When you think back to previous World Cup tournaments, what are the fondest memories of the games you watched? For me, it were the ones I watched with friends and strangers.
Watching a World Cup on a giant TV screen with friends or strangers is a surreal experience. Every moment in the game is heightened as you stand around practically praying that the ball finds its way into the back of the net. As you scream in delight, so do tens or hundreds of other strangers. It really feels like you’re in a rock concert and the footballers on the pitch are the stars who are in control of your every emotion — whether they’re highs or lows.
Looking back on previous World Cup games, there have been many memorable games I’ve seen. But the best ones are often seen in the company of strangers. Here are just a few that stick out in my mind:
- July 4, 1994 – United States 0-1 Brazil. Few people expected the United States to get as far as the round of 16 after being placed in a first round group featuring Colombia, Switzerland and Romania. But progress they did to a round of 16 game against Brazil on the fourth of July. I watched the game at a Hooters restaurant in Kissimmee, which was standing room only. The States battled hard and almost won it, but when Brazil scored, it knocked the wind out of the US side and sent the Brazilian fans in the Hooters into raptures. The tragedy of this game for me was the way that Brazilian Leonardo deliberately elbowed American Tab Ramos in one of the most vicious fouls I’ve ever seen in a World Cup.
- October 11, 1997 – Italy 0-0 England. While this wasn’t a World Cup game, England needed to draw the game in Rome to qualify for the 1998 World Cup. It was a tense match against a superb Italian side. I watched the match at The Tudor Inn in Fort Lauderdale, a British pub around the corner from Lockhart Stadium. The match was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had watching a game in a pub. The number of people there must have exceeded the maximum capacity, so we were packed like sardines inside the cave of a pub. I also remember the English fans singing their hearts out inside the pub and the wonderful feeling after the final whistle blew with the knowledge that England had qualified, against all odds. As for the football, watch the highlights of an England team that played a beautiful passing style courtesy of manager Glenn Hoddle. Watch for Paul Ince putting his blood, sweat and tears into the game and Ian Wright’s shot that hit the post.
- June 30, 1998 – Argentina 2-2 England (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties). I was on vacation in Orlando, so the restaurant off International Drive was crammed full with English tourists. While we all expected a good game, I think no one had any idea exactly how incredible it would be. After two penalties in the first ten minutes of the game, it was 1-1. Just six minutes later, Michael Owen scored one of the most best goals of his career when he received the ball from David Beckham and went on a lightning-fast run, dribbling past two Argentina defenders and slotting the ball into the far corner. The English fans in the club went into hysterics!
With the time difference during the 2002 World Cup being so grueling, I ended up watching most of the matches live in the middle of the night when from bed and the early morning one on a portable television on my way to work.
The time difference for the 2006 World Cup was far better, but I ended up being disappointed with most of the places throughout South Florida where I tried to watch the World Cup games on weekends. Each weekend I tried a difference venue. I watched the England against Paraguay match at The King’s Head Pub in Sunrise, but it was too cramped and only had one television set. I also went to a Brazilian restaurant to watch France beat Brazil 1-0. The place was like a morgue afterwards. I even went to a strip club for one game — Trinidad & Tobago against Sweden game. But it was too difficult to concentrate on the game and the women at the same time!
My disappointment of not finding one decent venue in South Florida to watch World Cup games in the summer of 2006 gave me the impetus to find one for the 2010 World Cup. That’s why I’ve partnered with Wowies Sports Grill in Boca Raton, Florida, to show 54 of the 64 games live (the only ones not being shown are the 7:30am ET games). If you live in South Florida, be sure to create your own vivid memories by sharing it with friends and strangers at the restaurant. Or, if you live elsewhere, be sure to head out and watch as many games in person as you can. It’s something that I encourage all soccer fans to do.
What have been your fondest memories of watching World Cup games at a pub or restaurant? Click the comments link below to share your stories.