The first fans arrived at Doyle's Public House at 4:30 Saturday morning to watch the World Cup soccer match between South Korea and Greece.
Then came Argentina and Nigeria.
By the time the whistle blew to begin the U.S. -England match, the place was packed.
So, too, was a large party tent next door on St. Helens Avenue between downtown Tacoma and the Stadium District.
Maybe 500, maybe 600 or perhaps more people than that sat, stood and milled about, cheering, shouting and otherwise stating their allegiance either for the Yanks or the Brits.
“We’re soccer fans,” said Amber Wendt, a University of Puget Sound student who was celebrating both her own 26th birthday and America’s presence in the planet’s most-followed sporting event. “So it’s like a birthday party,” said Wendt’s friend, David Bright, 25. “We didn’t know how crazy it would be,” said Wendt. Crazy it was, with flags waving and banners held high. With cheers and jeers, razzber- ries and rah-rahs.
“We started pouring at 4:30,” said David Shelnut, an owner at Doyle’s.
Early on, he figured he’d serve 300 people for the game.
There were plenty more than that.
And that was primarily coffee he was pouring at 4:30; as the morning warmed and the games progressed, the crowd switched to beer.
Shelnut is promoting Budweiser products as part of a World Cup sponsorship deal. It’s a deal that brought Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller to the Doyle’s party for the 11:30 a.m. match with England .
Gary West came from Bishop Stortford, a village near Cambridge, England. Actually, he’s been in this country for four years and teaches at Renton Technical College.
But he’s British first of all, and he came to watch hopefully and support his native land.
“It reminds me a lot of England,” he said, of the ambiance at Doyle’s.
Except for one thing. “In England, for the opposition, it can be threatening. In the U.K., if I was supporting the U.S., I’d be worried.”
He watched the last World Cup matches, four years ago, at Doyle’s.
“There were 10 of us at the bar – about 10 people that day,” he said.
Soccer is becoming more popular in the United States, and with the American team in the tournament, the place was packed.
Only a handful of the people in attendance were even born the last time the United States and England played in a World Cup match, in Brazil in 1950.
The United States won, 1-0.
On Saturday, as it was 60 years ago, England was favored to win.
“It kind of reminds me of Saint Paddy’s Day,” said Steve Peoples, Doyle’s general manager, surveying the bar.
And in the tent, the hundreds all stood as the national anthem was played in South Africa before the game began.
Then it begins .
Sudden cheers quickly fade into sighs of disappointment as England scores an early goal.
Applause follows a stolen ball and a subsequent U.S. shot on goal.
Some of the U.S. fans – they are primarily Yanks, with a smattering of Brits – wear scarves, kerchiefs and high, silly hats in red, white and blue. They wave their flags and unfurl their banners.
The room exhales, “Oh!”
“I’ve never seen a place so packed,” said a man sliding through the crowd.
A player in blue – that’s the U.S. team – drills the ball into English territory, but the ball goes astray.
In the 40th minute, Clint Dempsey of the U.S. scores a goal. It’s more of a squibbed embarrassment for England, however, than a triumphant shot by the American player.
The place goes nuts and a cheer goes up as the crowd shouts in unison: “USA! USA! USA!”
The goal is replayed on the screens again and again and the cheer goes up each time, as if the goal were new.
At halftime, the lines to the restrooms extend into the hallway.
Then, in the 51st minute, England punches, shoots – and U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard saves. The crowd cheers and the cheers can be heard far down the street.
England threatens, the United States saves, England recovers, the United States plays a cautious game of defense.
Penalties are assessed as aggression grows. The crowd hisses when a worried David Beckham (an English football hero) comes onto the screen.
The game ends in a tie, which seems to please the crowd. Soon, most depart.
Wes and Linda Starling remain. He’s from England, she’s from Chicago and they live in Puyallup. They are both staunch fans of the English team.
“I thought it was a good game, but disappointing,” said Wes.
Still, he appreciates American fans, who, he said, “are really fans of the game.”
Take Bret Maddox of Tacoma. He was at Doyle’s at 7 a.m. for the Argentina-Greece match.
“The U.S., they’ll get out of their group but it’ll be a luck shot to get out of the quarters,” he said.
He’s a regular for soccer matches at Doyle’s, arriving some days at 5:30 a.m.
Today they’ll open again at 4:30 for the Slovenia-Algeria match.
And by the time the United States team plays again on Friday, Doyle’s will have extended the party tent by 20 feet.
The place will probably still be packed.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 firstname.lastname@example.org