Where Everybody Knows the Game

Back in the day, believe it or not, to be a true soccer fanatic it was absolutely necessary to be a pub patron as well.Back in the day, believe it or not, to be a true soccer fanatic it was absolutely necessary to be a pub patron as well.

Honest, you can ask around. It was purely about self-preservation; bending a pint or two was simply the cost of doing business.

But now, with dish networks and cable systems offering 600 channels, it’s reasonable to assume that fans would choose to watch games from the coziness of their own home. And yet the pub remains the popular viewing place of choice.

“It makes sense, especially for soccer,” says Jim Drohman, proprietor of two restaurants, including one which serves a steady diet of French cuisine and what the rest of the world calls football. “A pub is where you have to go to get the whole experience.”

While in the kitchen at his Café Presse on Capitol Hill, Drohman can sense the tension of a given game. “You hear the people in the dining room gasp and yell, and you know something’s happened. It’s really astounding, the intensity of the crowd compared to other sports.”
Catering to the Game

Fado Irish Pub in downtown also caters to the game’s faithful. Earlier this week both Kell’s and Fado were destinations for MLS Seattle lunchtime pub crawls.

Posters and T-shirts were passed out, and at halftime of the Newcastle-Arsenal match at Fado, Seattle owner Joe Roth gave a brief stump speech, mentioning that over 6,000 nicknames had been suggested and 9,300 season ticket deposits had been booked in the first three weeks.

Toronto FC holds the MLS record for season tickets, selling 16,000 for the upcoming 2008 season. However Seattle’s total, said Roth, is nearly twice the number that Toronto sold in the same number of weeks. And Seattle’s first game is still more than a year away.

Part of Toronto’s successful marketing strategy was developing personal relationships with prospective fans. Sometimes that meant the coach made a call at the corner bar. Strictly business, of course.

Much like Europe, in America the pub has become the rallying point for fans. Drohman lived in France and found himself a taverne which catered not only to his culinary tastes but his favorite teams as well. He grew to know the other patrons and the owner as well. Sounds a bit like Cheers, huh?
No Experience Necessary

“We’ve had regulars who come in for lunch, who at first knew nothing about soccer,” says Fado general manager Gerry Leonard. Champions League and Premiership games are a midweek noontime staple. “Soon they start to ask questions about the game and I can help them. Now they’re coming into the pub for the soccer as well.”

They come at all hours, too. The big derbies draw folks out of the domiciles on cold, dark mornings, well before dawn. On Dec. 15, Fado will be among a handful of establishments opening in time for the Manchester United-Liverpool fixture. At 5:30 a.m.

“The people who love the game will come out for it,” says Dohrman. “In America, it’s partly based on the fact that as a soccer fan you feel like a persecuted minority. It’s not easy to find games on TV, the hours are weird because you’re watching from Europe. Watching with a group, there’s cohesiveness.”

The availability of good beer doesn’t hurt, says Leonard. But families also attend games, screening matches in the adjoining restaurant. They’re all drawn by the atmosphere.
You’re Not Alone

“I suppose you could watch on a huge screen TV at home, but it’s only half the experience if you watch by yourself,” says Drohman. “Especially in soccer, to get the whole experience, you need the intensity of the crowd. They know the songs, they know the players, you feel the energy.”

Leonard noted that during the Seattle Sounders’ late summer run through the U.S. Open Cup there was a spike in pre- and postgame crowds at Fado. When MLS games get underway at Qwest Field in 2009, there should be plenty of fans at all the soccer pubs.

“To have a base pub for yourself makes for a good gameday,” says Leonard, who grew up supporting Celtic in Glasgow. “Knowing that they can come in and meet their friends beforehand and then come back to talk about the game afterwards will only add to their experience.”