Being in London while England is playing in the FIFA World Cup is quite the authentic football experience. It all begins with where to go. A ticket to a watch party with a huge jumbo screen? Cheering on your team at home with friends? Or sipping on a beer at a local pub? I opted for the pub experience because it doesn’t get more English than that.
In England you have a choice between two types of pub experience, depending on what you want. You can go to a trendy or posh pub that has a more adventurous menu, more beverage options, and can set up a huge projected screen to watch the game. Or you can go for the standard working man’s pub that’s only going to have typical gastrofoods (ie: fish n chips, meatpie), a few selections of beverages, and maybe a ten-year-old TV or two up in the corner to watch the game. I chose the standard pub experience because it harkens back to decades of English people watching their football teams play. They’re the people that yell at the TV for a bad attempt on goal or cheer and sing along for the game winning goal that advances their team. There, you get the people who have been watching their team for years and could tell you just about anything you wanted to know about a player. It’s the authentic atmosphere that a person visiting England has to do at least once.
“Come on, boy!” one Londoner says to himself looking at the TV. A second later another man says “Let’s go! Let’s go!” as England makes several attempts to score on Sweden. Fastforward 30 minutes into the game and England finally makes a goal, making the match more interesting to watch. The older bar guest beside me looks over and says “English fans aren’t very forgiving people” as I hear both praises for the goal and criticism about the English player who made it. The football match was understandably not as exciting as the England vs Colombia match just days before, which had resulted in England’s win with penalty shots. Despite the exciting win, the bartender gave no quarter to his team, saying that in the Columbia match “the team is quick, but the birds are shit” when talking about England’s team. The team is the 3rd youngest playing in the World Cup, and I could see that inexperience was a factor in some of the players’ performances.
As the second half is about to begin, I make my way back into the pub after stepping out to cool off; the pub full of people and no air conditioning. Minutes later England secures another goal against Sweden, giving them a 2-0 lead. People in the pub noticiably cheer up a bit more, saying things like “There we go, boys.” One of the patrons orders a round of beer and shots for his table to celebrate the lead.
Next thing you know, the match is over and England moves into the Semi-Finals! The people start to cheer and sing “Football is Coming Home” by a group called the Three Lions. The song itself is based on England’s efforts to reclaim the World Cup since their win in 1966. Eventuallly, the bartender turns on the actual song over the patrons to drown out their singing.
After leaving the pub, we only walk a few blocks down the street and suddenly we hear crowds of people chanting for England. Traffic in both directions is stopped, as people have poured onto the streets from various pubs and watch parties to celebrate this monumentous win. English flags are waved around, people are climbing sign posts, and police are gathered around for crowd control. Funnily enough, the police are willing to hold up traffic for celebrators as they, too, were happy about England’s victory. Even the cars and buses sitting in traffic were honking their horns in celebration. It was quite the day to be a visitor in London for a one-of-a-kind footballexperience.