We’ve all experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat by participating in a sporting event, watching one live or even just catching the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the day. Remember Vinko Bojataj, the crashing skier?
On Saturday afternoon inside the Red Lyon at 10th and Mass, where intense unease driven by Kansas University hanging in conference limbo took a two-hour vacation, the capacity crowd burst into chants of “USA! USA! USA!” when the clock expired on Team USA’s World Cup-opening match against England.
A new concept was born: The thrill of the tie.
Clint Dempsey’s first-half goal, a gift from England’s goalkeeper, Robert Green, made ears ring inside the tavern that usually is on the quiet side. (It opens at 4 p.m. daily, except when the World Cup happens every four years. Then it opens at 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the first alcoholic beverage can be served). The goal was the final of the game and enabled patriotic patrons to celebrate the 1-1 tie.
The emotional pain Green will feel for years to come if things don’t turn out well for England will outweigh the physical pain Bojataj felt from that ski jump that went awry.
One man inside the Red Lyon did not join the rest in celebration. Every man from England, it seems, has a favorite soccer club. For some it’s Manchester United. For far fewer it’s Sheffield Wednesday. Not every man has the nickname and “football kit” of that club tattooed on the back of his neck. Peter Bridges, a plumber at KU who moved to Lawrence from London 10 years ago, does.
(For the uninformed — yours truly until receiving a two-hour education inside the Red Lyon — a football kit is the standard attire worn by the players on that club.)
Bridges’ favorite football club is West Ham. Green just so happens to be the goalkeeper for the Hammers, which left Bridges in a less-than festive mood during halftime.
“I don’t know what (England coach Fabio) Capello’s going to do, ya know?” Bridges said. “I just think (Green’s) confidence is shattered. Will he come out for the second half? I don’t know. I think he might give him the rest of the game, but he might just put James in for the next game, next week.”
“Calamity James?” I said, horrified, trying to impress him with the inside knowledge regarding England’s goalkeeping problems I had culled three minutes previous.
“Look at my boy there, ya know?” Bridges countered. “Or maybe they’ll bring the young boy in. (Joe) Hart. He’s a good goalkeeper, but he just doesn’t have experience.”
The pub was filled with American flags, sticking out of the back of baseball caps and alongside ears. One man wore a kilt and bandana fashioned out of stars and stripes. Customers sang the Star Spangled Banner to usher in the start of the match. And then there was the KU plumber from England. Was he alone in his rooting interest?
“I ain’t seen no one else,” a smiling Bridges said.
Two steps out of the dark bar and into the bright afternoon, the delightful diversion ended and the stress of wondering where KU will land returned, hovering like a menacing wall cloud.