The global game: Lawrence residents gather to watch and celebrate the World Cup

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

A crowd watches the U.S.-England World Cup game at Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Massachusetts St., on Friday Nov. 25, 2022.

Before the kickoff whistle has even been blown, the Red Lyon bar is already at capacity, with dozens of people watching on a big-screen TV that has been moved outside onto the bar’s patio along Massachusetts Street.

In the crowd, which has gathered to watch the U.S. vs. England game on Friday afternoon, there are U.S. soccer scarves draped around shoulders, a man with his face painted, and a woman with round glasses waving a pocket-sized English flag as she makes her way toward the bar through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.

Watching with friends is Lawrence resident Laura Jackson, wearing not one but two England jerseys, one on top of the other, with plans to remove the top one if the halftime situation warrants a change in tide for her team. Jackson, who is from London, said she’s been watching almost all the games, save those that have been at 4 a.m. due to the time difference with host country Qatar. While being a soccer fan in the states is different from being one in England, she said in her years here she’s seen a change.

“The vibe has definitely gotten better since I got here in 2009,” she said. “People are much bigger soccer fans now.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde

A crowd watches the U.S.-England World Cup game at Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Massachusetts St., on Friday Nov. 25, 2022.

The World Cup tournament, which began Nov. 20 and will end Dec. 18, has already seen some surprise outcomes and big upsets in its first round, including Saudi Arabia beating Argentina and Japan beating Germany. And whether from a bar or their own living rooms, many Lawrence soccer fans will be following it all.

The time difference means some of the games have begun at 7 a.m. or even 4 a.m., but even that has not deterred some. Lawrence resident Mauricio Gómez Montoya, who is rooting for his native Mexico, said he’d watched all but one of the 7 a.m. games so far.

“I’m kind of nuts,” Gómez Montoya said. “I put all the games in my schedule.”

His tradition for Mexico’s games is to hang a large Mexican flag on the wall in his living room, and wear the same outfit and drink the same beer as he did the last time the team won (in this case, it’s Yakimaniac IPA from Free State Brewery). This World Cup is also the first Gómez Montoya has been able to watch with his son, Mateo, who is 3 and starting to show some interest.

“It’s been really fun to see him,” Gómez Montoya said. “Even though he was born in the U.S., I am certainly trying to get him to like Mexico, so he has multiple jerseys. We watch the games in Spanish and he has taken a liking to yelling ‘gol’ every once in a while.”

photo by: contributed

Lawrence resident Mauricio Gómez Montoya is pictured with his son Mateo.

Lawrence resident Alcides Velázquez, who is from Colombia, is not able to cheer on his home country, as Colombia failed to qualify for this World Cup, but that hasn’t discouraged him from watching the games. Velázquez said he tries to watch all the games, even recording the 4 a.m. games so he can watch them later, and that he’s been cheering on other teams from South America in Colombia’s absence. Like Gómez Montoya, he has also been watching some of the games with his kids, and had plans to take them to the “KC Live!” venue in the Kansas City Power & Light District to watch the U.S. game on Friday and the Argentina vs. Mexico game on Saturday. Velázquez said he wanted to show them the passion for the game, and hopefully give them an idea of the atmosphere in Colombia.

“That’s something that I miss,” Velázquez said. “People in the streets and the vibe in the streets anywhere you go when Colombia plays, you can feel it.”

photo by: contributed

The sons of Lawrence resident Alcides Velázquez, Tomas and Benjamin, are pictured before heading to Kansas City to watch the Argentina verses Mexico game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

One tradition he’s been able to keep is filling out the Panini, a sticker album where you collect and place hundreds of stickers of the World Cup players, teams and stadiums into the album. When he was in school, he said that kids used to trade the stickers, which come in enclosed packets, with the goal of collecting them all. For him, filling out the Panini is part of the experience.

“The first memory I have of this one is Spain ’82, me completing this album back in 1982 for the Spain world championship,” Velázquez said.

Those whose World Cup fandom is more casual by comparison have also enjoyed the matchups. Back at the Red Lyon, Lawrence resident Dylan Medlock said he grew up playing soccer and follows Sporting KC and the U.S. team. Medlock, who is from Lawrence, said that like the University of Kansas basketball game later that day, the soccer game was a chance to gather.

“It’s another great reason for people to go out and be with friends and family,” Medlock said.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Fans watch the U.S.-England World Cup game at Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Massachusetts St., on Friday Nov. 25, 2022.

Chris Neverve, an owner of the Red Lyon, said the bar has been at capacity for the U.S. games, going to one-in, one-out before kickoff for both of the games so far. On Friday, the bar hit its capacity of 101 people about 20 minutes before game time (after several close calls, the England vs. U.S. game ultimately ended scoreless, setting the U.S. up to have to win its next game against Iran on Tuesday). Neverve said since the U.S. didn’t qualify for the last World Cup, it was harder to gauge what the interest level would be, but that he’s been pleasantly surprised.

“It’s been crazy busy all week,” Neverve said. “Really busy.”

Neverve said the bar has been opening earlier than usual due to the game times, usually about 9 a.m. ahead of the 10 a.m. games, and it even opened at 6:30 a.m. once for the England vs. Iran game. He said that was the bar’s earliest opening ever, and that about 15 people actually came to watch.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

An overflow crowd for the U.S.-England World Cup game is pictured outside the Red Lyon Tavern, 944 Massachusetts St., on Friday Nov. 25, 2022.

For longtime lovers of the game, the growing fandom in the U.S. has not escaped their attention. Gómez Montoya, who has been in the U.S. for 20 years, said in the time he’s been here he’s seen the sport grow, moving from the periphery to something he can actually have conversations about with his friends. He said he’s seen that growth at the grassroots level, with local leagues such as the Lawrence Adult Soccer League, where he plays, as well as with Sporting Kansas City.

“I recall going to Wizards games in Arrowhead when there were maybe 1,000 people,” Gómez Montoya said. “And just seeing the evolution of the sport with the Wizards and now Sporting Kansas City, and then the culture that exists through that, it’s super exciting.”

One of those soccer friends is Lawrence resident Josh DeBoer, who after studying abroad in England is now an English and U.S. soccer fan. He said he went to Wizards games growing up, but was more of a casual fan until being further drawn into the sport while in England, where he said he became completely immersed in soccer culture. DeBoer — who had plans to watch the U.S.-England game with Gómez Montoya — said the initial group stage of the World Cup tournament, with its excitement and early upsets, has felt like March Madness to him.

“It’s very much got that first weekend of the tournament type vibe — which I’ve told some friends, trying to get them into the World Cup this year,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer said he saw a lot of parallels between soccer fandom and college athletics, where your support for a team gets intertwined with your identity and there is a high level of fanaticism, passion and intensity. And he said for a global game like soccer, that has meant joining a fold that is international in scope.

“I think it becomes a so much more multifaceted experience because of the global nature of it, and the interconnectedness that it brings to folks all around the world, which is one of the coolest things,” DeBoer said.

photo by: contributed

Lawrence residents Mauricio Gómez Montoya and Josh DeBoer

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