A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."

U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you:

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)

Saved By Univision

Although it had shown the Algeria v. South Korea match earlier, ABC in the U.S. chose not to broadcast the U.S. v. Portugal game. Thus U.S. television network priorities. It relegated the U.S. game to cable sports channel ESPN – which is majority-owned by the Disney Company, which also owns ABC.

Our rental house does not have ESPN, so we watched the game on free to air, Spanish-language, Univision. Thank God for Univision. Our Spanish isn’t great, but you did not have to be Spanish-fluent to have understood what was going on when “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” was screamed out by the play-by-play guy.

Speaking to my Dad in Pennsylvania yesterday, he said the coverage on ESPN – a supposedly cutting edge sports channel – was itself irritatingly subpar. He told me the announcers’ voices were not even in synch with the action on the pitch for the entire game. Frankly, if we had had ESPN I might have watched the game on Univision anyway…. just to not give Disney/ABC’s ESPN the rating.

Sunday seemed to demonstrate that while increasing numbers of Americans now do get soccer, U.S. network TV executives clearly still don’t see it as mainstream. While the game did garner big ratings on their ESPN, it would have of course drawn even a larger audience on free to air ABC. They had this generation’s U.S. 1980 Winter Olympics hockey team playing World Cup soccer on Sunday at 6pm ET, and they didn’t realize it:

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Then again, maybe ABC’s “World News” got the network more viewers at 6pm? Based on what I’ve seen of it, though, that program has not contained much that could be honestly termed “world” or “news” since Peter Jennings. It’s little more than a couple of quick headlines followed by vacuous gossip and tabloid features that is passed off to viewers – and presumably the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – as “news.”

Happy Hour

After a dinner out on Thursday evening, we decided to have a couple of drinks in a Cocoa Beach bar that was also attached to our hotel. As we walked in, I spotted several other couples sitting at the bar talking mostly to each other; and the bartender appeared personable enough. As we took bar stools, I thought, “Fine. This seems okay.”

Hmm. However, I had missed that one customer was a 30-something woman sitting by herself near the end of the bar, one empty seat over from the one I had just chosen. As my wife and I settled in, we noticed her son – who could not have been more than seven or eight – was with her, amusing himself at an unused pool table.

While we overheard her (it was impossible not to) increasingly emotionally bemoaning (I suppose reasonably enough) to a man the other side of the semi-circular bar about how she had lost all of her iPhone videos of her late mother, I ordered a Courvoisier. Beside me, my wife asked for a white wine. Having quickly scoped out what others were drinking, after the bartender stepped away to get our drinks my wife joked to me under her breath that he had probably not poured Courvoisier for anyone in ages.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Free Stock Photo: A mug of golden beer with a white froth, against a black background.

Indeed he did appear to have served up largely beers. Obviously having heard me order it, after the bartender put the Courvoisier down in front of me, the 30-something woman asked me about it. As she did, she began to get exceedingly talkative and friendly.

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Woman Sitting At A Bar With A Drink [Editor's Note: This photo is merely for illustrative purposes, but I gather you've figured that out already.]

Within seconds it became clear she had had too much to drink already. My wife was sitting directly next to me, on the other side of me. Listening to the woman’s ramblings, I noticed my wife look down at the floor and start shaking her head.

Fortunately other customers strolled in, and the woman had a new bunch to distract her. Among that group was a 20-something guy who was apparently a newly minted soccer scholar. Amidst his World Cup bluster, he started regaling the bar about Argentina being the best soccer team in the world, and how John Brooks is the best player ever.

And that guy had only just started drinking. After hearing him hold forth for rather too long, my wife (who is English and usually restrained in her opinions) took hold of her wine glass, leaned over and whispered into my ear, “He’s an idiot.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a drunk man with a mug and a watch.

I hardly needed her to point that out, though. Suddenly the boozy 30-something woman called it a drinking session and offered a loud, slurry goodbye: “You are my favorite bartender!” She did not appear to be headed to a car, and the bartender seemed to know that. (My wife later told me she suspected the woman was a hotel guest.) Taking her son’s hand, she ambled out the door.

We finished our drinks. After we left, my wife remarked to me, “That place was such a pick-up joint. She didn’t care you were with me, or what your situation was.”

As I’ve reflected on that evening, I realize I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable in most U.S. bars. I never really relax in them. They are not like British pubs, which are often social places and serve meals.

True, pubs have their drunks, loudmouths, and those out “on the pull” too. But U.S. bars are often dimly lit, excessively cliquish, and devoted primarily to drinking and “escapism.” They may have a “happy hour,” yet more often than not they have struck me as sad places. :-(

Dealing With Prejudice

Sky News, yesterday:

Footballer Nicolas Anelka could face an FA investigation after he celebrated a goal with a controversial gesture linked to anti-Semitism in France.

These matters tend to play out somewhat predictably nowadays. As of this writing, it seems that footballer has already reached the stage of denying any action that could imperil his employment contract. It would be no surprise if eventually he moves also to “apologize” for any “misunderstanding.”

However, his on pitch carrying on is not the main focus here. Rather, given whom that footballer claimed he was “supporting” with that gesture, what it brought to my mind is the issue of, one might say, “underground” gestures. Particularly in literature.

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