“Sorry to interrupt the game,” comes the Welsh lilt of the sports bar owner in Washington DC, speaking on a microphone to the crowds glued to the USA v England game at the start of the second half.
“But someone’s left their fish and chips on the bar – and it’s been 20 minutes. No one likes cold fish and chips.”
They could be forgiven for being so engrossed in the action that they forgot to eat – at times it seemed like people were even forgetting to breathe as the teams battled it out for a place in the World Cup final.
The venue, aptly (for the US fans, as it turned out) called Lucky Bar, is packed to capacity with red, white and blue ahead of the kickoff. That’s despite the fact it is 15:00 local time on a blazing hot Tuesday afternoon.
A few England fans are showing their colours by wearing Three Lions on their shirts, but there are many, many more Americans – in some cases, their friends or partners, delighting in ribbing each other during the game.
Brit Richard Lindley, who has lived in the US for nine years, says: “When we found out England was playing the USA, we took the day off work to be here. I feel horribly outnumbered though.”
“We’re going to see if our marriage lasts the game, But we have an agreement that we’re not going to gloat, no matter what,” promises his American wife Ridley Williams with a smile.
“I’m surprised there are so many people here,” she adds. “But surprised in a good way. It’s great to support this team, but we need to support them too financially [referring to their fight with US Soccer for pay equality with the men’s team]. From a US perspective, the women are way better than the men so it just doesn’t make sense.
“The women’s game is so much more popular. Basically, the US backs the women because they’re winners.
“And it’s wonderful also for young girls to be able to look up to someone who looks like you.”
Many of the people in the bar admit they wouldn’t have turned up if the US men’s team was playing.
Christine Nawrot says: “There’s no way this bar would be so full. But I like that it’s not just women supporting the game – it’s a real cross-section.”
Her English partner Stephen Ikin adds: “I’ve never taken much notice of the women’s team before. Here in America, football’s seen more as a women’s sport. It was kind of amazing at the last game to see a guy with a female jersey on, with the name of a female player on the back.”
He may well have been talking about Kelly Stephenson, who is wearing a shirt bearing the name of Kelley O’Hara, teamed with a pair of star-spangled banner shorts.
“We were here at the bar for the first game,” he says. “I was on the phone at half-time, ordering this jersey. And then I decided to book tickets to France, and went to their Chile game.
“I love this team. This group of women have great personalities and support fantastic causes. They’re a great unit.
“I’m borderline obsessed.” [This indeed becomes obvious as he pauses to watch the goal replays at half-time, not wanting to miss a second].
Jim Grieco, visiting from New Jersey, fixed his schedule so he could catch the match. “We’re all very proud of them. I’m so happy to see such a large crowd here,” he says.
Anne Lumpkin, who played football at college level, is watching with a group of friends, all in their USA shirts.
“It’s fun to watch with other people who share your passion for the game and the country,” she says. “And it’s fun with it being 4 July soon, which makes it more exciting.”
“And it helps with the excitement to be playing England as it’s such a big name,” adds her friend Colton Hotary.
“England-America is such a classic game,” says Harry Weiss, originally from the UK but living in the US. “And it’s about seeing great teams playing a great sport – I think people respect that.”
Fans were concerned Megan Rapinoe wasn’t playing, with Gaites Layton – there with her friends to watch the game – saying: “I’m really hoping she’s OK for the final. I think she’s awesome and gives such a great voice to the sport.”
The passion ran high during the match, with polite applause at first for England from the US fans turning to shouts of “VAR!” and “are you kidding me?” as the minutes ticked away.
“This team definitely has the potential to go all the way,” says Cate Behles. “I’ve supported the team since the last women’s World Cup, and it’s just got bigger and bigger.”
When, in short succession, England miss a penalty and then Millie Bright is sent off, there are loud cheers and chants of “USA! USA!”, any pretence of friendly rivalry having completely dissipated. And at the final whistle, the place erupts, finally letting out its collected breath.
Sarah Parkinson says she is enjoying “haranguing” her English girlfriend, away in South Africa, over text message. “Yeah it’s been nasty back and forth for the last few minutes,” she grins. “It was a brilliant game.
“It’s time for the world to recognise not just the degree of skill, but the degree of soul women’s teams are bringing to the game, and elevate it to beyond where it’s been.”
Her friend Alex Krensky, visiting from Wisconsin, admits: “I’m not usually into sports. But it was so powerful being in a space with so many women there, seeing them be so excited and inspired.”
And Ridley Williams, consoling her husband over the result, says with a smile: “Nope, still not gloating!”
- Aisha Huang Jailed 4 Years, Six Months, Fined GH¢48k - December 4, 2023
- Enjoyment Of Human Rights Contributing To Teenage Pregnancy – Queen Mother - December 4, 2023
- Social Protection Services Must Be Available To People Affected By AIDS - December 4, 2023