Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Travel

English football: Florida pubs beckon

Fifteen minutes before kickoff of Chelsea-Barcelona, and inside the George & Dragon pub, the British food and spirits are abundant as the patrons await this Champions League showdown between English and Spanish soccer giants.

Above the voices of the television announcers and the clinking of glasses and silverware are the accents. Some sound proper, others workaday, all of them British and talking football.

The Campbell family, on holiday from Glasgow, Scotland, settles in to watch the game with ample servings of fish and chips. Splashes of malt vinegar season the air.

Chris Greggain, 25, a Chelsea fan from Cumbria in England's Lake District, is here to watch his Blues take on the mighty Catalans, roundly considered the world's greatest soccer team. At the bar, Pete Davis of Birmingham pours pints of Boddingtons and Newcastle ale.

Overseeing it all is Mick Salt, a native of Stoke, England, who opened the George & Dragon in 2004. You'd swear you were somewhere deep in the United Kingdom. Cadbury chocolates and Walkers crisps in a vending machine, soccer kits on the walls, English policemen's Bobby hats above the bar. Outside, one of the most recognizably British objects in the world: a red telephone box.

But the George & Dragon is smack in the middle of Orlando's International Drive, it's 80 degrees outside and, yes, the sun is shining brightly on a cloudless Florida day in May.

"This is a true British pub in every sense of the word," says Salt. "No kilts, no gimmicks, nothing fake."

To the American ear, Salt's accent sounds like "A troo British poob in ev-ree sense of the weard," or something along those lines.

It's a difficult exercise to discern the origin of a British tourist based on his or her accent. Shaped by thousands of years of history, the U.K. has a massive variety of dialects.

Just like the ever-present crowds of British tourists who visit Florida (1.3 million traveled to the Sunshine State in 2011), pubs catering to their desires have popped up in about every corner of Florida.

And while they are here, the British enjoy eating out. According to VISIT FLORIDA, U.K. visitors also spent at least $58 million in Florida restaurants (the research data is for credit card receipts only, not cash).

Besides soaking up the sun and fun, one of the things many British visitors want to do is keep tabs on the football clubs they support back home. Fortunately for them, the steady growth of soccer in America and the proliferation of the game on satellite television has made it easier for British visitors to watch live matches while vacationing here.

Since Chelsea-Barca was carried live on ESPN, Cumbria's Greggain says he could have watched the match just about anywhere in Orlando. But when his girlfriend searched the Internet for British pubs in the area, he learned of the George & Dragon. Greggain and his family had just made a visit to one of Orlando's major water parks, Wet 'n Wild, which happens to be adjacent to the pub.

"To be honest, it wouldn't matter where I saw the match, but now that I'm here, it is nice to see it in a British pub," said Greggain. "It's a bit like home, minus the sun outside."

With so many British visitors, the Orlando area often can feel and sound like a "Sunny England." But farther afield from theme park central, there are plenty of places to take in live games from the U.K.

MacDinton's Irish Pub & Restaurant in Tampa is an Irish pub and one of the founders, Barry O'Connor, has the accent to prove it. For him, the world "Irish" sounds more like "Oi-rish." But Irish or not, this pub on Tampa's trendy South Howard Avenue has grown into one of the state's most popular spots to watch soccer, especially the English Premiership.

During the 2010 World Cup finals, MacDinton's put in a temporary soccer pitch over its parking lot and showed games on a large outdoor screen. The crowds were overflowing.

A weekday afternoon match between English rivals Manchester United and Manchester City drew more than 100 viewers. Several Englishmen turn up regularly here, including former Tampa Bay Rowdies and England international player Rodney Marsh, who has a home nearby. The folks along the bar are all sporting United kits, and most of them are 20-something Americans who grew up playing the game and adopted the world's most popular club as they reached high school or college.

"United is my club and MacDinton's is my pub," said John Murray, 27, a Tampa native who has supported United since a trip to Manchester four years ago. "I remember not being able to see (English soccer) games anywhere. Now, I can see them at home, but coming here with other fans of United – some of them English – is way more fun."

This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

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