BRANDON — Curtis Bickler knew he would be in the minority when he wore his blue Italy jersey to O'Toole's Irish pub Saturday evening.
The night before, Luis Wilson-Wolfe, a native of Sheffield, England, told him O'Toole's would be a designated gathering spot for Tampa area Brits who wanted to watch England begin World Cup play against Italy in the company of their countrymen.
"This man over here made it quite clear that this bar would be full of English people," Bickler said, pulling Wilson-Wolfe to his side. "So I said I was going to wear my jersey."
Wilson-Wolfe had not been exaggerating. The Brandon British Club, a group of local residents who hail from the British Isles, took up nearly half the pub, while similar organizations filled up the other side of the bar and the front porch. The Brandon British Club (named so that its initials, BBC, would match the broadcasting network) often gathers to celebrate traditional British holidays and enjoy quintessentially English pastimes like cricket (yes, they have their own team).
As the World Cup essentially qualifies as both pastime and national holiday, a party was definitely in order.
Even members who rarely attend gatherings made appearances, and almost everyone wore English national team jerseys. Some of the more prepared supporters brought flags to wave in case the English won, and several children took in the scene with the English flag painted on their faces.
There were patrons who did not belong to one of the clubs in attendance, but it was difficult to find anyone who had not come to O'Toole's to watch the game. Bickler was joined by two or three other contrarians who came to support Italy.
The only thing missing? The match.
A severe afternoon thunderstorm interfered with bar's satellite feed, freezing the TV screens just a few minutes into the game.
Although some patrons left O'Toole's in search of a place that was showing the match, many stayed and watched the rest of the first half huddled around the lucky few who could get the game to play on their cellphones. It was hardly the ideal way to watch an event many had anticipated for months, but they remained patient as they waited for the satellite signal to return.
"I think it's because there are kids around, so we're very calm," said Dave Wilson-Wolfe, Luis' father.
Seconds later, he was interrupted by shouts from a man holding a cellphone across the room.
"Yes! Get in there, my baby — 1-1!"
It took a few moments before everyone in the pub realized that England's Daniel Sturridge had tied the game in the 37th minute.
"1-1! 1-1?" the elder Wilson-Wolfe yelled, apparently torn between excitement and confusion. "I didn't even know Italy had gone up."
Unreliable TV aside, Wilson-Wolfe, who moved to the United States eight years ago, said he has few complaints about Florida, although he does miss Henderson's relish and Boddingtons Pub Ale in a can. He also misses the overwhelming excitement that accompanies the World Cup back in England.
"The pubs would be packed, the flags would be flying proudly," Wilson-Wolfe said. "It's a fantastic day. Rain, sleet or snow — or shine — we'd be in the pubs. There'd be a party going."
But Malcolm Stephenson, who moved from Yorkshire three years ago, said he missed English food more than World Cup mania.
"If you're among the Brits, you won't be missing much," Stephenson said.
The storm outside subsided and the game came back on part-way through the second half. The Italians had retaken the lead with a goal from Mario Balotelli, and the crowd at O'Toole's watched anxiously, hoping for an equalizer.
The remaining English supporters groaned at each missed opportunity in the second half, but no one had much to say when time expired. Some said they would be back to watch the remaining group stage matches against Uruguay on Thursday and Costa Rica next Tuesday — unless, of course, it's storming in Brandon.
Victoria Jacobsen can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.