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European soccer fans have a pub to call home at MacDinton's

SOHO — A man sitting in the corner eats a traditional Irish breakfast, while keeping his eyes focused on the TV. It's still morning, but all along the walls other soccer enthusiasts hold pints of beer and wear their team colors, this day dominated by Liverpool Football Club's bright red. English Premier League Football — the kind of "football" you play with a goalkeeper and your feet — is on flat screen televisions in every corner. It's not a scene from a cozy corner pub in the United Kingdom or a Caribbean bar, but a typical Sunday morning at MacDinton's Irish Pub. "We're not an American sports bar, we're a European one," says general manager Barry O'Connor.

While many in the SoHo area see MacDinton's as a hot-spot with drink specials, college kids and young professionals, the bar at 405 S Howard Ave. has increasingly carved a soccer niche for itself among some in Hillsborough County. People from Brandon north to Central Pasco County regularly make their way here.

In May, the Champions League final game brought in a capacity crowd of more than 700. A match Sunday brought in a more modest showing of around 50.

The Premier League season began in August and runs through May. While fans have already started flocking to MacDinton's, it isn't the only soccer hub around.

"We get huge crowds," said Thomas McHale, general manager of Beef 'O' Brady's on N Dale Mabry in North Tampa. "It's one of the best times to watch these guys chant and hoot and holler. Sometimes we'll be full, maxed out. When the World Cup was on a few years ago, we were open until 2 a.m., sometimes till 5 a.m."

Other bars, such as Mad Dogs and Englishmen at 4115 S MacDill Ave., aren't major players in the local soccer scene but do show some matches.

"We're the kind of place that's good to chill and just watch some soccer," general manager Jason Dame said.

David Ali, 28, drove from Town 'N Country that day to watch his favorite club team, Liverpool. He often comes here to watch Trinidad, his native country's team, play in international matches to qualify for the World Cup.

"I came and everybody was chanting for Trinidad," he said of a game a few months ago. "It felt like I was back home."

A small taste of home also draws Kevin MacKay of Wesley Chapel. He grew up in Northern Ireland and now comes to watch soccer and eat an Irish breakfast of eggs, toast, large sausages called bangers and cooked tomatoes.

"This is the closest I've tasted in America," he said.

For Raymond Skinley, 44, of SoHo, the atmosphere is reminiscent of an English soccer pub, but the Liverpool native says that nothing can really compare to home.

He and his friend Mark Kelly, 56, of the Bayshore Beautiful area, have been coming to MacDinton's for four years. Skinley supports Liverpool and Kelly supports Leeds. Both are teams from Northern England but they play in different leagues.

Before MacDinton's, the friends drove across the Gandy Bridge to Largo's Rose and Crown Pub to see their brand of football.

MacDinton's started showing soccer six years ago, but has seen an increase in attendance at their weekend fixtures since the Fox Soccer channel began offering Premier League games for free. Previously the pub only offered the most popular matches because English football was only available on pay-per-view.

Though soccer fans get a bad rap internationally as hooligans, Mac­Dinton's has been devoid of violence, said O'Connor.

Kelly, a regular, admits that sometimes it can get a little tense, but he has never seen any real trouble. "There's a lot of good-natured ribbing," he said.

Despite their allegiances to different teams, the soccer fans have formed a tight-knit group.

"We look out for each other, even though we talk trash during the game," Ali said.

Ali, who used to live closer to the bar, said that tough economic times have limited his visits to MacDinton's. He used to come at least four times a month but now comes only twice. He still makes the trip because it's important to experience the sense of community the pub offers.

"This is our time," he said. "I don't follow American football. I do this."

Times staff writer Eric Smithers contributed to this story. Joshua Neiderer can be reached at jneiderer@sptimes.com or 226-3374.

>>If you go

Looking for soccer?

Here are a few places that show soccer
games in Hillsborough:

MacDinton's

405 S Howard Ave., Tampa

(813) 251-8999

Beef 'O' Brady's

15784 N Dale Mabry, Tampa

(813) 969-4647

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

4115 S MacDill Ave., Tampa

(813) 832-3037

European soccer fans have a pub to call home at MacDinton's 09/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 1:13pm]
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