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Soccer fans descend on Tampa Bay bars for U.S.-England match

TAMPA — They wore the same colors, spoke the same language, and stood side by side at the bar.

It soon became clear, though, that the lines were drawn between local fans watching the opening match of the World Cup Saturday.

"If America wins, all hell could break loose," said English fan Carl Holman, 49.

But if the U.S. team were to lose, "all of England will collapse under the weight of its own ego," said U.S. fan Michael Hobon, 23.

More than an hour before the World Cup opening match between the United States and England, MacDinton's Irish Pub was packed to capacity: 750 people, as per fire marshal rules.

Even more were corralled beside the parking lot, where MacDinton's set up a seating area at a gigantic screen on the side of a truck. There was even a mini soccer field for the kids.

The crowd around the truck screen swelled as the national anthems for each country broke out. "I've never seen this many people out for a soccer game in the U.S." said Gerrit Beko, a 26-year-old from Germany who wore an Uncle Sam costume.

The crowed ranged in age, fanaticism and drunkenness, but one thing was clear: This was a big deal.

"It's going to be a very close game," said Robin Johnson, 44, from England. "It'd be naive to think it won't be. That's rubbish."

The last time the United States and England met in a World Cup was in 1950 in Brazil. The game lives on as one of sports' greatest upsets, with the ragtag U.S. team winning 1-0.

Thousands of miles from Saturday's match in South Africa, chants and songs filled the air at MacDinton's as the players bounded down the field.

The scene was similar across Tampa Bay. At Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill in St. Petersburg, Scott Ames, 23, wore an American flag sweater vest. Sure, for some this was a prelude to the Rays game across the street, but, fans noted, the World Cup happens just once every four years.

A few blocks away at Paddy Burke's, Danny Damijan of Largo also was rooting for the U.S. team. The 39-year-old is of Serbian heritage, and said he and his parents planned to cheer that nation in its matchup against Ghana today. But Saturday he was U.S.A. all the way.

"You've got to go for the home team," he said.

But the U.S.A. fans' enthusiasm soon turned to sad silence.

England: 1, United States: nil.

"You're not singing, you're not singing anymore," taunted England fan Jonathan Farrer, 27, who vacations here and was watching the match at MacDinton's.

But just before the halfway mark came an earsplitting roar as the Americans scored.

"This is pretty much amazing," screamed Phillip Skiffington, 24, who dyed his hair red and wore an American flag as a cape outside MacDinton's.

Barry O'Connor, the bar's co-owner, agreed.

O'Connor planned for a crowd but said he didn't expect he'd have to turn away scores of people. "It's a big success."

And though the game ended in a draw, American fans said they considered it a success as well.

"I'll take a tie," said Matt Tillman, 35. "America showed it's not a colony anymore."

Dominic Forth, 27, from England, was "heartbroken."

"English soccer is like an ex-girlfriend who calls you up for lunch. You don't want to go back, but you still love her," he said, shaking his head.

"I've got to say, though, how the Americans came out to support their team, that surprised me," Forth said.

Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore and information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442.

Soccer fans descend on Tampa Bay bars for U.S.-England match 06/12/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 12, 2010 10:05pm]
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