St. Louis has been a soccer town since before the Cardinals started winning the World Series.
According to St. Louis soccer historian David Litterer, the sport arrived in the early 1880s through amateur leagues in Catholic parishes and ethnic social clubs across the city and became immensely popular with first-generation immigrants from nations like Italy, Spain and Germany. In 1920 — six years before Rogers Hornsby hoisted the Redbirds' first world-championship trophy — a team of eleven St. Louis-born players defeated an all-British squad sponsored by Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, to win the then- prestigious U.S. Open Cup.
The local dominance over Anglo-Saxons was reborn in the 1950 World Cup, when a U.S. team that featured five St. Louisans shocked England 1-0 in Brazil. In a story about the match, the BBC described how the Brits were so heavily favored to win that "many newspapers around the world reported the result as a victory by England of 11-1 or 10-0, believing that a typographical error had occurred in the transmission 'U.S. 1-0 England.'"
Coached by native son Harry Keough, Saint Louis University won four NCAA national championships in five years beginning in 1960. In 1972, amid the heyday of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the St. Louis Stars led the league in attendance. Several professional clubs have called the city home since then and though the current franchise, AC St. Louis, is struggling to remain solvent, it still boasts a loyal following from a small but passionate group of fans who call themselves — no joke — "The Chickenheads."
The point of this brief history lesson: Soccer here has always meant something.
Given the recent media handjob, you're forgiven if you mistakenly believe the sport's local vuvuzela only commenced tooting when the 2010 World Cup began early last month in South Africa.
But that simply isn't the case.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when we watched eighteen matches at fourteen area bars and restaurants that nearly everyone we encountered was a soccer fanatic. It didn't hurt that we cherry-picked places that corresponded with the countries that were contesting each game, but it's not as if we instructed the folks we encountered to paint their faces, drape flags around their shoulders, shout themselves hoarse and drink themselves silly in support of their favorite teams.
But as the world prepares to choose up sides in the 2010 World Cup finals, RFT is ready to hand out some local hardware! (Click here for a list of the five best places to watch the finals.)
The United Nations Cup for Outstanding Diplomacy
And the cup goes to... the Mexican fanáticos at Carniceria Latino Americana
To herald the first match of the tournament, between Mexico's El Tri and South Africa's Bafana Bafana, the restaurant-slash-grocery store decked out its covered patio in Mexico's red-white-and-green regalia. A pair of flat-screen TVs were tuned to the Univision feed of the game.
Though the kickoff was at 9 a.m. Central Daylight Time, most tables were topped with buckets of Modelo Especial and Corona. Breakfast was carne asada tacos — grilled and shredded ground beef heaped atop corn tortillas.
Save for a few gringos who showed up to bask in the feverish atmosphere, the crowd was almost entirely made up of hardcore Mexico fans. Until early in the match, anyway, when a tall African fellow in an embroidered shirt strolled in and took a seat on the front steps.
Latino Americana patron Minerva López — owner of Gooolll, a soccer shop across the street — promptly yelled for "¡un applause for Sudáfrica!"
The crowd responded with a modest cheer.
"¡Y por México!" López continued.
The crowd roared. The African guy shrugged and humbly allowed that his side probably didn't stand much of a chance.
But in the 55th minute, South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala hammered home a beautiful finish into the upper-left-hand corner of the net, putting his country ahead, 1-0.
The lone South Africa fan stood up and put a finger to his lips — the universal gesture for "shhhh." The Mexicans respond by belting out the "Ay-ay-ay-ay" lyrics to the song, "Cielito Lindo."
Draped in a Mexican flag and sporting a green velvet sombrero, López turned the friendly teasing to the Americans with lines like, "You're welcome here as long as none of your cousins work for La Migra — the immigration."
When Mexico's Rafael Marquez scored in the 80th minute to tie the game, the crowd went nuts, chanting, "¡Méx-i-co! Méx-i-co! Méx-i-co!" and "¡Sí, se puede!"
Yet no one taunted the South African guy.
So when the game ended in a 1-1 draw, everybody went home friends.
The Hooligan Cup for Exceptional Rowdiness
And the cup goes to... USA fans at the Old Post Office Plaza
With virtually no shade, and a heat index that bordered on 100 degrees, the Old Post Office Plaza was broiling when the U.S. took on England on Saturday, June 12. Nevertheless, several hundred people donned red, white and blue and gathered outside to watch the match on a massive flat-screen television monitor embedded in the side of a trailer.
They were not particularly well behaved.
The British fans were taunted mercilessly. Mark, a middle-aged bloke from London living in St. Louis and working for Reuters, sat front and center on the sidewalk with his family, a large Union Jack draped across the back of their lawn chairs. The rowdier U.S. fans gave them endless grief, even gently slapping one of the younger offspring on the face just before kickoff.
All that ended four minutes in, when England's Steven Gerrard knocked a ball past U.S. goalie Tim Howard. Then the emboldened Englishman taunted, "At this pace we'll be up 30-0 at the half!"
So it was that when British goalkeeper Robert Green botched a weak, dribbling shot from Clint Dempsey, permitting the U.S. to tie the game in the 40th minute, revelers touched off sulfuric green smoke bombs, beat snare drums and tambourines, sounded air horns and otherwise went apeshit. It was impossible to hear what was said over the din, but words were exchanged between the local Brits and the Americans, and odds are they weren't "God save the Queen."
The Sauget Cup for the Best Meal That Sounds Like Something a Stripper Wears
And the cup goes to... the Scottish Arms
The clock struck 7 a.m. and beer and pasties were all over the place.
No, it's not the end of a debauched night on the east side. It's early-Monday-morning World Cup soccer at the Scottish Arms.
The "pasty," in this case, is a fluffy, flaky croissant-like creation stuffed with bacon, eggs and cheddar cheese. It resembles a calzone in size and shape and makes a perfect pairing for a frosty Harp lager on draft.
The 2-0 slog of a victory by the Netherlands over Denmark didn't go down nearly as smoothly. The game featured an "own goal," prolific flopping by players on both sides and hardly any football-fueled fervor from the sleepy, orange-clad Dutch fans in attendance. When their forward Dirk Kuyt tapped in a rebound off the woodwork in the 85th minute to seal the victory, the Dutchmen applauded politely and gave each other gentle high-fives.
To be fair, though, it was 90 degrees with about 94 percent humidity at a time of day when most people are still hitting their snooze buttons — not exactly a recipe for enthusiasm.
The "Oh Stewardess, I Speak Jive" Cup for The Perfect Explanation of Vuvuzelas
And the cup goes to... Phil and Robert at Fritanga
It was well past lunch hour on a Tuesday, and Fritanga, the Nicaraguan restaurant on south Jefferson, was nearly empty. The Italy-Paraguay game played on Univision in the restaurant's recently renovated bar area.
The only person there sipped Estrella Galicia beer, munched on tostones (green plantains, mashed and fried) and chatted in Spanglish with Cris and Orlando, the establishment's Nicaraguan bartender and owner, respectively.
Eventually two middle-aged American men walked into the restaurant a few minutes apart from each other. One introduced himself as Robert and ordered his food to go with a Nicaraguan rum called Flor de Caña on the rocks to drink in the bar. The other, Phil, planned to eat in the restaurant.
Robert knew next to nothing about the rules of the game or the culture. Phil knew a little bit and was happy to explain. The result was this awesome exchange about vuvuzelas:
Robert: "What's that buzzing noise?"
Phil: "They keep blowin' on them horns they got. You'd think they'd get tired. But this only happens once every four years, so I guess they got to let it all hang out."
The Soccer Mom Cup for Overprotective Parenting That Might Set America Back in Future World Cups
And the cup goes to... the woman at Yemanja Brasil holding her hands over her toddler's ears after a Brazil goal against North Korea
The waitstaff at Yemanja Brasil in Benton Park was decked out in electric-yellow-and-green soccer gear and chatted in Portuguese with familiar guests and their children. The packed house slurped down caipirinhas — the blend of lime, sugar and cachaça (fermented sugar cane) that's the national cocktail of Brazil — as quickly as the bartender could muddle them.
North Korea put up a decent fight against the South American titans until the 55th minute, when Brazil's Maicon charged up the right side of the field. He approached the end line at a dead sprint, struck the ball with a leaping kick and sent it past the Korean keeper at a seemingly impossible angle into the opposite side of the net.
Whereupon the crowd in the restaurant blared forth all manner of horns, drums and shakers. Each table came equipped with a homemade rattle fashioned from an empty Bud Light can filled with rice and duct-taped at the top. Everyone put them to good use — except for one American woman who was too busy wrapping her hands around her baby's ears to subdue the din.
As for the Brazilian kids in the house, they were busy tooting horns and letting loose high-pitched squeals of joy.
The Marlboro Man Cup for Exceptional Use of Over-the-Counter Stress Relief
And the cup goes to... Spain fans at the Amsterdam Tavern during the loss to Switzerland
It wasn't a good sign for the Spanish contingent when Rob, co-owner of the Amsterdam Tavern, began rattling off the results of the previous winners of the EuroCup who'd made it to the World Cup. Like some soccer Rain Man, he went all the way back to 1968, detailing how every champion of the European tournament went on to fail miserably two years later on the global stage.
Outwardly, the Spain fans were unfazed. This year's squad looked unstoppable in qualifying and along with Brazil was considered a co-favorite to take home the Cup. The team boasts an unparalleled roster — to the point that many of its reserves would be in the starting lineups of other countries. And yet despite their almost unparalleled talent and an elegant style of play that emphasizes precision passing, Spain has never won a World Cup.
So it was that beneath their confident veneer, every Furia Roja fan in attendance was secretly a wee bit worried about the opening match against Switzerland.
A dozen or so Spain fans congregated on picnic tables in front of a flat-screen TV on the back patio. Some sipped Estrella Galicia beer, virtually all sucked cigarettes (no smoking is allowed inside the Amsterdam) as though the country was about to be re-conquered by the Moors.
Spain kept creating scoring opportunities with crisp, fluid passes but could never find the back of the net against an entrenched Swiss defense. As shots rattled off the crossbar and the hands of Switzerland's keeper, a hazy nicotine cloud accumulated under the tent.
In the 52nd minute, Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes broke free on a counterattack, leapt over the diving Spanish goalkeeper, knocked over a defender and scored what the announcers later called "a scrappy, ugly goal."
At the Amsterdam, shoulders slumped and Marlboros ignited.
The Gringos Gone Wild Cup for Most Americans Cheering Mexico
And the cup goes to... the Crowd at Latino Americana during Mexico's game against France
"I feel like I'm rooting for the neighborhood team."
That was the succinct explanation given by Evan Sult, drummer/vocalist for Cherokee Street-based indie-rock duo Sleepy Kitty, when asked why he was rooting for Mexico in its match against France.
Sult was sitting on the patio at Carniceria Latino Americana, sipping Corona and consuming a vegetarian burrito the size of an infant. Around him a raucous crowd of Mexicans was sprinkled with a handful of enthusiastic-sounding Americans, all of whom seemed at home joining in the cheers, throwing back cervezas, laughing at all the jokes being shouted in Spanish and going wild with everyone else when Mexico scored its first goal.
And what a goal it was.
Javier "El Chicharito" Hernández narrowly escaped an offside penalty when he broke free from the French defense and brought down a lofted pass from Rafael Márquez with his chest. After juking the helpless goalkeeper, Hernández tapped the ball into the wide-open net, screaming at the top of his lungs and spinning circles as he looked for a teammate to hug.
At Latino Americana, a tall, bald white man who'd been drinking a margarita from a gallon-size goblet let loose a deafening fingers-in-the-mouth whistle. Minerva López, the joker from Mexico's previous match against South Africa, spun circles on the sidewalk and waved a Mexican flag over her head.
Along with electric striker Giovani Dos Santos, the 22-year-old Hernández is part of the wave of the Mexican squad's exciting new young players. Upon being informed of this fact, a middle-aged American woman at Sult's table announced, "I like the young players. They look like little babies out there."
The Breakfast Club Cup for Exceptional Hangover Cure
And the cup goes to... Tip-Top Food & Spirits
Djordje "George" Korac is the soccer-mad Serbian American owner of Tip Top Food & Spirits in Soulard. Korac is short and barrel-chested, and he wears several gold chains around his neck and a sweat-stained bandanna on his head. He bends slightly backward when he laughs, and the sound that comes out is a muffled baritone roar.
Korac opened his bar at 6 a.m. on a Friday (after closing down at 2 a.m. the night before) to watch his country take on a powerful German team. Three other people — none of them Serbian — showed up to watch.
Asked if the kitchen was offering a special that morning, Korac replied, "Double cheeseburger," implying that the creation was the most appetizing food in the world at 6:45 a.m.
Pat, one of the stubble-faced American twentysomethings at the bar, turned and said, "Why do I feel like he's the kind of guy who could put down a cheeseburger and a beer right now, no problem?"
The better option was evapii: finger-size "special Serbian sausages" served with olive oil-drenched pita, salted tomatoes, fried red peppers, red onions and a small log of feta cheese.
The menu breaks it down phonetically — "che-vap-chee-chee" — but Korac explained that everyone calls them "che-vaps" or "chee-chees." Whatever you call them, they were a unique, tasty blend of grease and cheese. Combined with a Budweiser and a 1-0 Serbia victory, they were the perfect antidote for bottle flu.
The Lost in Translation Cup for Most Amusing Language Barrier
And the cup goes to... Ivory Coast fans at Tam Tam African Restaurant
Tam Tam African Restaurant is an inconspicuous storefront next to a liquor store in one of the countless strip malls that line North Lindbergh Boulevard in Florissant. On a hot day with the shades drawn, the restaurant is dim inside and all the tables are empty.
Eight or nine dark-skinned men are crowded into the bar area. They're all chattering rapidly in French and focused on a TV set tuned to the pregame show for the afternoon's World Cup match between Ivory Coast and Brazil.
Tam Tam owner Kassim Kone hails from Senegal, like Ivory Coast a French-speaking West African nation. He was pulling hard for Cote D'Ivoire (which he pronounces coat-DEEV-wah).
The game started with Ivory Coast controlling possession but lobbing impotent shots at the Brazilain keeper. The Ivorian fans, sipping shots of hot murky brown liquor served from a little teapot, were extremely animated, gesturing wildly and shouting in French. It wasn't hard to discern some phrases, such as "ç'est bon" on good plays, and "le foot" — "soccer" — but most of the conversation was indecipherable to the English speaker.
Brazil took the lead early, when Luis Fabiano clobbered a perfectly threaded pass from star midfielder Kaká past the Ivorian keeper at close range. A few minutes later, Fabiano scored again. When replays show that he used his arm to bring down the ball, the Ivorians, almost in unison, shout "merde!" and curse the referee.
After another Brazilian goal, this one by Elano, a man in a gold Ivory Coast jersey declares that a comeback is "une impossibilité."
Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba heads in a goal in the 79th minute to make the score 3-1. Then the match starts to get chippy. Kaka elbows an Ivorian player in the chest and the soccer equivalent of a bench-clearing brawl ensues. Kaka receives a red card and the waitress — from Tanzania but rooting for Brazil — starts talking trash with Kone, saying the Africans just cost the advancing team one of its best players.
"You know what 'kaka' means in French?" Kone responds in English with a big grin. "It's not good."
The Study Abroad Cup for Most Authentic Viewing Experience
And the cup goes to... Spain matches at Guido's Pizzeria and Tapas
Though its name suggests Jersey Shore, the owners of Guido's Pizzeria and Tapas are from Madrid and have the bar portion of the restaurant decked out with a collection of scarves from Spanish soccer clubs, including a vintage red-and-yellow one for the national team, emblazoned with the motto "¡A por ellos!" — "After them!" — stretched above a giant flat-screen TV set.
During Cup matches, they've been serving half-price house sangria and buy-one-get-one-free tapas. Not the bastardized American "tapas" that have become a sad trend in the St. Louis restaurant scene, but real, auténtico dishes from the motherland, like tortilla española and jamón serrano.
The tortilla, not to be confused with the Mexican taco holder made from corn, is a thick egg, onion and potato omelet that's lightly browned on the outside and has the rich, creamy texture that can only come from an abundance of butter. The jamón is a massive arrangement of thin slices of cured ham on a platter. Ordering jamón tapas in Spain generally gets you one or two slices of ham on a small piece of bread. Catering to the American appetite, Guido's dished out at least a dozen razor-thin slices of meat and a basketful of sesame-crusted bread slices.
It's not just the food that makes it feel as if you need a passport to enter. You'll encounter a lively crowd of Spaniards who wave flags, jump behind the bar and shout things like, "¡La sangre de España es bueno!" — Spanish blood is good! — when Spanish defender Gerard Piqué takes a boot to the face from a Honduran player and spits blood.
The Ice-Cold Frosty Cup for Comments That Could Only Happen in St. Louis
And the cup goes to... Unidentified dude at Meshuggah
About eight minutes into the USA-Algeria showdown, Meshuggah coffeehouse owner Patrick Liberto pointed out a lone Algerian watching the game. His name was Salem and he was eating a bagel, smiling sheepishly under a head of curly black hair and saying nothing, probably because he was so vastly outnumbered.
There was a pause and someone on the other side of the room joked — to laughter and applause — "As long as he's not a Cubs fan, he's OK with me."
The Attention Deficit Disorder Cup for Viewing Multiple Matches Simultaneously
And the cup goes to... RFT restaurant critic Ian Froeb for his meal at the Post
To keep teams from fixing the outcome so they both can advance beyond the group stage, FIFA wisely scheduled the final games of the first round to be played at the same time.
Trying to pay attention to both the Netherlands-Cameroon and Japan-Denmark contests at the Post in Maplewood, Froeb concisely summed up the only flaw with this arrangement: "Oh, God, is it hard to follow simultaneous World Cup games."
Compounding matters is the fact that the Post has basically wall-to-wall television screens. Froeb described his plight thusly:
"With the two TVs right on top of each other, it was impossible not to glance up at the other game now and then and thus risk missing a goal, not to mention losing track of the flow of the game.
"In fact, I looked back from Netherlands-Cameroon at the exact moment when Keisuke Honda perfectly bent a free kick past the goalkeeper for Japan's first goal. This meant that the Danes would need two goals — no, wait! The Japanese just scored on another free kick!
"Oh, look. At some point the Dutch scored."
At halftime Froeb ate a basket of chicken wings and a plate of cheese fries and went into cardiac arrest.
Kidding. He lived but missed the goal Japan scored in the 80th minute to seal its 3-1 victory and advance to the round of sixteen.
The Marco Materazzi Cup for Insult That Might Cause a Player to Head Butt Someone
And the cup goes to... the word used to describe Cristiano Ronaldo at Coco Luoco Brasil and Guido's Pizzeria and Tapas
There's no denying that Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is a handsome man. It's the way he plays soccer that's so divisive.
Real Madrid's $131 million man scores goals, no doubt, but he also does more acting than Meryl Streep when he's on the pitch. While players like Lionel Messi and David Villa jump over or fight through slide tackles, the Portuguese pretty boy goes down at the first sign of danger. Sometimes there's no contact at all, and the slo-mo instant replays make it look as though he got taken out by a sniper.
It's the pansy playing style that turns off fans in the United States. Fans of Brazil and Spain recognize it, too, and they have a word for it.
Froeb described the scene at Coco Luoco Brasil in the Central West End during the 0-0 draw, writing, "Shouts in Portuguese sounded throughout the restaurant's bar area. I don't speak the language, but references to Portugal megastar Cristiano Ronaldo and the word 'puta' were clear enough."
The p-word was put to use again at Guido's during the Iberian showdown in the round of sixteen. But the most memorable line was, "At least his hair looks good!" when Ronaldo muffed an easy pass near the Spain goal.
The Goooooooooaaaaaaaaaallllllllllll!!! Cup for Best Scoring Celebration
And the cup goes to... the crowd at Meshuggah at the end of USA vs. Algeria
Here's the transcript of our running diary from what was (by far) the most exciting match of the tournament to date:
79:13: After a free kick and a corner, announcer says, "The U.S. deserves a goal...but they haven't got it." That about sums it up.
82:08: Altidore on the breakaway gets taken down hard. Yellow card on Algeria...free kick...Dempsey...crosses himself...and airmails it way over the goal. Ugh.
89:00: DaMarcus Beasley gets a yellow card after being knocked down in the box by an Algerian player. Someone at Meshuggah asks, "Is there any way the refs can be worse this game?"
91:00: GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!! GOOOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!!!!!!!! GOOOAAALLLLL!!!!! Landon Donovan!
92:30: Holy crap. Nothing but screaming and high-fiving here.*
93:35: Chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! after the Algerian player gets sent off for arguing with the ref.
94:00. Game over. The atmosphere is a blend of relief, shock and joy at Meshuggah. People hugging each other and high-fiving like crazy.
*Note: This probably describes the chaotically jubilant scene in just about every soccer bar in St. Louis at that point in time.
The Ferris Bueller Cup for Superior Dedication to Playing Hooky
And the cup goes to... the crowd at Barrister's during Netherlands vs. Brazil
A trio of young Netherlands natives named Thijs, Frances and Michel were decked out in Day-Glo orange as they sat at the bar at Barrister's in Clayton drinking bottles of Beck's and riding a roller coaster of emotions on the way to their team's quarterfinal upset of Brazil.
Michel, in particular, appeared to be on the verge of an ulcer, cardiac arrest or orgasm depending on the moment. When the ref blew the final whistle, setting his side's 2-1 victory in stone, Michel jumped up and down, pumped his fists and yelled "Revenge!" in reference to Brazil's knockout-round victories over the Dutch in 1994 and 1998.
In addition to the hardcore Holland trio, a crowd of Clayton's most soccer-crazed lawyers, bankers and businessmen somehow managed to sneak away from their desks to see the marquee matchup of the quarterfinals.
This included one gentleman wearing a tweed blazer and Coke-bottle glasses, who described how he walked out of a court case so that he could watch the match — even though he had no rooting or gambling interest.
"I just took the court docs and said, 'Here, you handle this,'" he explained. "I have to see this. I know I should be pulling for somebody to win, but with two great teams, as long as they're scoring, it'll be a great match."
The Winston Churchill Cup for Best Indignation at Germany
And the cup goes to... Mike, at the Amsterdam Tavern
Among the mob of rowdy German fans at the Amsterdam Tavern during Germany's quarterfinal obliteration of Argentina was a man wearing a black-and-white pinstriped hat. He said he wasn't rooting for Argentina; he just liked to piss off Germans. His name was Mike.
Of Germany's roster — filled with first-generation immigrant players, including two stars from Poland, two from Turkey, one from Brazil and another of Spanish descent — Mike cracked, "The only thing Germany is good at is importing Poles who can score goals!"