Finding Football in the City that Never Sleeps

New York City is – according to popular wisdom –  the city that never sleeps. This isn’t true. It definitely sleeps. The problem is that on a Saturday night it gets to sleep very, very late, and really doesn’t like the prospect of getting up at 9 O Clock the following morning after a night of exuberant parting and peerless debauchery. This, unfortunately, was the position I found myself in on Sunday the 8th of August, as the 88th Community Shield clash between Chelsea and Manchester United kicked off in the home town I was stranded far away from, in an unflattering and inconvenient time-zone somewhere over a large and intimidating amount of water.

Having failed to be roused by any of my alarms, I woke up with a jolt at about 10:15, suddenly realizing I was missing something, like Macaulay Culkin’s mother seconds before it dawned on her that she’d irresponsibly left him in a large, dangerous, resource-filled house without the required adult supervision, and that it was far too late to get back to the Neverland Ranch in time now.

Having frantically flicked through all 8 billion channels on my hotel television to find none of them were the Fox Soccer channel – the only one I was aware of that was showing the game – I was left with the realization that my first experience of watching football in the land of the free was going to be curled up in bed like a dying sloth squinting desperately at a pixilated screen whilst being audioly assaulted by overenthusiastic Arabic commentary (the kind of commentary that never stops, no matter what, lest the viewer might suddenly switch off under the impression the game had unexpectedly finished.). And I was going to have to pay for this pleasure.

Unable to view enough of the game to do a satisfactory write up without blagging it massively (I generally need to have seen at least a 3rd of it to blag it coherently, or at best a brief highlights package) I decided my best bet was to wait until the second dead rubber game of the week – England vs. Hungary – and do a detailed, thorough, in depth, awe inspiring report on that instead.

Unfortunately, New York continued to live up to it’s billing as the City that took an awfully long time to get to sleep, and cometh the Wednesday, cometh the hangover, again. After stumbling to a corner café to eat yet another huge meaty thing that seemed to be made overwhelmingly from plastic cheese, an oversight on behalf of the person I was counting on to tell me the time (my $16 fake Chinese Cartier watch having melted the previous evening in a pool) I found that I had irresponsibly already missed quarter of an hour of this game too.

Now in a frantic dash, I power walked my posse of slow, pale, painfully hung-over Englishmen through the baking streets of New York’s East Village to find Nevada Smiths, a football church in the middle of a heathen land of homegrown nonsense. What would we have missed we wondered? Could it be 2-0, 3-0 already?…No, surely not. Hungary aren’t that good. Eventually arriving just as the first half ended we were reassured to find that the mighty England had valiantly managed to hold the fearsome Hungarians to a goalless stalemate in front of a jubilant crowd of 19 people. Phew. Time for a beer me thought.

Smiths was a greatly enjoyable football watching establishment, though like almost everywhere else in New York, it’s incredibly dark, like there’s some kind of city wide power conservation challenge on and the first bar to lift the level above dim looses. Filled with an eclectic mix of people all glued to one of the myriad of screens showing a variety of different games, it’s exactly the place I should – and had intended – to watch the might Shield in. On this occasion, Mexico vs. Spain understandably held pride of place on the central big screen, complete with a similar verbally diarrheic commentary team as my earlier Arabian stream. Often my attention would shift from the England game as a burst of wild high pitched enthusiasm wafted over my ears, only to find the ball was still in the center circle somewhere, and your man had just gotten incredibly excited by someone managing to dribble round someone else without one or both of them falling over dramatically.

England were relegated to two smaller screens above the bar, so at the bar we sat, next to a Scotsman and someone from somewhere in Scandinavia who was naturally the more comprehensible. This isn’t a slight on the Scotsman of course, being as it is that Scandinavians to a man speak English far better and clearer than 99% of people in the British Isles.

Before long it I felt a little pang of reassuring home comfort, as England looked rubbish and conceded – yet also didn’t – from a Phil Jagielka own goal. Rooney went off and was booed by 14 of the 19 people there, who had presumably just shown up to do exactly that, and England suddenly started to play well with Bobby Zamora up front, a sentence I never thought I’ve type, and most likely won’t again in my hopefully long and illustrious career as journalist who perpetually misses the matches he’s supposed to be covering.

Steven Gerrard celebrated his thunderous equalizer like it was the greatest and most important goal he’d ever scored which, whilst slightly odd, was never the less a nice touch for those 19 people attending, and everyone around the globe and back home who thought our players simply didn’t care enough. Gerrard’s effort certainly couldn’t be questioned as he Ricky Villa’d his way through the Hungarian defense to prod England into the lead, sparking wild celebrations from within his own head as if he was pretending to himself that he’d just done an Iniesta. Iniesta on the other hand, wasn’t in Mexico getting commentary men over excited, but resting back in Barcelona as his team leveled late to hold Mexico, dampening the excitement of both hyperactive commentators and the 10 or so kitted up, drunken but jovial Mexicans in a friendly, football loving, and incredibly dark New York bar.

Now, onto the proper business of the first day of the season. I just need to try and not miss it. Which will be hard, as I’m supposed to be at a wedding. I’m sure we’ll work something out. I don’t have to be there for all of it do I?