Why, in a tiny soccer-goods store in Richfield, Minn., you can buy a Liverpool scarf and an Aston Villa replica jersey and a poster of Mr. Ryan Giggs, the 21-year-old dreamboat prodigy of the Manchester United Football Club. "It's like a fashion statement for some kids," James Hirsch, the proprietor of Mr. H. Soccer World, says with a shrug.
Soccer World. It will one day be the name of our planet, and London will likely be the capital. Consider that football hooligans throughout Europe carry Union Jacks; that this season's alleged English match-fixing scandal was masterminded in Malaysia; and that sun-spangled Italian league spectators wear Barbour coats, the foul-weather jackets seen on British supporters wherever there is television.
One of every five viewers at the Cock 'n Bull is American. The Man United U.S. Supporters Club has a branch in nearby Redondo Beach. And the owner of a Geo Prizm, license plates SOCR XTC, that is parked in a lot in Crystal City, Va., surely agrees with what the SOCR-mad English pop group once sang:
And all the world is football-shaped
It's just for me to kick in space.
"Football and rock-and-roll are the two primary expressions of the English working class," suggests Myles (Mad Dog) Palmer, a rock biographer and columnist for the English soccer monthly Four Four Two, named after the quintessential but antiquated English lineup of four backs, four midfielders and two forwards.
And though Elton John is president-for-life of First Division team Watford, and Mick Jagger might buy Third Division squad Gillingham, and ex-Sex Pistol John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon once hated everyone but now loves Arsenal of the Premier League, the most brilliant British footballers are sold short if equated with mere rock stars. They are far more flamboyant than that.
Take Paul Gascoigne, who single-footedly led England to the semifinals of the '90 World Cup in Italy and who since 1992 has played for Lazio in Rome. "Gazza" was a lager-guzzling goofball who liked to pub-crawl with his mate "Five-Bellies" Gardner. Gazza was once asked by Norwegian TV, before an England-Norway match, if he had "a message for Norway."
He did: "F——off, Norway."
We are reminded of Gazza before this evening's match at Wembley. It is the first English national-team game since a knot of right-wing English thugs tore up the stands and fought with spectators during a February "friendly" against Ireland in Dublin. The riot forced a mid-match cancellation. In Santa Monica, the mostly English and Irish crowd watching at the collegial Cock 'n Bull shuffled silently into the Southern California sunshine.
"We are so sick of this bull——," said bar owner Tony Moogan, the Liverpudlian. "Everyone just hates it. It's less than one percent of the crowd, and if it wasn't football, they'd be doing it someplace else." And yet Arsenal fan Emanuel knew the next time he so much as wore his England team shirt, Americans were liable to ask him, as they had outside RFK Stadium in 1993, "How many fans you gonna kill today?" Which he doesn't hear often in his day job as a telemarketer.