Once a week I pay a greasy man who grants me entry to a seedy establishment where I'm allowed to gape at a video monitor until the time on the screen expires. On other days I buy Danish magazines, swap German videos and consider a move to Amsterdam, where this sort of thing is acceptable. What kind of pervert am I, you ask? The worst kind, I'm afraid: I am a soccer fan in America.
On Wednesdays I join my friends—the unemployed and the unemployable—at a Manhattan bar for a five-lager lunch and the live transatlantic satellite transmission of an English soccer match. These games are not easy to find. Thank heaven, then, for Mark Coker's Guide to Soccer-Friendly Pubs (www.halcyon.com/mcoker), an Internet directory of U.S., Canadian and Caribbean alehouses that televise international soccer. If you find yourself in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., at seven o'clock on a Sunday morning with a dual thirst for live Italian Serie A action and a pint of Theakstons Old Peculiar, Coker can hook you up. " Rancho Cucamonga?" says the 37-year-old Boeing engineer, who lives in Seattle and relies on a national network of footy-mad correspondents. "Yeah, there's a place there called the Final Score...."
A senior at Pace University recently E-mailed Coker to say he was considering an Army JAG Corps posting to Fort Lewis in Washington State. "One of my major concerns," wrote the student, "is the availability of Scottish and English League matches in the area." Coker commended the young man to a thriving Seattle pub called the George & Dragon, where two years ago Coker himself paid $20 to sit on the pool table for the English FA Cup final. "For a lot of people," he says, "the ability to view soccer is an important lifestyle criterion."
Important? Live television is lifeblood, is mother's milk, is Caffreys Irish Ale to America's soccer fans. We will suffer any indignity to find it, and do. On my cable system, for instance, a single English match is available live at 10 a.m. every Sunday, on the same pay-per-view menu as the porn movie Where the Boys Aren't.
Mercifully, some European Champions League matches are televised live on ESPN2, whose announcers are always saying things like "The atmosphere is extraordinary here in the Estadio Nou Camp, in the captivating capital of Catalonia." We all know they're dubbing a live feed and that the broadcasters are really seated on overturned mop buckets in a utility closet in Piscataway, N.J. But so what?
It beats listening to a nil-nil draw on the radio, which many American desperadoes do after locating the shortwave coordinates at Soccer on the Radio, which sounds like the third runner-up in the World's Most Boring Activities contest but is in fact a bustling Web site. The lure of a soccer broadcast is such that it, in turn, beats lying on a gorgeous beach and staring at water bluer than barbershop-comb disinfectant while gentle breezes play at your ear hair. That's why a joint called the Hog Sty Bay, in the Cayman Islands, carries televised international matches.
What can I say? We are a depraved bunch. Last month the U.S. national team defeated Germany in Orlando, a match that ABC chose not to televise live on the West Coast. No matter. Coker, who may call his firstborn son Kasey—in honor of U.S. keeper Kasey Keller, who hails from Washington State—found a plausibly live play-by-play on the Internet. "It was just text on the screen, and it was all in German," he says. "But I took some German in high school, and you could kind of tell what was going on, and...."
Do you hear that? It's a cry for help.