Thursday, June 2, 2011

Through the Drinking Glass: Champions League Final in an English Bar

Editor's Note: Our "Going Suds Up" columnist, Kirsten, is all over Europe this summer and occasionally she'll be sending back correspondence about the culture of beer and football across the pond. 

If you've got your own stories of beer and soccer from around the globe we'd love to hear them. Submit stories for "Through the Drinking Glass" to freebeermovement(at)

By Kirsten Schlewitz / Roving European Reporter

The afternoon of the Champions League final started off brightly enough. I emerged from the tube at Piccadilly Station, only to be greeted by seemingly hundreds and hundreds of Barcelona fans, all chanting and waving flags. As I continued on my way to meet friends in a sports bar, I repeatedly saw Spanish tourists go up to groups of Manchester United fans, shaking their hands, embracing, posing for a photo. Now, I’ve been to matches at Wembley before (ok, one match) and this is not the sort of atmosphere you encounter. Maybe because it was still hours from kickoff, and miles away from the stadium. Or maybe it was simply that the mood was festive rather than hostile – there was no real sense that these two sets of supporters were enemies.

It was about 3pm when I arrived at the bar, with nearly five hours to go before the match started. I grabbed a beer and had only finished half when a newcomer arrived, and everyone else placed their drink orders. I tried to wave it off, saying I still had plenty left. Which is when the lovely Jamie Cutteridge taught me about the golden rule of English drinking: if someone offers you a drink, accept. This is a rule I followed for the rest of the evening. This is a rule that led me to having absolutely no clue as to what happened in the biggest match of the year.

As for what I drank, I learned pretty quickly that you don’t say names of beers here. It’s “ale” or “lager” or even cider if you’re feeling fruity. Because this bar was out of ale (clearly, as there wasn’t a big event they were charging 5 quid admission for) I was stuck with lager. And because we’d arrived so many hours before kickoff, there were a good many lagers inside me before that whistle blew. At some points I was even singing along with the United fans, who outnumbered Barcelona supporters by about 100 to 1. Of course, that might be more because they were mocking Scousers and singing “My Old Man,” which Aston Villa fans sing about Birmingham City, rather than feeling any sense of camaraderie with the red shirts.

My memory holds for the first half of the match. I remember when Pedro scored, the United fans knew I definitely wasn’t one of them – and if they didn’t notice then, they certainly noticed when I hurled a few choice obscenities after Wayne Rooney’s goal. The problem with drinking with the English is that they don’t seem to notice that you’re drunk (or that you’re a girl and they’re all male) and just keep providing the beverages. Hence me having no idea what happened for the second half. Messi? Yay! I’m pretty sure I cheered. David Villa? Nope, had no idea that happened until we’d left the bar.

I wish I could tell you that there’s a moral to this Champions League adventure. Perhaps one like, “Don’t drink in excess if you think it’s going to be a good match.” Instead, I might stick by the rule provided by the English: if someone offers you a drink, accept. But with one proviso – be sure there’s someone there to take you home safely. Particularly if you’re wearing four-inch heels. Even if they are wedges.

About Kirsten

I may be a law student at Lewis and Clark, but soccer is my true love, with beer coming in a distant second. That's not to say I don't love beer--I've tasted over a thousand different brews, and listed many of them onRatebeer. Living in Portland, Oregon, I attend quite a few festivals and tastings, and am able to argue passionately about the merits of Cascade hops vs. Chinook. 

As for the soccer, I'm the Managing Editor of SB Nation's Aston Villa site, 7500 to Holte, the Italy Editor for SB Nation Soccer, and cover the Seattle Sounders on SBN Seattle (don't judge--I'm from Seattle!) Finally, I write for Two Footed Tackle when I find words worthy enough for the site. Want more? Follow me on Twitter!

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