The unparalleled spectacle that is the World Cup inspires billions of hopes, dreams, and questions around the globe, but among soccer fanatics in the United States, one is raised time and time again above all others: Will this be the year the beautiful game is finally embraced at home? Only the tournament will tell.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa begins on Friday, June 11, and will see teams representing 32 nations compete across nine cities and over the following 30 days to reach the pinnacle of global sport. Its four weeks of matches will attract billions of televisions viewers worldwide, with ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and Univision offering an ambitious broadcasting schedule in the U.S.
"We haven't really started yet, and there's already tremendous media attention and hype," says Eric Bertun, the president of the Madison FC youth soccer program and a NCAA referee. "It seems like ESPN is really going all out to show this World Cup. They've had their fingers in it a long time, but now they're really working on capturing the casual sports fan."
This level of promotion, along with the mounting interest evident on Twitter and elsewhere online, owes quite a bit to a pair of noteworthy factors. One, this is the first World Cup to be held on the continent of Africa, and its timing mere months after the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison inspires high spirits in the host nation and around the world. Two, the first round group match between the United States and England is their first meeting in 60 years, and American supporters of soccer hope the high profile of this game against the birthplace of the sport will spark a new level of fandom on the home front.
Madison has long played host to a relatively health soccer culture, thanks to a vibrant youth and club culture, along with the international influence of the University of Wisconsin, with plenty of special screenings during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. That interest has grown considerably over the last four years, at least as evidenced by the growing number of bars, restaurants, and other establishments both in town and around the country that host special World Cup watching parties for fans both fledgling and fervent.
Though this list is by no means complete, fans will find an active scene at the following locations.
Since opening more than seven years ago, Hawk's has become synonymous with watching international soccer in town. The State Street restaurant is consistently filled with fans during contests of all types, from World Cup qualifiers to confederation tournaments to Champions League matches, and has earned the reputation for being the foremost place in Madison to catch a game.
Owner Hawk Schenkel, a former president of the Madison Soccer Association, is an exuberant supporter of the game, and oftentimes gets loud and animated while watching matches from both sides of his bar. He is once again looking to join in this global party, and anticipation is building.
Hawk's will be showing every single match of the tournament. The flags of every competiting nation are already drape the its walls, with more hanging behind the bar and over the sidewalk cafe area. Just about the only space that isn't covered is the projection TV screen on the back wall, which is accompanied by four more sets around the restaurant.
"We're expecting some pretty big crowds, and are staffing accordingly," says general manager Murray Snyder.
Its main room was consistently overflowing throughout the 2006 World Cup, jostling supporters of teams both on and off the pitch during any given game cheering the action. "I think we're just going to build upon '06, we were quite surprised by how big it was," notes Snyder. "We've been talking about it for the last four years." The scene was similarly frenetic two years ago, when fans mobbed Hawk's for the final game of the Euro 2008 tournament. More crowds came last summer, when the United States put up a valiant effort against Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup finals, a prelude to this year's Cup.
Hawk's is extending its hours for the World Cup, opening at 6 a.m. for its first two weeks to cover the early games during group play, and then at 8 a.m. for the knockout stage. The restaurant will be serving breakfast on game days until 10:30 a.m., the menu featuring American standards like pancakes, omelets, biscuits with gravy, and granola with fruit, but named for iconic soccer greats like Pele and Diego Maradona. The bar will be offering $3 bottles of Warsteiner, a World Cup sponsor, as well as $2.50 PBR tallboys as a nod to American hopes.
Promotions and prizes are also planned for every game, as Hawk and his staff have been working with beer distributors for more than a year to acquire keychains, t-shirts, and the like, with soccer-themed giveaways slated for the big games, including the U.S.A-England match and the final rounds.
Fans hoping to get a seat for that showdown between the Yanks and Three Lions, set to kick-off at 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday, are advised to arrive early. Really early. That is, at the beginning of the first match of the day, between South Korea and Greece at 6:30 a.m.
"The aspect we most enjoy here at Hawk's is the different countries and cultures coming together, both the clashes and the company," says Snyder. "It's always been about fun."
Soccer is also a principal passion at the Claddagh, located at Greenway Station in Middleton, is likewise known for its serious commitment to hosting fans of international and professional teams. Premier League jerseys hang from the rafters, and the televisions are regularly tuned into Setanta Sports and the Fox Soccer Channel throughout the year.
The sprawling Irish pub, one among 15 located across the Midwest, is also an official U.S. Soccer bar. Qualifying for this is not a simple undertaking, explains general manager Emily Hudson. Originally meeting the application criteria two years ago, and regularly maintaining its status, the business must provide information about the number of United States games televised, the number of subscribed soccer channels, and the number patrons in the establishment, among other details, along with photos of fans supporting the Yanks and the red, white, and blue paraphernalia surrounding them.
Claddagh will be screening every single game of the tournament on some 15 TVs, along with another two 3-D sets watchable with rental glasses. The bar will open at 6 a.m. for 6:30 a.m. matches, with the kitchen following at 9 a.m. Drink specials are not finalized, but will likely include $10 buckets of various Bud projects, and $3 drafts of Carlsberg.
"We get a wide scope in here," says general manger Emily Hudson, citing supporters of Spain, Germany, Ireland, England, and of course, the United States. "The World Cup is the Olympics for soccer fans."
"The World Cup is like the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, and the Indy 500, all rolled into one, but it's a month long," says Peter McElvanna, general manager and proprietor of The Coopers Tavern. This gastropub on the Capitol Square is the new kid in the game, only opening its doors for the first time back in January, but it has big plans for the tournament.
The tavern will be showing every match on its two TVs, one on the back wall and the other overlooking the length of the bar. Its doors open early for the morning games, and the kitchen will be serving its brunch and lunch menus. Whenever England plays, fans can order the British Sunday Roast, a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, mashed and roasted potatoes, peas and carrots, and gravy.
More ambitiously, the bar will be serving beers from most of the competing nation, with the exceptions of North Korea, all of the CAF nations other than South Africa, and Chile. It's not legal to import from the first, of course, and the prices for the others are simply too high, explains McElvanna. Other than those exceptions, a a brew from each of the two nations on the pitch will be available as a special during every match. If that's not enough, the bar will still be serving its 28 draft beers and 100-plus bottled varieties.
Coopers has also been gathering up t-shirts and other promotional items like beans, hats, horns, over the last several months, and will be giving them away through the tournament.
McElvanna, who grew up in Armagh, Northern Ireland, expects plenty of his expat buddies to attend, and invites supporters of every team to join in 90-plus minutes of good-humored rivalry. His prediction: "It's going to be a month of happiness."
Futbol is the name used for the beautiful game across most of the Americas, and restaurants and bars rooted in the city's Latino community are joining in the festivities. Cancun Mexican Restaurant, located on the west side at the corner of Odana Road and Whitney Way, will be showing all but the earliest of the morning matches over the next month, and is the sponsor of a daily World Cup update on La Movida 1480, the Spanish radio station for the Madison market.
"I think we'll have a lot of people here," says co-owner Joaquin Lopez. The crowds are likely to big right from the start, with the tournament opener on Friday morning pitting host nation South Africa against Mexico. Then, the first matches featuring Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras, and Chile follow over the next five days. Fans of the Latin American sides, including lusophones and -philes cheering for the perennial faves Brazil, will feel at home, but Lopez emphasizes that supporters of every team are encouraged to stop by and join in the cheering.
Cancun will open at 8 a.m. on game days, and will be serving its breakfast menu offering both Mexican and American classics, from huevos rancheros to French toast. Drink specials during the games are set to include $2.50 cervezas and half-price house margaritas. Fans will be able to watch the matches on TVs facing the bar, the main dining room, and an adjoining room.
"Not many restaurants do this kind of thing," explains Lopez. "A lot of people are looking to watch the World Cup, and we want to help them."
Perhaps the most famed sports bar in town, one that's regularly fans clad in red-and-white and green-and-gold, Street Street Brats is also looking to become known as a soccer-watching destination. It hosted sizable crowds back in 2006, notably attracting fans of the U.S., Germany, Italy, and France teams, and recently saw a good turnout for the Champions League finals a couple weeks ago.
"We have a lot of soccer-related channels on through the year, and we're trying to build awareness that we're the place to come watch these games," says manager Matt Goetsch. "Our big screens upstairs are the best place around to watch sports."
Indeed, the second level of the downtown institution is anchored by a pair of projection screens, faced by three graduated levels of booths and benches, which are accompanied by a legion of standard-sized TVs facing just about every area of the establishment, including its outdoor beer garden.
Brats will be showing most of the tournament, and will open early for select "marquee" matches during its first two weeks. This includes the Friday opener and all Team U.S.A. games, as well as those featuring elite teams like Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal. The bar is finalizing its breakfast menu for days when it open early, and tentatively plans to offer game-time specials for Bud, Heineken, Stella, and Warsteiner.
"Hopefully our name will get out there," notes Goetsch. "Brats is just as good a place for soccer as it is for Badgers or Packers games."
Association football, that is, soccer fandom in the United States often finds a natural home at English and Irish pubs, given the sport's origins and early development in the British Isles and the dominance of European professional leagues. Brocach was at the vanguard of this model in Madison, regularly showing both international and Premier League matches since opening in 2004, and serving as a popular downtown venue for fans watching the 2006 World Cup.
"Madison is a rather worldly city, and we expect to see large crowds and a lot of new faces," says co-owner Don Gautreau. "When Slovenia and Algeria play their match, I wouldn't be surprised to see fans from those places."
Brocach will be showing every game of the tournament, opening in time for kickoff of the early matches. The restaurant will serve its full brunch menu for all morning games. Over at its bar, the drink specials include $10 buckets of Bud products, $4 Stella and Hoegaarden pints, as well as $4 mixers and $3 shots of Jameson. Additionally, the Irish whiskey brand has furnished the pub with soccer jerseys, which will be raffled off at select matches, while others will feature Budweiser-themed promotions.
"We're going all out for the World Cup," declares Gautreau. "Watching a game in the pub is the way it's done, and we're expecting to make people happy with our experience."
Taquerias can make for ideal locations to watch futbol, being replete with fresh, cheap eats and cold cerveza. El Pastor, located on South Park Street, will open at 9 a.m. during the tournament and show every match that starts thereafter. The restaurant will serve breakfast specials in the morning, and plans to offer five Mexican beers for $12 during the games. Owner Lino Ruiz expects an ample crowd to watch the opening match featuring Mexico, with the excitement only building from there.
A more casual atmosphere will reign at all three Great Dane brewpubs in the Madison area. The downtown, Hilldale, and Fitchburg locations will be showing "as many games as possible," as described by one manager, in their respective billiards rooms. Each will also be opening early for all three U.S. games in the group stage.
Break Away Sports Center
Meanwhile, several businesses around town will be catering specifically to families interested in watching the World Cup, giving kids exposure to the game away from the beer-soaked atmosphere in restaurants and bars.
"We have such a melting pot of teams here," says Matt Lombardino, the owner and manager of Break Away Sports Center in Fitchburg about who he expects to show up to World Cup match screenings he is organizing. "I'm guessing the fans are going to be across the board." Four year ago, he hosted impromptu gatherings with friends and attracted good sized crowds, so this year he hopes to repeat that success on a bigger level.
Break Away will be showing a selection of the tournament, namely every match featuring the U.S. team, as well as those featuring Mexico versus France and Brazil versus Portugal. Its plans include a large projection screen on one of the indoor soccer fields, where fans can gather around with lawn chairs, blankets, and the like. Meanwhile, foods and drinks will be offered in the concession area.. The center won't open for the earliest games, but may potentially do so as the tournament progresses pending feedback and response. Anybody interested in attending is required to RSVP at 288-9600 as soon as possible in order to secure a space.
Why host these screenings? "Sometimes sports bars have other games on," says Lombardino. "Being a soccer facility, we want to offer that soccer ambience."
Keva Sports Center
Families can partake in a broad variety of activities during World Cup Month at Keva, a sports and recreational facility in Middleton. The fun opens at the center at 7 p.m. on Friday with a live National Premier Soccer League match between the Madison 56ers Soccer Club and the Milwaukee Wave; admission is free.
The center will host a viewing party for the U.S.A.-England game on Saturday. Participants will find food and beverage specials, along with pick-up play starting at 10 a.m. in advance of the early afternoon kickoff. Through the rest of the tournament, Keva will be playing matches on its indoor and outdoor TVs, and invites anybody to stop by and watch.
Meanwhile, over the course of the Cup, the center will also host a Dutch Soccer School day camp for kids, a World Cup-themed coed adult recreational tournament, and a Futura Spanish-language day camp for kids.
The month ends with a World Cup Finals party on Sunday, July 11. Along with a giant inflatable screen and multiple smaller TVs around the complex, the fun will include a childrens' play area with a "bouncy castle" and various games, open play soccer, door prizes, hot dogs for the kids, an African buffet catered by Bon Appetit Cafe for the adults, and a cash bar. The fun starts at 11 a.m., and admission is an all-you-can-eat-and-play $20 for adults and $10 for kids 3-10.
The University Wellness Foundation is a new educational organization that works to promote "empowerment in Madison's youth to improve their overall social, physical, and mental well-being." The group is working with a group of local businesses and non-profits to put on the Calabash World Cup!, a month-long celebration of the tournament in South Africa and the newly renovated Soccer City stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg.
Calabash is a gift shop at 2608 Monroe Street that sells a far-ranging collection of arts, crafts, apparel, and other products sourced from around southern and eastern Africa. The store is named for a type of bottle gourd traditionally used in South Africa as a drinking vessel, which served as the inspiration for the design of the stadium hosting both the opening and final matches of the World Cup.
The celebration is centered around fan fests during select matches. Young soccer fans are invited to watch the games on a big projection TV, and cheer on their favorite teams. The first will be held during the tournament opener starting at 9 a.m. on Friday, and will be held, weather-permitting, in the parking lot of a service station next door to the gift shop. Organizers will hand out South African and Mexican flags to the youthful fans, who will also get a chance to collect trading cards featuring photos of all 2010 World Cup stadiums and flags of competing nations. There will also be a fundraiser in which kids can also get their photos taken the official tournament ball dubbed Jabulani and a replica of the FIFA World Cup Trophy, with proceeds going to the foundation. The fest continues after the game with pickup soccer at Wingra Park.
Other events on Friday include a talk about southern African culture at 5 p.m. in Calabash, and a lecture about soccer in Africa by UW political science professor Michael Schatzburg, set for 7 p.m. at the Victor Allen's at Knickerbocker Place on Monroe.
Supporters are also encouraged to contribute to the Soccer Gear for Africa campaign. Organizers are collecting new and used soccer items like balls, cleats, shin guards, and goalie gloves, and will be sending them to South Africa. Donations will be accepted at Calabash Gifts through the end of July.
"It's extraordinary that the phenomenon that seems to be hitting this time around," says Bertun. "The pre-World Cup hype is bigger than any I've ever seen, including back in '94 when the United States hosted. Time will tell whether it helps develop and bring soccer more into the mainstream. Our team's performance will have a lot to do with that." U.S. fans can join in the groundswell of support for the national team by attending any of the establishments noted here. The complete schedule for all 2010 World Cup matches is available here, complete with times, broadcasters, and gamecasts.