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World Cup 2010: A tale of two pubs — and peoples

The English and the Americans advance — but at a decidedly different pace.

World Cup South Africa versus France
American and Irish fans enjoyed watching South Africa beat France. Here, South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala, right, takes a shot at goal next to France's Bacary Sagna, center, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris during the 2010 World Cup Group A soccer match June 22, 2010.(Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

NEW YORK — The U.S. and England are often described as two nations divided by a common language, and football is the ultimate example of this misunderstanding.

Yes, yes, the population of each would identify a completely different sport by that name: the English invented what Americans call “soccer,” the Americans what the English call “American football.”

But the chasm runs deeper, and in two pubs on two sides of the Atlantic this past week — Foley’s in midtown Manhattan and Cafe Kick in East London — the World Cup threw all these national eccentricities, some charming, some not, into sharp focus.

The English watch the match, and they critique and coach endlessly. They also know the players on other sides, identifying them not so much as Danes or Slovenes but rather by the professional outfits who pay their salaries.

Of course, some American fans can pull this off and Team USA has done a good job of emphasizing that the gap between American soccer and the self-proclaimed lords of the sport in the rest of the world has shrunk to insignificance. But most regard it as more of a spectacle. The American fan who really knows the game is still is an outrider, an athletic version of a Trekkie. You won’t hear a Yank turn to the rest of the barroom and shout — as a patron in London did that evening — “remember that cracking hit against AC Milan last year?” There would be little chance of anything more than pity from his American compatriots.

Cafe Kick is unprepossessing as British pubs go — a hole in the wall, really, located in Exmouth Market, an East London street where the battle between upscale eateries and old English neighborhood joints appeared every bit as fierce as the war between Brazil and North Korea on the flat screen in the first round of the tournament.

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The place was packed, in part with Brazilians wearing their national colors, but also with locals wearing the kit of their hometown favorites, which over the past decade have tapped Brazil’s rich vein of football talent to fill the rosters of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton and Tottenham Hotspurs.

Jackie Serlaine, bedecked in Tottenham’s white, blue and yellow jersey, told everyone who listened that only his side could boast a member of Brazil’s 2010 World Cup squad, the goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

“Arsenal and United have some relics, yeah, but we’ve got the up and comer,” he said.

The throng in Cafe Kick heaved in horror when the plucky North Koreans scored in the last 15 minutes of the match. “That may keep one of this lot out of the gulag,” someone shouted to laughs all around.

Fast-forward to Foley’s, an Irish pub on the east side of midtown in Manhattan which takes its drinking seriously. “The First Pub To Ban ‘Danny Boy’,” reads the banner above the door, a reference to the ballad endlessly looped by “Irish-for-a-day” types on St. Patrick’s day. Foley’s clientele on an average day is as likely to hail from County Kerry as from Queens, but during the World Cup the bar bowed to the realities of time zones and America by opening each day at 7:30 a.m.