Barroom Flashback: World Cup Soccer Semi-Finals, 1990
A Lesson in Sports
In 1990 I was a manager at The North Star Pub in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. It was probably the best job I ever had in the industry. I worked alongside Deven Black, the GM, who taught me more about marketing than anyone else on the planet, and my great mate, Stuffy Shmitt, tended bar there, too.
The North Star was as authentic a British pub as it’s possible to create in the States, due to Deven’s attention to detail. We served no American beer–just British, Irish, and Australian beers on tap, and in bottles–we had a collection of around 100 single malt scotches, and the menu was packed with authentic British food–pork pies, sausage and mash, fish and chips, etc (the pies and sausages coming from the very best British grocer/butcher in Manhattan, Myers of Keswick).
I’m not a sports fan in any way, shape or form. I find sports to be boring, boring, boring. But when a party of four German tourists walked into the pub to watch the World Cup Semi-Final match between England and Germany on that fateful day in 1990, and when they placed small German flag, attached to a pedestal, on the bar, soccer suddenly seemed just a little more interesting to me.
I ran across the street to Pier 19 where there was a shop that sold flags of all nations, and bought myself a Union Jack on a pedestal, similar to the German flag on the bar at the pub. I sat next to the Germans, slapped my flag on the bar, and battle commenced.
The German tourists comprised an older couple–probably in their late 50s–and a younger couple who I presumed to be their son and daughter-in-law, or daughter and son-in-law. The younger couple spoke English, the older couple did not.
The match between Germany and England that year, which we were showing on the TV at the pub, of course, was just about as exciting a match as has ever been played, and it has gone down in history as being one or the greatest World Cup matches ever. As goal after goal was scored by both sides, the German tourists and I cheered and frowned appropriately, and we all enjoyed some very good-natured rivalry that afternoon.
The score was a draw–3-3–when the match came to an end, so the game had to be decided on penalties. Germany won. I was devastated. The older German man, who was sitting next to me at the bar, turned to me, smiled, and offered me his hand. I returned his smile, shook his hand, and a bond was made.
Then I noticed a mischievous look in my new friend’s eyes. He pointed at my Union Jack on the bar, smiled, and then he pointed to himself. Could he have the flag?, he was asking. I gave him the flag, and the two couples thanked me kindly, paid their bar bill, and left the pub. Suddenly sports made a little more sense to me. It’s about rivalry, and it’s about comradery. All packaged together in one very tight ball.