Monday, July 14, 2014

World Cup 2014: View from a booze-filled room

Argentina fans cry, and Germany fans cheer at a crowded MacDinton's.

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 6:33 PM


The crowd at MacDinton’s, off First Avenue North, in Downtown St. Pete, smelled like booze and looked like a line at the DMV when I walked into the place, a few minutes before the World Cup Final, to see La Albiceleste (“the White and Sky Blues,” aka Argentina) take on Die Mannschaft (“the Team” — Germany). 

The people inside were talkative and happily squished together, like children awaiting recess. Only a lucky few had seats. The majority were standing, holding drinks. Most wore regular clothes and clung to common people. A decent minority sported their team’s colors and comfortably eased their way into a welcoming by other like-fans. Everyone wished they were European; the rest, South American. In actuality, only a select few were from either country represented in the 2014 World Cup Final.

The match started out hot, with plenty of action near the goals from both sides. The Germans, who have played seemingly mistake-free throughout the tourney, and the Argentineans, whose best player, Lionel Messi (the greatest Argentinean since Diego Maradona) shares the same nickname as America's favorite mutton-chopped eighth president, Martin Van Buren (The Little Magician), both played with as much grit as possible for a traditionally flop-laden FIFA World Cup match.

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Plenty of promising, good-looking crosses and opportunistic shots-on-goal from both teams gave way to intense and boozy cheers from the mob. Groups of fans from both teams squeezed closer together, closer to the TVs and closer to the bars, downing different colored shots, becoming giddier with anticipation as the game drew on. People who weren't friends became soul-mates. I watched around me, tried to take pictures, and eventually talked to a girl next to me I kept bumping when I lifted my beer named Molly (pictured with mock tears Pedro, below). She was standing by herself, had a strong little body, Argentina jersey, welcoming face, brown hair and bright smile.

"Why do you root for Argentina?" I asked her and she was quick to reconnect her Argentinean roots for me.

"I lived there for a while after college," she said, smiling when she spoke, both of us paying more attention to the game than each other. We were standing close to the smallest bar MacDinton’s has, the one facing the main entrance. Her American accent was thick, but she spoke in what sounded like impeccably authentic Spanish as she read texts from her Argentinean "family" to me. "VAMOOOOOOOSSS ARGENTINAAAA la puta madreeeeee," the last one said and she laughed and I laughed because I was proud to understand each word individually and tried to trick her and myself into thinking I could understand them as they were in a sentence.

Gonzolo Hinguein popped his left footed stinger through the lower corner of the German goal after that and the entire place erupted. I held up my iPhone to try and get pictures of everyone in the place feeling alive and lost. It was like a warm, immense broom swept comfortably through the bar and everyone was happy to be rolled up in its bristles. The immediate, instinctual mental synopses were firing: Argentina wins their third World Cup. The German machine fades into obscurity. Messi out from the Maradona shadow. Argentina wins on arch-nemesis’ (Brazilian) soil. Then, in a sobering instant, with the wave of a neon-colored flag from the line judge, the moment turns to ash. Offsides.

As the half drew closer, the bar-volume grew louder and the drinks began to settle more snugly within everyone’s bellies. People were riding as high as they would all match. Once Germany's Christoph Kramer took his slack-jawed shot to the temple (kids, taken note: the shots to the relaxed jaw, whether by punch, kick, tackle or ball, are always the knock-out blows) and time stopped for a few minutes, I went over to a tall, skinny, dark-haired German guy watching the game with his buxom American girlfriend.

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"That's gotta be a concussion," I said to him and he smiled a toothy, self-conscious grin and asked what I said. His name was Christian. He wore European men's capri pants and had the most bona fide Deutschland jersey I’d seen all day. He was an engineer from Germany continuing his education at USF Tampa, indeed had an American girlfriend, and agreed that the blow must have been a concussion.

"I've heard that a blast to the head from a soccer ball is at, on average, around 70 mph, and that a blast from a hit in football is only around 35 miles per hour," I said to him.

He still looked a little intimidated, like the young guy in a new country that he was, but he gathered himself gracefully for his response. "Yes, but it’s much less common in soccer," he said and I said, “Go Germany,” and navigated through the tight tubes of warm bodies until I found the bathroom. Before I walked in, in first half extra time, Benedikt Höwedes, of Germany, missed a point-blank header that nearly blew the roof off the building. The shot would have given Germany the lead and would have fit nicely within my recently dismissed concussion conversation, as the ball pinged off the crossbar with enough force to knock a big dog, skinny man, or obese toddler straight off their feet.

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The second half continued with the loudest voices of the afternoon. Everyone was still peaking. They started off humble, they would end up floating, but they were on-top of the high-dive now, and ready to plunge. Everywhere I looked were people, HD TVs, bar tops and booze. A loosely slung Rowdies banner was connected between two TVs. A huge projector showed the game in the middle of the bar to patrons who looked on like mesmerized moths. When I asked a serious and sweating bouncer at the front door if they’d reached max capacity yet, he said: “Real close. Real close.” A small British man with a jolly, drunken face squeezed through the crowd, chanting some song about some British Premier League team. A girl with colorful tattoos danced with her two friends like it was a game of ring-around-the-rosy. A big guy next to me with an Argentine jersey who looked like Ders from Workaholics seemed like a friendly politician.

"I grew up in Venezuela," Ders said to me, gently holding my arm and leaning in so I could hear him amongst the collective verbal heartbeat of the mob. "My grandmother is from Argentina though," he went on. His name was Pedro, he told me, and rolled the hell out of his tongue when he got to the little space between the d and r. He was a charming, good-looking guy with a pleasant attitude and accent. He told me, after he nodded his head with a smug face, like he was talking shit in a pick-up game, after I asked if Messi was as great an Argentine footballer as Maradona, that there were religions in parts of Argentina that prayed to the all-time great Argentinean attacking midfielder, Diego Maradona. I wondered to myself if the devotees sent letters to the still living Maradona or if they just hoped. Before I could fit it into the conversation, Pedro brought over his friend Dave, a resoundingly American man, middle aged, with pale skin and a German heritage shirt. He was as tall as Pedro, about 6-foot-3, but thick and well-built, like a Nordic keg-hurler fed a strict diet of penguin and puffin.

"I started playing in '82," Dave said. "I've been watching ever since. You should come by Saturday mornings. We come here every weekend at seven to watch the Premiere League games."

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The second half came and went with quite a few opportunities for both squads to put up some points. The cheers were still fervent, but it was clear the mob’s enthusiasm was waning. Despite the many close calls, the game was scoreless. The tension was inevitably building. The crowd was quiet now between cheers, no longer socializing like they had been, like they were in line, waiting for a school lunch. They’d eaten. They’d drunken. Now they were ready for some closure. And the closure came in the form of a gorgeous left-footed strike by substitute German midfielder Mario Gotze, or “Super Mario,” as everyone who is good, named Mario, and plays professional soccer abroad is called.

The score came in the 113th minute of extra time. Gotze fielded a cross from Bastian Schweinsteiger off his chest and then blasted it home before the ball even touched the ground. The bar erupted with its most violent explosion of excitement all match. Hands were up in the air, fists were pumping, people were hugging, drinks were spilling. And then it was over.

Germany had won the twentieth FIFA World Cup. It was Germany’s fourth World Cup Final victory. They were the First European team to win one across the Atlantic. Messi, for now, would remain in the Maradona shadow.

As the fans poured out of Estádio Maracanã in Rio, so too did they pour out of MacDinton’s in downtown St. Pete. 1st Street North looked as it always should: crowded, loud and cheerful, with a slight twinge of unpredictability. I slid out with the best and worst of them. My washing machine was broken and I had too much electric pumping through my veins to go home, so I hit up a Laundromat in Old Northeast, put in a couple loads, and wrote this story.

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Only World Cup Final to feature two countries who can both claim a living Pope (Benedict of Germany; Francis of Argentina)

Germany’s best scorer, Thomas Müller, looks frightening similar in body and face to the digitally animated Grendel, from 2006’s film adaptation of the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf

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