26 June 2010

Ghana x USA, San Leandro, CA

When I saw Robert Reid’s article listing Ricky’s Bar in San Leandro, CA as one of the Top Ten places to watch the World Cup my first reaction was huh? Ricky’s Bar is still around? But since I had yet to find much of anywhere to watch the Cup, and seeing as the US was playing in the second round, I decided to give it a go.
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When searching for places to get your groove on in the San Francisco Bay Area, the city of San Leandro is not at the top of anyone’s list. Possibly not even on any list at all. True, Ricky’s is not that far from where the Oakland Raiders play ball, and it did have a rep for the place players hung out, but I thought that was all in the past. The last time I had been in there was to apply for a bartending job at a time when very few bars, no matter the extent of your skills, were hiring women to mix cocktails and pull beer. I vaguely remember being laughed at and swearing I would never set foot in there again. I broke that vow today and stepped back in time.
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Ricky’s is your basic ‘70’s sports bar; dark wood paneling, dark lighting, framed/signed players shirts and pictures, neon signs, and not a window to be found. Since cigs have been outlawed in California bars, it did not have that familiar, homey, stench of tobacco mixed with beer, but otherwise you’d think it was 1975. That is were it not for the TV screens of which there were probably about one hundred, lining the walls, running along the sides of the three big screens, and sitting on the bar. Not to mention the 3D TV area.
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With thirty minutes before game time, the place was nearly filled to capacity. I found a little niche to sit in where I got a good view of one of the big screens and at least thirty TV’s. I wasn’t quite sure where to look.
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This was a different crowd than the last time I’d watched the US play and I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be to anything. For a minute there I was scared that they might all stand up when they played the Star Spangled Banner. They didn’t, but they did applaud at the end.
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With the game under way I began to notice that although everyone seemed to be watching, they didn’t seem to be involved. They kind of acted like people watching a tennis match. When Ghana scored at 5 minutes I was just about to jump out of my seat when I noticed that no one else in the entire place was moving and quickly reigned in my enthusiasm.
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Yes, I am American and yes, I was rooting for Ghana. I like it when these countries that have precious little prevail in sporting events, especially when their entire country is backing their team.
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The first half was enough for me at Ricky’s and I was off to another place just down the road, this one an English Pub. It was sheer heaven to get out into the hot, sunny mid-day weather. One does not take sunshine for granted in this part of the world. Just two days before it had been 50F/10C and the sun never did break through the fog.
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I was just pulling into the parking lot of The Englander Sports Pub when I heard an eruption of screams from patrons sitting in the outdoor areas. Team USA must have scored. When I got inside I saw that the score was still 1x0 Ghana, but that the fans here were hooting and hollering at every touch, pass, kick, and foul.
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People lined up five deep in front of the bar watching the line of TV screens above all those taps of beers and booze. Two rooms branched off either side with more rows of TV’s. It looked as if one room led into yet another, but about all I could see were bodies. There was no chance of finding a seat but I didn’t care; it was simply so wonderful to be amongst the football enlightened. The place virtually shook when the US scored.
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Being kind of short and starting to get a bit mashed by bodies, I went back to the entrance and peered into the two outer viewing areas. I turned my head when I thought I heard people chanting for Ghana and quickly made a beeline in the direction of the small group standing outside and at the back of another room with a big screen. I had found the Kenyan contingent who were rooting for the last African team still alive in the Cup. I was home.
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It has been said, called out one of the self-appointed leaders,
.It has been said,
replied the group of about twenty,
It has been said,
.It has been said,
That David beat Goliath,
.That David beat Goliath
...

As soon as one chant finished, another would start; There is a story…..
Or more simply a call and reply of Eh, eh, Ah, ah,……
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Someone arrived with a vuvuleza and immediately a chant started with
Vuvuleza, ah, Vuvuleza, oh….
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All this was accompanied by dance steps, shoulder shrugs, and laughter. Everyone was super friendly and was pleased I had joined their small band. When I told one woman I was from the area she asked “but from what country originally?” Said I was American but always pulled for the small countries. Three young women from Venezuela cheered and chanted like they were born in Ghana.
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Every now and then a USA,USA,USA chant would go up in friendly defiance of all the Ghana noise, and would always end with smiles. I was pleased to see that even the most ardent US fans were truly enjoying the rhythms and singing of the Ghanaian supporters.
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All of this continued throughout the entire second half, overtime, and after the match had finished. I didn’t really want to leave all the fun of my adopted friends, and told them I’d be back for the next match. They thanked me for supporting Ghana; I thanked them for letting me join in. We shook hands, hugged and the lady I had spoken to at the beginning said, “Thank you for supporting the small countries”.
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This is definitely the way the World Cup should be watched.

Kate

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