Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
The limits of the ‘special relationship’ were evident during England’s World Cup first-round match with the United States, as New York soccer fans clashed with divided alliances between European clubs and the team national of the United States.
In the end, a result of zero proved little except that the result is deeply un-American. “A tie is like kissing your sister,” said David Dunbar, a New York history professor at Columbia University. “In America, you have to win. We don’t do well with dichotomies and ambiguity is a bad word: it worries us.
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At a busy English Dog & Bone bar on Manhattan’s Third Avenue many said the match, in which a win for England would guarantee a place in the second round while a defeat for the United States would make further progress in Qatar difficult, inspired mixed feelings, but only up to a point.
“Every team always needs to win. You can’t go into this with a mixed mindset because qualifying is safer,” said Kevin Clarke, a supporter of London’s Chelsea, who said he has seen the domestic match become more popular in the United States.
As in any encounter between two countries with closely intertwined histories, a historic settlement under expressions of competitive goodwill could also be inferred.
“I would like to see England lose more than I would like America to win,” said Leicester City fan Jordan Fox, 19, before the end of 90 minutes. “It’s all the tea party, the cologne thing. You guys never said sorry, so I’d be happy if he never comes home again.
“It felt like a defeat after the 6-2 victory [against Iran]said Scott Robertson, owner of the Dog & Bone. Southgate’s team, he added, didn’t play to win, “they played not to lose”. But at least it had been useful for trade. “As an entrepreneur, as long as we both move forward, I’m happy.”
A victory for the United States would have established that the game is called football, not soccer, said Kamila Bergaliyeva, a medical student from Kazakhstan. Bergaliyeva did not expect a US victory.
“We are here knowing that we will probably lose. But if we win, that’s what we want to be here for,” she said, adding that it was funny to see so many British fans lose their reputation as an emotional reserve. “Very out of character,” Bergaliyeva noted.
Next door, at Fitzgerald’s Pub, the patrons were almost exclusively pro-American. As the goalless whiskey of half-time approached, Dunbar said the outcome of the match matters most to the United States “because you guys have been doing it for so long – it’s your national game.”
Dunbar’s father had played for the American team the year the United States last beat England. And that was 1950. “The soccer subculture in America is now permanent,” he added. “The United States played well and we are a young team who are looking to establish themselves for the future. Let’s look forward four years.”
A victory now against Iran is essential to get the US through, a game that will come with its historical and political complications.