Soccer bars are places where everybody knows not only your name, but probably also your favorite club.
“When I walk in here, there are guys who have nicknames,” Russ Heaton said from a bar stool at Doyle’s Public House, which he owns. “It’s ‘Mattie Fulham,’ because if you said ‘Matt,’ people would say, ‘Which Matt? Mattie Fulham or Mattie Stoke?’ They’re synonymous with who they are.”
Fulham and Stoke, as anyone likely to walk into Doyle’s would know, are English soccer clubs. And Doyle’s is a soccer pub in Tacoma’s Stadium District. Heaton created it 10 years ago — a World Cup year — as a South Sound version of Seattle’s George & Dragon — and Northwest soccer fans bow their heads when that name is spoken.
Geography aside, neither is that far removed from other soccer bars across the world and across the decades. Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid knew them while growing up in Germany. Former Tacoma Stars coach Alan Hinton did too, while growing up in England.
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“I joined Wolves as a 15-year-old apprentice professional full-time,” Hinton said. “I used to go across the cricket club and the tennis club — which was across the street from where I was lucky enough to live. You could go into the pub when you were 16, so you started off with a couple of beers — but it wasn’t 100 percent beer, it was half beer half lemonade, called a shandy. And then you developed into a few beers.”
In a general sense, that isn’t specific to soccer. Most fans of most sports enjoy gathering together. Why else would they pay $10 for a stadium beer? Why else would they pay for tickets and parking when their couch is free? Why else would there be enough Super Bowl parties to turn that Sunday into something like a national holiday?
But with soccer, the merger of food, drink and fellowship comes together in a distinct way. NFL fans have sports bars — some even growing into national chains. But soccer fans have pub culture.
“When you gather for spirituous occasions — whether a wedding or a wake — there is usually alcohol,” Heaton said. “The same would be true for games. … That’s the pub culture that we try to create. You want to share that experience.”
The link between soccer and beer has led at least two brewers to create special beers for specific supporters’ groups. Nick Crandall, Redhook’s innovation brewer, worked with Emerald City Supporters to create No Equal Blonde, which recently won a gold medal at the Washington Beer Awards. Meanwhile, Big Al Brewing owner Alejandro Brown created Civ’s Session IPA for Gorilla FC, where he is a member.
“My motto is basically, ‘Family, friends, soccer, repeat,’ ” Brown said. “That’s my world. Combining beer and soccer is definitely a dream come true.”
Both brewers consulted supporters before concocting their recipes. Yet, they created significantly different ales: a blonde from Redhook, an India pale from Big Al. However, the brewers agreed there are certain issues to consider when brewing for Sounders supporters, rather than, say, Seahawks fans.
For one, Major League Soccer runs through the heart and heat of summer, while the NFL is fall and winter. Also, soccer matches dart from first kick to final whistle in two hours, while the NFL generally tops three hours before the two-minute warning. And for that matter, it’s also relevant that the NFL has a two-minute warning — along with huddles and timeouts and stoppages for replays — while soccer plays out over two uninterrupted halves.
“Soccer fans don’t like getting up from their seats for 45 minutes at a time,” Brown said. “In baseball and football you have so many breaks that you can run out, grab a beer, come back and not miss anything.”
Meanwhile, back at Doyle’s, there’s a different kind of brewing to consider: coffee. Heaton remembers his own evenings, sleeping in his car near the George & Dragon while waiting for matches nine time zones ahead. So now he makes sure Doyle’s is ready for fans seeking out those sunrise games from Europe. These fans, he has noticed, have their own pattern: coffee first, breakfast a few minutes into the match, then maybe a pint or two.
“There isn’t like this need to have a drink,” he said. “But if you’re a passionate fan — and it’s really hard to find the nonpassionate fan when you’re waking up at 6 in the morning to come see a game — you almost use the sedative nature of it to calm you down a little bit. If you’re at the game, you can release, you can yell.”
While the Doyle’s customers are 21 and older, Sounders FC tries to accommodate a fan base spanning pub culture to soccer families. They want everyone to feel welcome at CenturyLink Field; and owner Adrian Hanauer says the numbers indicate a good balance is being struck. Attendance is high, in-stadium problems are low. Old-style soccer hooliganism is next to nonexistent.
Hinton remembers those darker days of fan vandalism and violence. He cites the mid-1970s as the darkest, accompanying economic tough times in England.
He hears no echo of it these days in visits to soccer pubs such as Doyle’s or Atlantic Crossing in Seattle, the Berliner in Renton or the Manor Arms in Ballard. The Far Post Sports Bar at the Tacoma Soccer Center even lets recreational players watch their own games on video.
“I talk to the fans, I sing to the fans, and we have a good old time,” Hinton said. “… I like to go to the pubs that serve shepherd’s pie: a couple of beers, shepherd’s pie, jolly up with the fans, makes you feel good. Especially, when the Sounders score: The place goes nuts.”
And that’s the point of pub culture. There is beer at the corner store. There could be beer in the fridge. Soccer pubs add their own kind of brew.
“In Germany, even in the small towns — a town of 3,000 people — they’ve got their soccer field and they’ve got their soccer club,” Schmid said. “It just becomes a gathering place. … It’s a lot more fun sometimes watching the game with 20, 30, 40 people, and you’re all into the same thing and making noise, rather than watching the game by yourself with your dog. So it’s more for the camraderie than anything else.”
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