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England had a game, but first their fans had a mission: find beer

Beer and football are frequent companions, but never more than when it comes to the English (photos: Erin Schaff /New York Times)
Beer and football are frequent companions, but never more than when it comes to the English (photos: Erin Schaff /New York Times)

Faced with the ominous prospect of tolerating an entire World Cup match without alcohol after Qatari authorities banned the sale of beer in and around stadiums, Matthew Wyatt did what any England fan would do in a similar emergency. He implemented his emergency plan.

“He was under pressure to find a suitable facility,” explained his friend Mel Kenny.

One option was to consult the ‘Qatar Alcohol Map‘, a list of drinking places that had been devised by a concerned American and was spreading like samizdat [que es como el régimen soviético llamó a la literatura que consideraban prohibida] as fans poured into this small, mostly alcohol-free nation. But Wyatt and Kenny headed to the red lion, a pub tucked away discreetly inside a Doha hotel, and one that the Daily Star, a British tabloid, kindly reported, offered “beer-hungry English aficionados an oasis of alcohol in the desert.” Was already full of other fans.

Fans from many countries enjoy beer with their football, of course. Americans and Argentines, Germans and Mexicans and (mostly) everywhere. But for the English it is different.

Fans of the English team gather at the Red Lion, a pub hidden discreetly inside a hotel, before heading out to watch their team's match against Iran
Fans of the English team gather at the Red Lion, a pub hidden discreetly inside a hotel, before heading out to watch their team’s match against Iran

“In my life, I have never seen a sober English football fansaid a 36-year-old fan named Simon, who declined to give his last name, perhaps because he wasn’t exactly sober himself. As for alcohol and England matches, he said: “I think the word is ‘essential’ or ‘mandatory’ or various other synonyms.”

Or, as Brad Hirst, who had come from Burnley, a suburb of Manchester, put it: “If you can’t drink, what good is it?”.

“Oasis” was a way of describing the Red Lion. On Monday, it looked like some sort of Green Zone for English fans trying to drink as much as they could before heading to Al Rayyan’s Khalifa International Stadium, where their team was scheduled to play Iran. (They then joyfully serenaded their team as they won, 6-2.)

Every fan had their own way of approaching it.

we are hydratingWyatt said, referring to the many empty beer bottles and the many full bottles of water at his booth. “Just as he says in the instructions that the British embassy sent us.”

Dressed as Saint George, the patron saint of England, Paul Farrell leaves the Red Lion pub
Dressed as Saint George, the patron saint of England, Paul Farrell leaves the Red Lion pub

A couple of tables over, Gary Douglas, 52, was measuring time in pint glasses. “We got here six beers ago,” he said.

Douglas and his friend Neil Tattersall, 43, were inspecting their second round, six more glasses, three each, arranged in a row. (“I’m too lazy to get in line every time,” Tattersall said of buying in bulk.) They thought they had another hour, give or take.

Fans had a nuanced view of the sudden no-beer rule at the World Cup. Many said they felt it was important to respect Qatari culture and didn’t really mind giving up alcohol during the match, as this is a common rule in Premier League stadiums and elsewhere in Europe.

But the sudden decree had taken them by surprise because it interfered with their long-term planning to drink before the games. And they resented being deprived of the opportunity to drink and socialize near the stadium as the match approached, a ritual that regularly brings together supporters of different teams.usually mortal enemies, before matches at home and abroad.

England fans said it's important to stay hydrated before matches
England fans said it’s important to stay hydrated before matches

The new regulation in Qatar meant they had to drink more in a shorter period of time, followed by too long a period without beer. (Except water. Or Budweiser Zero, whose name he speaks for itself.)

We’re drinking five bottles at a time, instead of pacing ourselves, which isn’t a good idea.”, admitted Hirst, 32.

Qatar has strict rules on alcohol and has relaxed them to allow World Cup fans to drink at specially designated times and places. But visitors are still not allowed to smuggle bottles of liquor into hotels to drink clandestinely before hitting the streets. Nor can you and your companions parade en masse, drunk through the city spilling beer, chanting incoherently or insulting people from other countries.

It’s hard for English fans to abandon these activities, which are so much a part of their football culture, even if the worst days of football hooliganism are in the past.

To deny an Englishman a beer is to starve him to deathsaid Kenny, who mentioned (multiple times) that he had turned 50 that same day.

© The New York Times 2022

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