“Americans play baseball, and American football and basketball. I always thought they didn’t care about soccer,” said Nicaraguan college student Stefan Platteau.
However, in Tenleytown on a sunny September afternoon, just before a Champion’s League match between Spanish superclub Real Madrid and Turkish side Galatasaray, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
The neighborhood swarmed with team spirit. Almost a dozen fans could be seen walking around in Madrid jerseys and fan scarves on their way to the game. Inside Kitty O’Shea’s, a local Irish pub and a hotspot for international soccer fans, the atmosphere was just as excited, which, for many international students, came as a shock.
“Since I left Paraguay, I’ve just been waking up really early and watching the games on my computer. I never thought this many people would want to come watch, at least not here,” said American University student Michael Kovich.
However the scene was different than the way most international fans would picture it. As kickoff approached, a flurry of waiters scrambled around the tables carrying trays of “fish n’ chips” and tall glasses of beer to a packed room of roughly 40 tense fans as they waited for the starting whistle.
“Now on game days, I always come here, and most of my friends do, too. This is the closest I’ve gotten to the feeling back home,” said Platteau.
Platteau, who works for a Dutch family in the neighborhood, gave his own reason for why the area is becoming so popular for soccer fans.
“The father of the family I babysit for is a huge Barcelona fan, so he teaches that to his kids. They have the jerseys, the posters — everything. So he’s basically raising them to be fans. A lot of their friends’ families are like that too,” said Platteau.
Kovich said, “I think the reason why soccer is so popular here and not other parts of America is because DC has so many international people. It helps us remember home to cheer for our favorite club, because it’s what we would be doing there.”
This is why Kovich, and other fans like him, come Kitty O’Shea’s for what they feel is an authentic experience. The two televisions displaying simultaneous matches complement the old soccer jerseys hung up on the wall behind the bar. This simple decor helps recreate the atmosphere of a real british pub. For some, the similarity is uncanny.
“This is almost exactly how the pubs were when I visited London. Some were pretty ratty but the beer was always good and the TV was always on soccer–it was setup to have a good time,” said Allen Nguyen, coach of AU Men’s Club Soccer team.
For Nguyen, it is this likeness that draws so many international fans.
“A lot of the guys on the team aren’t from the United States, so they’re shocked when they see this place, but they can always find fans of the same club whenever we come, sometimes even from their country,” said Nguyen.