Shorewood — The US soccer team suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Belgians Tuesday, July 1, putting an end to a rollercoaster World Cup ride that bonded so many soccer fans across the Milwaukee area over the last several weeks.
Nowhere was soccer fandom so loud and loyal in the North Shore than at Shorewood's Three Lions Pub, which is owned by two die-hard British soccer fans, David Price and Chris Tinker. At the end of the game, Price stood on a chair and thanked the packed bar of soccer fans for all of their support and loyalty throughout the tournament.
Standing among vintage English soccer collectibles, a Liverpool soccer club flag and a portrait of the Queen, Price cheered the U.S. team up until the last second of overtime, leading the crowd in one last chance of "USA! USA! USA!" before stepping down from the chair.
Although Three Lions has gained incredible popularity for its soccer culture since it opened in December 2010, this was the bar's first World Cup. In a year that has some sports writers proclaiming a resurgence in American soccer culture, Price said the fandom he saw in Three Lions during this year's World Cup was like nothing he has seen since he moved to the states in 2003.
"Quite simply, I am so thankful for what we have here. I had season tickets in England, and I've been at all of the big games," he said. "I will say that the atmosphere we've created here for the USA games and England games rivals, if not betters, the atmosphere of some of the best pubs of Europe. We are just so grateful that we are able to give everyone a common living room to come and unite and support the team."
At his previous bar, The Brit Inn, Price said a World Cup game would attract maybe 50 people. This year, the bar has reached capacity for every U.S. soccer game, leaving dozens of soccer fans watching from a television screen on the sidewalk.
Perched on a window seat, Chris Chiappa, of Whitefish Bay, said he has seen soccer evolve from a fuzzy oddity on Channel 36 to a well-advertised television event on major cable networks. Chiappa said more young people are being exposed to the game, and now they are passing it down to their kids.
"You used to be able to go anywhere to watch the game, and now you have to get here three or four hours early to get a seat," he said. "At the last World Cup, we showed up 20 minutes before the game and we were fine."
In gearing up for the World Cup, Three Lions Pub tried to speed up the renovations they are making at their expanded space at the former Big Bay Brewing tasting room next door. Although the renovations couldn't be completed in time for the tournament, they were able to open an extra room with seating for 66 additional people.
Shorewood resident Jeff Jara was the first to claim his spot in the room for Tuesday's soccer game. Jara was one of the first customers to walk through the door at Three Lions when they opened more than three years ago, and he has remained a regular for all of the big soccer matches.
Jara, who has toured extensively across Europe, said he has been pleasantly surprised to see pictures of American soccer fans filling stadiums to watch the event. Even in Milwaukee, city officials were forced to close Brady Street on June 22 as an estimated 15,000 people showed up to cheer the U.S. team over Portugal at Nomad World Pub.
"The idea of watching a televised event in a stadium with other people I think is unique to soccer because soccer is such a communal sport — more communal than any other sport," Jara said.
Whitefish Bay resident Kyle Charters also attributes the rise of soccer fandom to a cultural shift of a younger generation. The U.S. advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 2002, but that didn't seem to light a lasting fire in the belly of sports fans at the time. This year, the U.S. team didn't compete as well, but the fan activity was unprecedented.
"We were still kids in 2002, so we watched it or we didn't watch it because our parents put it on or they didn't put it on," he said. "I think soccer is going to continue to grow because we are the first generation where as many kids played soccer as they did football, and now we are getting to the point where it's showing with our support for the World Cup."
But soccer is not just a young person's game. One of the first-year fans at Three Lions Pub was Shorewood Library Director Beth Carey. Even though this is her first year watching the World Cup, she said she has gotten hooked, watching all four of the U.S. games at Three Lions Pub.
"There's nothing like everybody watching the same sport, pooling together and cheering simultaneously," Carey said. "It's just a lot of fun."
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