The halftime beer rush: part of the English football experience

"American John" between our new friend and the lovely and well-bundled Stephana at Fulham's nearby pub

LONDON, England – I sometimes poke fun at soccer fans in our land. Well, to be more specific, at some Americans who attend soccer matches.

There is a distinction: “Proper fans” understand how to watch a match. “Visitors” frequently do not, God love ‘em.

The proper way to watch a match that lasts just 90 minutes is, of course, to take your seat, turn your gaze toward the field and actually absorb what’s happening in front of you. Leave all the boozin’, babe watching and buffet bustin’ for the before, the halftime and the after. Not necessarily in that order.

The rows, seats and aisles in the United States are often a regular buzzing beehive of activity, even during the match. Some fans just can’t wait until halftime for their slice of pizza and 16 oz. of soda goodness. I just chuckle.

Well, here’s the other side of it, the one advantage to being a “visitor” rather than “supporter”: the mad, Benny Hill-type halftime rush at the venerable England grounds.

Our little group went to Fulham’s Craven Cottage on Saturday. (I’ll post just a bit more on the match itself later.)  My friend – who will now be known as American John due to a nice man we met before the game at the pub – lives nearby and is a Cottagers’ season ticket holder. So he hits the Golden Lion, the unofficially official supporters’ pub I suppose, before matches. We had one there (but declined the mercilessly overcooked burger, as we’ve been here before.)

We got another beer at the grounds, finishing up as I made my 11/5 wager on the draw at the on-ground betting shop.  (Ka-ching!)

American John (also known in my friends’ circle as “Carl” … but that’s another story) announced just before halftime that he was getting up a couple minutes early to grab everyone a halftime beer.

You see, that truly is a formidable exercise, a challenge that demands planning, decisive action, and the kind of precision timing seen only in special forces operation and on pit row of NASCAR tracks. 

Almost everyone on site at an English football ground – with the exception of a few pitifully underdressed hoochie mama types, who dismiss the blustery cold and truly sacrifice their delicate lady skin in order show a little more of it – is there to actually see the game and cheer, cheer, cheer for the home team. So they all remain happily tethered to their seats for the 45-minute duration, and almost everyone has the same plan, one weighted beautifully with Homer Simpson-esque simplicity: get a beer at halftime!

So upon halftime whistle, there is an explosion of humanity at the overmatched service areas reserved for beer sales. One moment, it’s calm as a chapel on Saturday night. The next, hundreds of men aged 18-68 are smashed together like rush hour on a Tokyo subway, ablaze in anxiety, hoping against hope to be one of the lucky lads to actually claim a precious halftime beer.

As American John said: “If you don’t leave your seat a minute or so early, then there’s about a 30-second window of opportunity during that rush to the beer stand. After that, you’re probably out of luck.” 

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