A not insignificant reason that I moved to the Czech Republic was the 2006 World Cup. The quadrennial football tournament was being held in nearby Germany. Both the Czech Republic and the United States had decent teams. And I wanted to experience the event in Europe (read: watch games in a festive environment with plenty of Czech beer).
It definitely was a monthlong life experience. I watched the first game on Staroměstské náměstí in Prague with a cousin (then tried slivovice and, the next day, sweated through teaching my first ever English lesson). A week later, I stopped in at a random bar and was shocked to have a topless waitress ask for my order (suffice it to say I stayed for the second game that night). Then, unable to watch the Finals, I talked my summer camp into briefly postponing its nightly meeting so that we could hear the end of the game on the radio, including the infamous headbutt that led to a red card for Zinedine Zidane and the eventual victory by Italy.
* * *
I would argue that the World Cup is the perfect event for the expat community.
It brings out national pride in summer weather. Football is easy to understand and slow enough to allow for conversation. The Olympics don’t have the same communal experience because there are no crazy crowds for curling in the winter or the marathon in the summer. Rugby attracts an expat audience, but it is neither as popular nor as widespread. Football is everywhere, and I’ve met more foreigners through watching football games than in any other way.
This year the World Cup will be in Russia. It starts on Thursday, June 14 when Russia plays Saudi Arabia. There are 32 teams that will each play three games in one of eight groups. Half the teams advance to the Knockout Phase. The finals will be in Moscow on July 15.
In all, there will be 64 games and pretty much every bar will have them on television.
Unfortunately, the Czech Republic did not qualify for this World Cup. (Neither did the United States.) However, there are plenty of countries that have a large expat community in Brno that will attract a crowd for each of its games, specifically the Russians, the French and the Spanish.
* * *
My first real tangible experience with the World Cup was also my first real experience with Italians. It was 1994 when the United States hosted. I was a month-out of-college sports reporter for a newspaper south of Seattle. I needed a story. So, like this blog post, I decided to look for a place to feel some international excitement.
That is how I found a little restaurant run by an Italian immigrant family. I watched the quarterfinals against Spain and they let me in on the emotional rollercoaster. When Roberto Baggio scored the winning goal in the 88th minute, the restaurant owner said, through tears, that she felt God. You don’t get quotes like those every day.
Since then, I have always tried to go to appropriate bars and restaurants to watch games. In 2002, a friend and I went into Manhattan for several all-nighters to different late-night bars to watch the action from Korea and Japan. I watched the US beat Mexico in the Round of 16 in what could be argued as the corporate sports entertainment heart of American: ESPN SportsZone in Times Square. For the finals, a Brazilian friend and I went to a restaurant in Little Brazil. The game started at 7 a.m. New York time, yet the place was absolutely packed. When Brazil won, the fans poured out into the street and a meters-long Brazilian flag appeared for everyone to dance around with.
In 2014, I watched several games at a resort in Greece on a brand-new big screen television that was purchased specifically for the event. We had to fight off Russian tourists for the best seats, but many other nationalities came out to share in the communal experience (read: drink free beer as part of the all-inclusive package).
* * *
Should you want to mix with different nationalities, there will be a lot of opportunities in Brno during this World Cup. The most popular choices, which generally have English-language menus and staff, are the following (in alphabetical order), including location, website address and reservation phone number(s):
- Aréna Sport – Bar (Hybešova 259/21), http://www.sportbar-arena.cz, 543 212 506 or 702 157 564
- Charlies Square (Římské náměstí), http://www.charliessquare.cz/, 778 439 437
- Erin’s Flag Irish Bar (Biskupská 246/3), https://www.facebook.com/erinsflag, 603 333 348
- The Immigrant (Veveří 57), www.theimmigrant.cz, Reservation (+420) 792 202 231 and Pub (+420) 530 349 394, email@example.com
- Kometa Pub Arena (Under DRFG Arena; Křídlovická 911/34), http://arena.kometapub.cz/, 543 420 042
- Kometa Pub (Kounicova 685/20), http://kounicova.kometapub.cz/, 530 325 808
- Tusto (Nové sady 25), http://titanium.tusto.cz/, 511 189 955
This is not a complete list, just a taste of the places that I personally know about as good places to watch sports in a festive environment. Please add additional places in the comments below.
There are many more one-television local bars that will no doubt show each game. A Google or Facebook search will provide more information, especially when the tournament gets closer.
* * *
If you want to practice being a fan for the World Cup, the sports world will gather on Saturday (May 26) for the Champions League Final. Liverpool, which has a large and devoted following both locally and internationally, will play against Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Here’s to hoping that you will never walk alone if you want to watch international football in the next couple months in Brno.