Villager photo by Bonnie Rosenstock
Mexican and South African fans at Nevada Smiths cheered on their teams Friday during their game, which ended in a 1-1 tie. The South African fans, of course, were sounding their deafening vuvuzela horns — which produce the angry bee-swarm sound heard in the background of the games. Though the horns have been linked to hearing loss, they are giving the South African side the home-field advantage, making it impossible for the opposing team to hear each other’s directions.
Is taking over soccer mecca N.Y.U.’s latest go-o-o-o-oal!?
By Bonnie Rosenstock
“We don’t use the ‘S’ word here,” declared Nevada Smiths manager Jack D. Keane, correcting The Villager’s faux pas use of “soccer” instead of “football,” the latter used throughout the globe except on these shores. Keane and owner Thomas McCarthy have been serving up nonstop football coverage — 100 games per week year-round — and a lot of beer for the last 17 years at their iconic East Village establishment at 74 Third Ave.
With the monthlong World Cup in full swing — the first two games, South Africa versus Mexico and Uruguay versus France, were played on June 11, and the finals will take place on July 11 — Keane declared in his lilting County Kerry brogue that it is probably the last championship viewing at this location. Rumor has it that the block is going to be taken over by New York University and the buildings will be razed, he said, so he and McCarthy expect to be here a year or two longer at the most.
“We haven’t put together a business plan yet,” Keane said. “But when the time comes, we will be ready to go,” he said in an interview the day before the start of the games.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, is also aware of these rumors, but in an e-mail he wrote that there is no proof that it is N.Y.U. — “and in fact, they have denied it,” he said.
“Whoever it is, at least with the rezoning we are getting passed covering those blocks, it will make whatever gets built there somewhat less offensive,” Berman said, referring to the proposed rezoning of Third and Fourth Aves. between Ninth and 13th Sts.
Under the current zoning there is no maximum height; hence, the 26-story N.Y.U. dorm on E. 12th St.
“We tried for 80 feet or lower, but City Planning refused,” Berman stated. “The new zoning going through the public approval process — it will take a few months — is for a height limit of 120 feet, as far as we could get them to go. For about three years, they refused to consider any changes at all.”
On this stretch of Third Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts. there is the Loews Village VII multiplex; Nevada Smiths; Yummy House, a Chinese restaurant; and a large outdoor parking lot. Keane added that, regardless, they plan to stay in the neighborhood.
“We were going to move anyway,” he said. “We need to be much bigger and better.”
Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement, kicked away claims that the university is hoping to score a purchase of the Third Ave. strip.
“It’s complete rubbish,” Hurley said. “Perhaps the vuvuzela horns of the World Cup were distorting the ability to hear and think clearly.”
“Football is a game [like] oxygen is a gas,” the signs on the bar’s window read. Their official T-shirt puts it more reverently: “Football is a religion,” a sentiment echoed by “Pedro” (not his real name), originally from Mexico City, who took Friday off from work, as did most of his compatriots who filled the bar, to cheer on their national team against South Africa, the host country.
“It’s a religious holiday; it’s not a game,” he asserted.
Sebastian, a German with a day job and a footballer with the New York Soccer League on weekends, concurred. He was taking the month off to travel around Europe to watch the games in different countries.
“The World Cup is festive. It’s like observing a religious day. I come to Nevada Smiths every day I can. It’s the best football bar in New York,” he said, screaming for Mexico to win.
For the cup’s 64 matches, the bar expects 100,000 people of all races and nationalities to come through the door.
“It’s like an airport,” said Keane, full of nervous energy, as he darted between sentences and phrases to wait on customers, answer the incessant phone calls and ring up the register, with the agility and grace of a footballer.
Nevada Smiths, named after the title of a movie starring Steve McQueen, is a home away from home for expats and visiting foreigners, who make up the majority of patrons. Only the World Cup brings in the natives.
“The games are packed. It doesn’t matter what the nationality. Everyone gets on with each other. It’s brilliant,” said Paul O’Callaghan, vacationing from London.
After the 1-1 tie, Mexicans and South Africans in the bar shook hands, traded jokes and took photos together. If making noise were the criterion for a team to win, it would also be a draw. The Mexicans and their supporters clearly outnumbered the small contingent of South Africans. But the latter were armed with the vuvuzela, a traditional African horn, “aimed to make a s--- load of noise,” said a tall blond South African.
For Saturday’s long-awaited match — or rematch — between the U.S. and England, The Villager hopped over to Central Bar, at 109 E. Ninth St., between Third and Fourth Aves., since it was impossible to get into Nevada Smiths. On the ground floor of the Irish-owned pub, patrons were packed in like sardines, but the upstairs room, reserved for a charity event, was cool and airy. Sponsored by Silly Beards Productions, a $30 contribution was to pay for a target number of 1,000 soccer balls for school kids on the Lower East Side, said organizer Paul Sewards (www.sillybeards.com). A limited amount of tickets were sold to avoid overcrowding — about 200 people — but geopolitics were in evidence at the “You Like Tomato, I like Tomahto” benefit.
The two rivals hadn’t faced each other for 60 years, since the underdog American team stunned the world with a 1-0 win over the then “Kings of Football.” It’s a statistic that still annoys Roger Gilmartin, an Irish-American brought up in Manchester, who favors England.
“Must they [the announcers] keep bringing that up?” he growled. Clearly, the Yanks were in the majority here, shouting at pivotal moments with fists raised, “We won the Revolution!” Contrary to Gilmartin and his family, most British Islanders favored the Yanks — although Indians supported Britain. A resolute Scotsman who was backing the U.S. side declared, “Fourteen hundred years of rape and pillage. That’s all I need to say.”
The strong American team, ranked number 14 in the world, compared to England’s number 8, pulled off a 1-1 tie, satisfying the American supporters and disappointing the English fans. As for fan enthusiasm, Nevada Smiths wins hands down. People were decked out in flags, team colors, team jerseys, painted faces and all manner of frippery and froufrou. The festive atmosphere spilled over to East Village nightspots until the wee hours of the morning.
So who does Keane think will take the World Cup? Like most cognoscenti, he felt the odds-on favorite was Spain, “La Furia Roja” (the Red Fury), “if you think with your head,” he said. “They have loads of talent, and they were the European champions in 2008. The team is psyched, which gives them an edge.”
But you can never rule out Argentina, Brazil, Germany or England, he noted.
“Argentina can take it on the pitch [the field] if they calm down. They guarantee drama. Germany are masters of tournament football. Italy [the reigning 2006 World Cup champions] has a great goalkeeper [Gianluigi Buffon] with the same personnel, but it’s a different team [a lot older]. England has the best generation of players, but they have injuries. If [striker Wayne] Rooney is on, he can carry it.”
Rooney was a non-factor in the game against the U.S., only coming to life toward the end as England desperately tried to push for a win.
“There are always ifs and buts in this game,” Keane noted. And like in any religion, the gods work in mysterious ways.