‘It’s the tea party, colonies thing’: New York soccer fans on USA v England

<span>Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The limitations of the “special relationship” were on display during England’s first round World Cup game with USA, as soccer fans in New York grappled with split allegiances to European club sports and the US national team.

In the end, a nil-nil result proved little – except that the outcome is profoundly un-American. “A tie is like kissing your sister,” said David Dunbar, a professor of New York history at Columbia University. “In America, you’ve got to win. We don’t do well with dichotomies, and ambiguity is a bad word – it makes us worried.”

At a packed-out English bar Dog & Bone on Manhattan’s Third Avenue many said the game, in which an England win would have guaranteed a place in the second round while a loss for the US would have made further progress in Qatar difficult, inspired mixed feelings – but only to a degree.

“Every team always needs to win. You can’t go into this with a mixed mindset because qualification is more assured,” said Kevin Clarke, a Chelsea supporter from London, who said he had seen the domestic game becoming more popular in the US.

Related: ‘We’re on track’: Southgate shields England players after tame USA draw

As in any match-up between two countries with closely intertwined histories, historical score-settling beneath expressions of competitive goodwill could also be inferred.

“I’d like to see England lose more than I’d like to America win,” said Leicester City fan Jordan Fox, 19, before the 90 minutes was up. “It’s the whole tea party, colonies thing. You guys never said sorry, so I’d be pleased if it never ‘comes home’ again.”

“It felt like a loss after the 6-2 win [against Iran],” said Scott Robertson, proprietor of the Dog & Bone. Southgate’s team, he added, didn’t play to win, “he played not to lose”. But at least it had been good for trade. “As a business owner, as long as we both go through, I’m happy.”

A win for the US would have established that the game is called soccer, not football, said Kamila Bergaliyeva, a medical student from Kazakhstan. Bergaliyeva had not expected a USA victory.

“We’re here knowing we’re probably going to lose. But if we win we want to be here for it,” she said, adding that it was fun to see so many British fans dropping their reputation for emotional reserve. “Very out of character,” Bergaliyeva noted.

Next door, at Fitzgerald’s Pub, patrons were almost exclusively pro-US. As the scoreless half-time whiskey approached Dunbar said the outcome of the game matters more to the US “because you guys have been doing it for so long – it’s your national game”.

Dunbar’s father had played for the American team in the year the US last beat England. And that was in 1950. “The subculture of soccer in America is now permanent,” he added. “The US played well, and we’re a young team that’s trying to establish itself for the future. We’re looking four years ahead.”

A win now against Iran is essential for the USA to get through – a match that will come with its own historical and political complications.