THE BIGGEST MATCH IN THE FOOTBALL WORLD: Watching the grass grow

Nothing illustrates better the grip that English club football exercises on supporters across the globe than the clamour to see the FA Cup final. Independent correspondents shared the Wembley experience with fans from Sydney to Nairobi
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The Independent Online
Walking bleary-eyed into the Cat n' Fiddle as the dawn of yet another rainless day broke over Sunset Boulevard brought sudden pangs for warm beer and sodden English afternoons.

Here was a little British corner of Hollywood, echoing with cries of "Shut up you w---er", and "Send the f---er off".

"It's a strange sensation," said Ilt Jones, a location manager with Columbia Pictures who left Britain eight years ago, standing with about 100 people gathered round three televisions. "There's something surreal about standing here at 7am in the morning with a pint of Guinness in your hand."

The Cat n' Fiddle does a convincing imitation of a smoky English pub, complete with Bass on tap, tacky mirrors, and brickwork walls.

The FA Cup was broadcast by satellite here and at half a dozen other displaced pubs with self-consciously British names like the King's Head and the Cock n' Bull.

The clientele ran from film directors to a clique of young British illegals who work for cash as motorcycle messengers and couriers. For most, paying $20 at the door was the only alternative to watching the game a day late on Mexican television, and they were queasy about the British kitsch.

Philip Collier, an expatriate writer of cable movies, looked on with disdain while the punters noshed on chips and beans.

"This was the reason I came here," Collier said. "To get away from all these people. Too English for me, I'm afraid."

Los Angeles has a large community of British expatriates. The Cat n' Fiddle sponsors Hollywood United, an English side in a thriving local soccer league that includes Jamaican, Nigerian, Italian, and Armenian teams.

The Hollywood team includes Hilton Goring, a former Crystal Palace player, a Frenchman called Clement and nicknamed Clemtona, and an American goalie. Their verdict on the game was echoed around the pub - that after the first 15 minutes things got a little slow.

Craig Knight, a stage and small-time screen actor, was one of the few native Americans, having wandered in with a friend from Liverpool. "For us, it's like watching the grass grow," he said, screwing up his eyes at the telly.

"You won't find Americans to sit through this sh--. We need a score, like, every 15 seconds," he added.

James Curtis, 30, a British TV producer who moved to Los Angeles to try his luck as a screenwriter, was craning his neck from the back of the crowd. After a month of watching the basketball play-offs, he concluded: "English people are very teeny. But maybe it's because of the size of the pitch."

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