Regular readers of this column will know that I do not like football. In fact, I loathe it and all that goes with it. Every four years, however, I suspend hostilities and watch all of the World Cup. It's win-win for me as, for a brief period, I can become like everyone else – one of the gang, a member of the tattooed in-crowd. Then, when England lose – as they invariably do – I can recover from the disappointment after about 30 seconds and remind myself that I don't really like or care about the game.
I was in New York last week so my temporary support for the sport started to look even weirder when, compared to your average American "soccer" fan, I became something of an expert. Usually it's pretty difficult even to find "soccer" on the telly in a North American bar. In Canada it's almost exclusively a "ladies" game and there are large swathes of inner America where they know nothing about it. In these bars the sport of choice is almost invariably the endless game of basketball that appears to have lasted longer than an Isner-Mahut encounter.
New York, however, is a different kettle of fish. It's such a melting pot of nationalities and a lot of them are "soccer" crazy. I got a hint of the sporting variety available when I spotted three cricket matches from the window of my cab. My driver told me that the game was huge in these Indian neighbourhoods just outside Brooklyn. We pulled up at my hotel in Tribeca. I paid the driver and, in the hundred-yard walk to the entrance I spotted three bars proclaiming that they were showing the "World Cup of Soccer".
I went to sleep as I wanted to be up and ready for the England-Slovenia match the next morning. I had a meeting at nine but I'd been promised by the client that they had a huge screen in their office and that everybody would be watching "the game." The meeting went well but I kept sneaking a peek at my watch as it got closer and closer to kick-off time. Finally the meeting was over and I was taken down by a smiling assistant to where "the game" was being shown. Disaster, the whole American office was watching the USA-Algeria match and there was no way that they were going to switch over for me. After some panicky consultations I was told that there was a bar down the street that would definitely be showing the England match. I sprinted down the street in a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and 90 per cent humidity to try to find said bar. Eventually, soaking wet and with mild heat stroke I found it. Sure enough, they were showing the England game ... but they were also showing the USA one and it was this commentary that they had on the PA. I stood next to some US fans. One of them turned to me and said "Zero-zero apiece, dude, this is tense..."
I tried to concentrate on the England game but it was impossible as the mood of the crowd was entirely dependent on events in the US game. At half-time I hopped into a cab and raced up-town to an English pub I'd once been to. I ran inside – further disaster – they were also showing the USA match. Then someone took pity on me and told me that the England match was going on upstairs. I finally sank into a comfortable chair among expats and had a couple of freezing pints while I watched the second half.
As England hung on, the atmosphere on our floor was tense but downstairs where it was still "zero-zero apiece" you could cut it with a knife. Then ... blessed relief. At the exact same time that the ref blew for the end of the England match – the USA scored. The whole building went ballistic – it really was fantastic, everyone danced out on to the streets in a rare showing of that elusive special relationship.
Exhausted, I retired to the cold sanctuary of my hotel room to recover. On the television ESPN were still covering the aftermath of the US victory. They went to Bill Clinton who was in South Africa "supporting the guys".
They asked for his thoughts on the match. Clinton, red-faced and clearly very hot, thought for a moment: "The guys played ... and just kept on playing." Watch out, Lineker – there's a new pundit in town.