When host Brazil faced off yesterday against an upstart Croatia team in Sao Paulo, it was the opening match in professional sport’s grandest spectacle. Every four years the World Cup pits the thirty-two best (or perhaps most geographically fortunate) football sides in an elimination tournament. This year’s Cup will be played over the next four weeks as South America’s largest democracy hosts the most democratic of games.
For the casual soccer fan (only in America is the term “football” claimed by a game played with hands)—or the voracious consumer of all things World Cup—Brooklyn Heights’ best destination for Cup play is The Custom House on Montague Street. BHB recently sat down with Red Davis, owner and self-proclaimed football fanatic.
The Custom House will show every second of every game on two jumbo TV screens installed specifically for the tournament. Asked why the Cup is deserving of such attention, Davis replied “Because the whole world’s involved! It only takes place every four years.”
Like all football fans, Davis, who really does have red hair, will be watching every match even though Ireland—both his place of birth and his favorite national team—didn’t come close to qualifying for this year’s Cup.
”I’d like to see one of the European teams win it because they don’t win it down there ever [in South America],” said Davis. European football, with tighter spacing and more controlled movement, has yet to triumph against the free-flowing style of Latin American clubs when playing in the Americas. Brazil, on the other hand won in Sweden in 1958, the United States in 1994, and Japan in 2002.
Asked to pick a particular team, Davis suggested that Belgium, which missed the 2004 and 2010 tournaments, is a “dark horse.”
The Custom House owner showed no love for the Cup’s hosts, winners of a record five titles. “I’d like to see Brazil go out early,” said Davis. “I think they’re sore losers. They think it’s their right to have this cup.”
Rubbing salt into this particular wound, Davis added “I wouldn’t mind seeing Argentina win [Brazil’s main South American rival]. It would make Lionel Messi’s legacy [the Argentine striker acknowledged to be the world’s greatest player].
With UK member Ireland not playing, Davis would like to see England “go far, [but] I think they always set themselves up to fail because their expectations are so high and then when they don’t deliver it’s a letdown for the nation.” England’s only World Cup victory was in 1966 when they beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley Stadium in London.
As to Davis’ adopted home, the United States qualified for their eighth-straight Cup (after being absent from 1950 until 1990). US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann—a cup winner in 1990 for Germany as a player—has lowered expectations for an American side absent striker Landon Donovan—arguably the greatest playmaker in the nation’s history—who did not make the final roster.
Davis agreed that it was “strange not to see Landon go,” and cautioned that the US might miss Donovan’s goal-scoring touch, “especially with Jozy Altidore [main US scoring threat] only scoring two goals in the last 29 matches.”
“I’d like to see them get out of the group but I think it’s going to be very difficult,” said Davis of the US, which is grouped with Germany—“the Germans are always very tough to beat”—Ghana and Portugal. “I think the first match [on Monday versus Ghana] is a must win. If they don’t beat Ghana they’re not getting through.”
When Ireland’s cup history comes up, Davis’ brow furrows and one name is spat out: Thierry Henry, the former French striker and current NY Red Bull who in 2010 was involved in a controversial play against Ireland that resulted in the Irish being denied a bid to that year’s cup.
“We’re a small nation,” said Davis of Ireland. “It’s tough for us to qualify every year.”
Even though the pub owner admits “it’s good to support your local teams,” Davis’ distaste for the French striker extends to local soccer. “I can’t support the Red Bulls because of Henry. I wish he’d die on the street.”
Asked if Brooklyn Heights is ready to embrace the World Cup, Davis paused. “To be honest with you I don’t know. We’re here two years and since we put in the big screens we seem to have more hockey fans [the New York Rangers are playing for the Stanley Cup] then I though were in this neighborhood.”
Looking up at a jumbo screen in the pub’s entrance, Davis said: “I’m hoping true football fans will come out.”