You’ll Never Walk Alone at World Cup Time

I remember driving down Banks Street in Mid-City one morning four years ago and coming upon a scene I thought must be a political rally. There was a crowd of Hispanic men in matching T-shirts on the street corner, some waving banners, some pumping their fists in the air, some chanting words I didn’t understand.

Maybe there was an important election happening that day in their home country, I remember thinking, but if so, their choice for a rally spot seemed odd. They were standing outside of Finn McCool’s Irish Pub.

Only after stopping to check things out did I finally put the pieces together. Of course, it was World Cup 2006, and this crowd was showing its support for the Mexican national team, then about to take the field against Iran. The World Cup was held in Germany that year, so thanks to a seven-hour time difference, that evening’s game was showing at 11 a.m. in New Orleans. Supporters dutifully got into the spirit early, wore the team colors and parked themselves before TV screens to watch the broadcast with the convivial company of compatriots. 

When you can’t make a big game in person, you gather with a likeminded group to cheer and hopefully celebrate –– or possibly mourn –– the event. So it goes in the Who Dat nation; so it goes in the united nations of soccer (or football or fútbol) fandom.

There would be much earlier matches during that World Cup, and the faithful supporting each competing nation would follow suit in their turn. No game broadcast can come too early in the day when national pride is on the line.  

That last World Cup was the year Finn McCool’s established itself as the international sports headquarters in New Orleans, a title it seems well-poised to defend this time around, too. The place was opened in 2002 by three transplants from Belfast who turned around a moldering old dive and remade it in their vision of a real Irish pub. It had a good following of international sports fans from the start. But after Katrina, when Finn’s returned quickly to its then-battered Mid-City neighborhood and other expat perches like O’Flaherty’s did not return at all, the torch was passed.

Incredibly, Finn McCool’s plans to open for every game during the World Cup this year, including all those weekday games beginning at 6:30 a.m. The titanic sporting event, held in South Africa this year, stretches on to July 11 with 64 matches total, so this schedule is a seriously ambitious undertaking for the pub. Finn’s has even worked out a World Cup menu, serving Belfast baps, or breakfast sandwiches, to the Bloody Mary crowd in the morning and more pub meals of fish and chips and such at lunchtime for the later matches.

Check out the pub’s full schedule here, with games helpfully listed by their start in our time zone.

It’s a good thing New Orleanians are so practiced at getting up early for big celebrations (see Mardi Gras) and also at really packing in together to watch momentous sporting events (see Lombardi Gras). But as last Saturday showed, sometimes being at the heart of the action isn’t always the best course. Even before the first whistle of America’s astounding “nondefeat” against England, Finn McCool’s was packed to capacity.

Now, that match featured the home team and the ever-lovable England, shown at an easy hour on a Saturday. I doubt tomorrow’s 6:30 a.m. contest between Argentina and South Korea will be quite so fanatically popular, but it’s still a good idea to have back-up venues in mind if you’re determined to watch a particular game in a pub setting and get a seat or at least a Luxembourg-size patch of standing room. Even yesterday’s midday match between Brazil and North Korea –– starting at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday –– produced a packed house.

With ESPN broadcasting the World Cup this time around, any bar can show the games provided it has cable and the wherewithal to open shop at unconventional hours.

Doors Pub & Pizza (7537 Maple St., 504/302-2547), a tavern and pizza restaurant near the universities in the old Vera Cruz restaurant space, is making a go of it this year, and in the French Quarter, I’ve always had good luck catching international sports at Ryan’s Irish Pub (241 Decatur St., 504/523-3500), which will open at 9 a.m. each day this week for the World Cup.

What’s your favorite spot to catch World Cup action around town?

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