PubWatch: Sweden declare independence in London

June 13, 2008
By Joe Duggan

Sweden v Greece

The picturesque north London streets of Marylebone are something of a Scandinavian backwater and any homesick Swede looking for a taste of the old country is sure to find some creature comforts here.

Soccernet / IriaDiazSome Swedish fans watch the game.

Fans heading off to the Euros can resolve any last minute passport issues at the Swedish embassy, perhaps nip into the Swedish Church to say a prayer for Lars Lagerback's men before strolling over to Totally Swedish for some authentic edibles.

Their last stop would be The Harcourt Arms, the place to watch Sweden during the tournament.

It's an all ticket affair at the Harcourt and if you were in any doubts as to this pub's leanings they are immediately dispelled as you walk through the door. 'It's Sweden', declares a scarf above the bar, territory marked in the 'This Is Anfield' style.

For Henrik Larsson though, that Rocky Balboa of footballing comebacks, it looks like a tournament too far as he struggles to stay with the game's pace.

Alongside him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has incredibly not scored for the Swedes in almost three years. With the scores level at half-time we retire to the pub garden where Ana and Maria, resplendent in canary yellow, discuss their front two.

Are the Swedish pleased that Larsson is back?'

'Yes', says Anna. 'Everyone still loves him and he wants to finish on a high'. Maria nods in agreement. 'I think he doesn't want to be remembered for the missed penalty against Germany in the World Cup'.

As for Ibrahimovic's lack of goals in a Swedish shirt 'Apparently he says he feels mis-understood' shrugs Maria.

If Ibrahimovic is seeking some sort of acceptance he is sure to have discovered it from Malmo to Marlyebone as he rockets in a fierce drive to put Sweden ahead. A goal so good it was almost worth the three-year wait. And his wily old strike partner provided the lay-off.

The bar is bouncing once more when the Swedes literally bundle the ball over for a scrappy second to seal the win. After this opening match victory, the Harcourt could well be bouncing beyond the group stages.

Switzerland v Turkey

Germany v Poland may win unwanted accolades as the grudge fixture of this or any tournament but Turkey v Switzerland is suffused with enough simmering resentment to make this one as mouth-watering as the finest lamb kofte on Green Lanes.

Soccernet / IriaDiazA Turkish enclave in London.

The on-field punch-up which followed Turkey's elimination by the Swiss in a World Cup play-off saw the Turks hit hard by UEFA. After the tedium the Swiss inflicted on the viewing public at that summer's finals, the neutral may feel some measure of sympathy for Fatih Terim's team.

We head to the Karadeniz social club at the Newington Green end of Green Lanes in this heavily Turkish area of North East London. Inside we are swiftly offered the most comfortable armchairs and delilciously aromatic Turkish tea (offers of payment are swiftly waved away).

There is no alcohol here and without the distraction of a bar focus is firmly on the football. It does not go well for the Turks. In torrential conditions, they fall behind to a Hakan Yakin goal. Yakin, of Turkish parentage, refuses to celebrate. Minutes later he splices an identical opportunity wide.

During the interval, Gunnar, a semi-professional player himself reflects on Yakin's behaviour. 'He's got respect for our country. I think he missed the second one on purpose.' As for Turkey's chances in this tournament 'They want to be remembered for winning something but they are not consistent enough. They are fired up all the time.'

Certainly by the time we reach the White Horse pub just up Green Lanes the Turks have picked up the tempo. The Anglo-Turkish crowd inside sense a goal and the mounting pressure soon pays off as Semih Senturk levels. Arda Turan's deserved winner with seconds to spare sparks almost immediate scenes of celebration outside.

As young Turkish men and women dance in the street smiling bodies hang from every car, flags held high in hand. The noise of their horns is overcome by the revving of a Turkey fan's motorcycle as he burns rubber on the tarmac sending a plume of smoke in to the air for thirty seconds. A cavalcade sets off in his wake. Green Lanes is alive tonight and Turkey are back in this tournament.

Germany v Croatia

Stepping off City Road and in to the Bavarian Beer House is like bypassing the queues at Lufthansa check-in and transplanting yourself straight in to an old-fashioned German beer keller in downtown Munich.

Soccernet / IriaDiazMein's a pint. Beer is served in traditional style in the East London hang-out.

The hefty entrance fee gets you a seat on one of the numerous long benches at which long-legged German lovelies serve steins of weisse beer as long as their skirts are short.

The hall rises for the opening chords of 'Deutschland Uber Alles', arms thrown around shoulders as strangers and friends alike share the communal space created by the bar's layout.

The Germans know that victory against dark horses Croatia will see them through from the group. With Poland already comfortably seen off, their remaining fixture would leave only Austria to play. Not so much the Group Of Death for the Germans as the Group of Eternal Life.

The Croats edge in to a first half lead. This is Germany's first genuine test of the competition and things are not going to plan. Fortunately for them, Jens Lehmann produces a couple of decent moments. How much do the Germans trust their enigmatic keeper though?

Oliver, a student from Munich, certainly has his reservations. 'Oliver Kahn has just retired and Lehmann is about the same age so he would probably not be my first choice.' Having Austria in the final game offers some sort of fallback but Oliver thinks 'we have to build a momentum and win this game'. Possible semi-final opponents Portugal, we both agree, will be a tough one.

It's a match the Germans may have to play sooner rather than later as the Croats go on to secure a 2-1 victory. The Croats are the beneficiaries of – Oh Jens, those damned balls eh? – a Lehmann hesitation for their second goal and he looks non too assured as the game progresses.

Oliver, and others, in here chant the name of 'Oliver Kahn'. Surely, though, the erratic Lehmann is likely to be the least busy player on the pitch for the final group game. But they remember Cordoba in Munich as well as Vienna...

Austria v Poland

Unfortunately by the time we reach the Crown and Two Chairmen, the home of Austrian football in London has more than reached capacity.

Soccernet / IriaDiazAustria fans celebrate a rare goal.

I manage to squeeze myself in to an area from which I am afforded a bird's eye view of the BBC scoreboard and am able to analyse unspecified players hairdos occasionally appearing along the giant screen between the close knit sea of heads packed in here.

The bar itself has been transformed in to a home from home, and plates of hearty Austrian fare are carefully handed over as their team puts in another doughty performance to nourish Austrian football souls. The Poles sneak in to the lead to spoil the party.

Oskar Hinteregger, the organiser at the Crown and Two Chairmen, is the director of the Austrian Tourist Board in London. The Austrians have been written off so completely by everyone that I wonder if that can only have worked in their favour so far.

He agrees that they want to 'show they are better than their FIFA ranking' but that Austrian football 'needs better structuring at the grass roots. One of the key ambitions of hosting EURO 2008 was to create a broader base of better players. In the U-19 championship Austria came fourth'. A rosy future then, but what about the present? 'The floodgates will open once we score.'

For that Austrian player, the flood will come in the form of beer, with an Austrian brewery offering a lifetime's supply of the stuff to the player who gets the first Austrian goal. 'I think that's the least we can offer him' says Mr Hinteregger.

Step forward Ivica Vastic. The oldest player ever to score at the Euros slots home a 93rd minute penalty to secure a draw and an early retirement present for himself. It's not the loudest cheer of the evening though. That comes when the BBC flashes up the group table. And Austria are not bottom of it.


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