“Is it too early for a Guinness?”
“No, no,” replies the barman. “You need to get your vitamin G.”
In many cases, ten in the morning would be too early for a pint of the dark stuff. But not when you’re a pub-going Premier League fan in the American Midwest. I’ve just been lured off the crisp December streets of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin into an ambient hotel bar called County Clare’s. Hanging my scarf on the back of my barstool, I shed my layers as the glow of the fireplace welcomingly creeps ever closer to where I’ve set up camp.
“You doin’ breakfast?” asks the bartender. There’s a hint of an accent in his voice somewhere, but I can’t place it as Irish or one of the many British sounds. His tone is deep but soft, easily lost in the white noise of chatting patrons and 1950’s rock’n roll muffling through the speakers above.
“Not today,” I reply. “Just the Guinness for now. I’m here for the match,” directing my gaze toward the television hovering to my left.
“Oh, are you? Who’ve we got today? Newcastle and Liverpool? Newcastle should have a bit of fight in them, but I’d like to see Liverpool get back to where they once were,” he exclaims, all the while mixing a bloody mary. With his grey hair combed back from his forehead, he’s definitely at an age to recall sunnier days for Liverpool. I agree and note that new manager Jürgen Klopp seems to have breathed some new life into the side. The barman nods and adds what’s accepted as a universal truth: “He’s got great charisma.” It’s hard to argue with that.
The first half is somewhat of a bore. Neither team really gets going despite their best efforts. Liverpool’s young Jordon Ibe and deputy captain James Milner swap flanks twice without result. Jordan Henderson would typically be wearing the armband but a lengthy injury layoff has kept him sidelined for most of the season. Still it’s peculiar that Milner is the second in command having played less than fifteen games as a Red. Without Gerrard they were always going to be stretched thin on leadership, though.
I’ll wait for a transfer window to pass. Klopp can really implement himself when he gets the personnel he needs.
At halftime, the bartender returns to refill my glass. “Can you believe Chelsea lost at home to Bournemouth yesterday?” he asks, eyebrows raised.
“If it were any other year, I’d tell you no. But this year Mourinho’s got problems,” I reply.
Two more bloody marys are on deck again and the bartender nods, adding the sausage link, mozzarella stick, and pickle to a flimsy toothpick. “Mourinho… he’s like a little Napoleon.”
“He really is. I’ve never seen him struggle at any club. You can only wonder if he knows how to deal with a crisis like this having not been faced with one before,” I continue, only stopping for a swig of my beer.
Twenty-five minutes into the second half Newcastle open the scoring. It’s an ugly one to concede for Liverpool and even harder to watch on replay as Georginio Wijnaldum’s savable effort takes a detour off Martin Skrtel’s knee and in at the near post. In the midst of constructing yet another set of bloody marys the barman unfortunately misses the goal. He only reappears to see the slow-motion shots of the St. James Park faithful celebrating.
“Look at those Geordies,” I smile. “They’re going crazy!” The bartender says nothing, leaving to deliver the latest drinks. But he looks back with an expression to agree ten-fold on the subject of Geordies.
“You sure do make a lot of bloody marys” I quip when he returns.
“That’s because we’ve got the best ones. But we’ve only got the best ones because I make them,” I’m assured with a grin.
Shortly after, Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno has a wonderful goal wrongfully chalked off for offside. He’d later retweet anybody he could find that shared that opinion. Klopp rummages through his subs bench, but not Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, nor Divock Origi can provide the spark needed. And now overcommitting to find a late equalizer, Newcastle are able exploit the Liverpool imbalance. Moussa Sissokho slides Wijnaldum in one-on-one with Simon Mignolet and the Dutchman clips the ball over the advancing goalkeeper, sealing the deal in stoppage time.
I’ve seen enough and pay my tab. While rearming my jacket and scarf, the final whistle blows. The barman is busy puncturing another pickle but I bid him good day.
“I didn’t get your name by the way,” I request.
Dropping the pickle and grabbing a rag, he puts out a hand to shake. “I’m Barry.”
“Alright then, Barry. I’m Bobby. We’ll do this again sometime. Take care.”
In a way I’m reluctant to leave. The bar is cozily furnished like a traditional Irish pub. I’m comfortable in the dim lighting too. Inside one is shielded from the cutting wind that rebounds off the stained glass windows. But for the sake of my wallet I mask my scarf around my chin, turn up my hood, and disappear the through the threshold of Clare’s back onto the brisk streets. I’ll be back to see Barry. He can gladly pour me another Guinness on another Premier League morning.