TUESDAY, FEB. 2, 2016 | MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - The white neon ‘open’ sign in the window at The Nomad World Pub is like a beacon through the sleet as I stagger down Warren Avenue. It’s that freezing rain that’s wet enough to soak you through, but icy enough to hurt when the wind throws it into your face. Pushing through the door reveals a narrowly stacked two-story pub with exotic ornaments from all over the world positioned randomly throughout. I pick out a skull, a tribal mask, and a massive map near the window that has placed its center meridian through Australia. But among these traveled trinkets are football scarves, those of Liverpool and Manchester United. There’s a Spurs pennant hung over the corner of the bar and a United States national team kit, circa 2009, littered with illegible signatures framed on the wall.
Behind the bar you’ll find Kyle, a burly young man, and the usual host for Premier League afternoons at The Nomad. His forearm tattoo of a Manchester United red devil renders his allegiance unmistakable, and he’s harmonized the three televisions accordingly. The television at the far end of the bar near the bathrooms will show the ‘bird on football derby,’ Norwich v Tottenham. The screen over the entry will display Liverpool’s visit to league leaders Leicester City. And the lone large screen over the bar will show United’s home fixture against Stoke; it will also claim the sound despite having a delayed kickoff of fifteen minutes.
In Milwaukee, The Nomad associates with soccer just like soccer associates with The Nomad. It’s even got a subscription to cable and Direct TV to have access to a wider variety of matches. From what I’ve gathered, it was the first soccer friendly pub that regularly showed games in the city. Since, other bars like The Red Lion a few blocks away on N Water Street and Highbury, a pub in the south suburbs, have interloped on that market. But Nomad is for the purists, and quickly after my arrival it starts to fill with delegates from the Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham clans. Everyone who stumbles through the front door is as soaked as I was when I found refuge from the dank and plopped down at a stool in the center of the rusty marble counter top bar. The patrons that enter know Kyle, and they know each other too, regardless of club preference. Football time at Nomad looks to have become a community affair.
“Here for the matches?” Kyle asks me politely. But he already knows my answer. I tend to like when someone prefers the word ‘match’ opposed to ‘game’ when describing a fixture. To many, me included, football is much more than a game and should be linguistically treated as such. “What can I get you?” he asks.
“What’s local on tap?” I rebound. He starts to list off the craft beers from Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, but doesn’t need to go any further after mentioning Moon Man. If you’re not from Wisconsin your chances of trying it are probably similar to your chances of hearing of it - slim. But Moon Man, produced by New Glarus Brewing Co. from New Glarus, WI, like all New Glarus products is only distributed statewide. But that doesn’t prohibit it from being one of the most drinkable, subtle American pale ales I’ve ever had. Cheers to you, Moon Man.
The matches hardly have time to kick off before a subdued celebration from the bathroom quarter is heard. Spurs have opened the scoring at Norwich in the second minute through young Dele Alli, the highest scoring English midfielder in the league this season, his debut season. A greying man, accompanied a woman wearing a white and navy scarf young enough to be his daughter, gets to his feet and gives a fridge that holds the ciders a high five. This is also around the time a posse of four of more Liverpool fans struts into the pub.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” one of them, just on the way side of middle age, bellows with a smile. “What’s going on here?” he questions everyone within earshot, gesturing to the fact that Liverpool is on the smaller television over the door. Nomad’s patrons laugh and so does the questioner. But he’s serious. Promptly he takes a headcount. “How many Manchester United fans are here?” There’s no need for anybody to raise their hands. He appears to know who supports who, standing on his tip-toes to see above heads and counting silently to himself. Then he points to me: “You got a preference?”
“No sir,” I reply “Neutral today.”
“That settles it then! Liverpool wins. We’ve got more fans here,” declares the Reds fan. Kyle is bittersweet about the change. United are his team and he’d love to give them preference on the big screen. But from where he was tending the bar, the only way to see the game on the biggest television is to crane is neck and turn around. At least he can watch the match now that it will be shifted to over the door. But he also knows that means forfeiting the commentary. One United fan ships off to The Red Lion in pursuit of sound. Soon after, Manchester United score via Jesse Lingard. Any annoyance over the screen change from the Man. Utd. support has dissipated and Kyle is well positioned to see the goal happen. Everybody wins. Although Kyle assures me that he’s recording the game at home.
The door opens again, this time letting in a pretty blonde Arsenal fan, evident by her Gunners knit hat with a pom-pom atop. When she makes her way to the bar Kyle apologizes for not being able to show Arsenal v Southampton. He simply doesn’t have enough screens. “That’s okay!” she assures him. “I’ll survive.” But she leaves at halftime after a single drink.
The second half action can be summed up by one phrase: “Holy shit!” I said it. People behind me and next to me said it. Those who missed it live said it too when the first replay was shown. Hell, some people said it twice. When Jamie Vardy smashed a thunderbolt over Simon Mignolet from thirty yards out when seemingly he had no business shooting, we all said it – Holy Shit. It’s goals like that, in matches so tight like Leicester City’s against Liverpool that makes you think… Maybe it is possible. Maybe Leicester City, second year back in the topflight, really can win the Premier League. It’s all falling in line for them this season.
The Liverpool fans behind me applauded the goal. They even smiled. Either the goal had really smacked the competitive instinct out of them or, more likely, they’ve just come to be at peace by now with Liverpool’s unpredictability and sub-par form. Jamie Vardy would get another to assure three points, but not shown at Nomad, Manchester City kept pace with a win over Sunderland simultaneously. Three points separates Leicester City and Manchester City going into their weekend clash at the Etihad Stadium.
When the fixtures complete, the winner circle consists of Spurs, United, Man. City, Leicester City, and Bournemouth with a crucial victory over Crystal Palace. In many cases, the final whistle signals a grand exodus from soccer friendly pubs. But these patrons stuck around, intermixing, and conversing not only about soccer but other aspects of existence. Music promptly replaces the analysis from NBCSN’s Rebecca Lowe and crew. It’s starts with Kid Kudi’s Man on the Moon. Ironically, I down my last Moon Man, bid good day to Kyle, and slip out before happy hour materialized in full force.