Going for the cup: International football finds fans in Fremont

Six blocks west of Fremont's business-district down North 36th Street sits an inconspicuous pub named The George & Dragon Pub. Along with authentic English food and beer, patrons are treated to an unpretentious atmosphere of dark-stained, hardwood furnishings surrounded by football memorabilia.

Football, or soccer to most Americans, is arguably the most popular international sports phenomenon existing today, a fact that the pub's owners, John Bayliss and John Ravenhill, have catered to enthusiastically since they started the business in 1995.

"Football is just an integral part of an expat pub," said Bayliss, who settled in the Puget Sound area in 1988 after six years of living and working on mainland Europe.

Shortly after settling in Seattle he found himself doing construction alongside Ravenhill, a fellow expatriot, for a few years before they went into the bar business together with The George & Dragon in 1995.

"What you try and create is a little home away from home so somebody can come in and have a chat with somebody who knows what they're about. They can have a pint, watch a bit of football on the TV, and they can feel like they're at home."

This focus on football has transformed Bayliss and Ravenhill's humble, little slice of British culture into a stronghold of international solidarity evident by the large array of European expatriates, native Northwesterners and traveling Europeans who frequent the pub.

Football's 'omnipresence'

However, lately the international flair of The George and Dragon has been impossible for patrons to avoid, and it's all due to football.

Over the last several weeks the European Nations Cup entered its final stages in Portugal, and football fans across the globe have been enthralled in the sport's second-largest international competition. With the final games slated for this coming Fourth of July weekend, the excitement increases with each passing game.

During play, the air is frequently filled with raucous cheers and thick British, and other European, accents. You could close your eyes in the midst of this joyous chaos and feel you were in a traditional pub in England.

"If you were in Europe now, in every cafe, every bar, every apartment you would hear the football game," Bayliss asserted. "It's omnipresent around Europe."

Cheers for a cup of nations

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Union des Associations Europeennes de Football (UEFA) was founded in June 1954. Its first European Nations Cup was started in 1958, with the finals taking place two years later.

Today, with 52 participating national teams that are eligible to compete in the tournament if they qualify, the Euro Cup's final rounds are now held every four years.

When a country makes it in, Bayliss says groups of their fans - from the relatively small, such as Greece, to the room-filling, such as England - will spend their afternoons and evenings rooting for their teams, visiting with each other and kicking back a few pints of British brew.

"It's the only proper football place in the city. The atmosphere in the pub attracts people from all over the world," noted 30-something, Fremont resident Michael Grace before the England vs. Croatia game got under way and the cheering reached ear-splitting crescendos.

"It's as close as you're going to get to the atmosphere that generally captures the feeling at the stadiums," he said.

The great 'unifier'

With the gathering place Bayliss and Ravenhill have created, Grace, a British expatriate since 1997, feels the presence of people hailing from the various UEFA member nations cheering their players "adds to the atmosphere that promotes the [game's] competitiveness without the fights."

Another expatriate, 40-year-old University of Washington statistics and biostatistics professor Jon Wakefield, agrees.

"I like the English beer and the general atmosphere," commented Wakefield, comparing the British football-fan scene to The George & Dragon's. "[It's] not thuggish, when watching football, like a lot of pubs are in England."

Bayliss, who met his wife while watching the English Premiere League's 1999 FA Cup, echoed Wakefield's sentiments before heading off into the pub to set up a replay of the Netherlands vs. Germany game broadcast live by the British Broadcasting Co. earlier that day.

"It's the people that come in here that sort of make it as well. Even without the football, there's always a nice, little buzz. It's not pretentious and pose-y. It's just good people having a good time," Bayliss said. "The football is just a great unifier."

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