Ex-Pat Fans Hope Football’s Coming ‘Home’

Gemma Ruggiero leaned forward on the edge of her seat and watched the big screen in front of her in the courtyard outside of Rowdy Hall on Saturday, July 7.

It was the last 40 seconds of the match between England and Sweden, and the boys in red were leading 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup 2018. The game was already over — its winner decided — but nonetheless, all of the spectators in the courtyard fell silent, and you could have heard a pin drop. They all seemed to draw their breath in and hold it as the English national team advanced to the semifinals for the third time in the World Cup’s 88-year history.

When time ran had out, Ruggiero jumped out of her seat and roared, joining in the eruption of glee with other spectators.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, football is coming home,” they chanted in unison, some clapping, some dancing to a tune only they could hear in their heads — the team’s anthem, “Three Lions,” a nod to the team’s coat of arms, performed by Lightning Seeds. The last time England won the World Cup was in 1966.

“They are young; they’re fun. They are doing well, and we love them and we are optimistic. We don’t always get this far,” said Ruggiero, a native of Southwest London who came out to East Hampton from New York City with a group of 10 friends to watch the match at Rowdy Hall because she knew there would be an English contingent there. “We were just like, ‘Let’s come out and get with other fans and enjoy the spirit of the game,’ and it worked out well for us.”

Ruggiero said she was very happy when her favorite player, Dele Alli, who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, her local team in the English Premier Football League, scored the second goal of the match. She’s now planning on purchasing a pair of plane tickets to Russia for herself and her father in celebration of his birthday.

Friend Callum Noble of North London described the win as “just the best thing that has ever happened” to English fans. “We got in two hours earlier,” he said. “They hadn’t even opened and we totally dominated the space, ready to come and do some crazy stuff. It was an amazing game.”

The group had big plans to celebrate for the rest of the evening.

“We’re going straight to the beach and we are going to get lit,” Noble said.

It’s been 28 years since English cleats have set foot on a pitch in the World Cup’s semifinals, with the last time being in 1990 in Italy. With Saturday’s win, English fans now have the starry-eyed gleam in their eye, and they are wondering if “football” is coming home after so many years.

“I’m terrified for the next match,” said Lee Binks, an Essex native who now lives in Brooklyn, half joking, half serious about the team’s next match, which is Wednesday, July 11, against Croatia.

Many of the fans turned out to the game wearing their team’s colors — t-shirts and jerseys — red for away games and white for home games. Others took it up a notch.

Rakesh Nigam, who is originally from London, but now lives in Wainscott and New York, brought a large English flag, with its red cross on a white background, which he wore draped around his neck like a cape. For him, the World Cup is something that brings everyone together. And it did, as he drew the attention of a passersby after the game.

“Oh yeah, man. England, there we go baby, there we go, there we go, man,” he said.

“What do you think? We’re going to go to the semifinals,” Nigam replied.

“See, there you go. That’s what I mean,” he added, noting that the match draws spectators from all over the world and unites them. “The world follows football, so there is this underground element, which we love.”

James Aguirre, a Colombian native who has continued to watch the matches though his country is out, was on hand Saturday afternoon at Rowdy Hall to watch the match between Croatia and Russia.

He was rooting for Russia in its match against Croatia on Saturday because he liked Luka Modric, who plays for Real Madrid.

“I follow Madrid, so I follow him,” he said.

Mona Ortiz was along for the match but was still reeling from Colombia’s loss to England last week. “I [cried] like a baby last week,” she said.

For Shalina Nigam, who was on vacation and watching her first World Cup match stateside, the atmosphere and revelry inside Rowdy Hall was a little less crazy. In England, venues like pubs and clubs are often dimly lit and packed with people all standing intently watching the game. If there’s a score, beer pints are thrown up in the air, drenching spectators in beer. There’s also lots of singing and chanting, and “the entire nation is gripped,” she said. During the last match, she wore her t-shirt supporting England and made instant friends on her way home.

“People came up to me on the street and said, “Football is coming home,” and gave me a hug and walked away. [The excitement] is everywhere,” she said.

Rowdy Hall bartender Dermot Hickey, originally from Dublin who now lives in Montauk, said the sport is catching on in the states. Friday’s match between Brazil and Belgium, which was aired at the pub, was a perfect example.

“When they scored, the temperature rose. In a couple of seconds, it rose 10 degrees, and you could feel the energy,” he said.

The remaining teams in the World Cup now include not only England, but France, Belgium, and Croatia. The finals will be played on Sunday, July 15, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

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