The first 28 minutes of the second half of Moldova vs. Turkey

October 13, 2007

Moldova vs. TurkeyThe sports bar is a peculiarly American institution. Bozeman has three of them – Bennigan’s, which is as much a chain restaurant as a bar; the Cat’s Paw, which oozes the feeling that what happens inside, stays inside (and that anyone who goes in hoping to watch anything other than American football is unlikely to leave with as many limbs as when they went in); and there’s Spectators, conveniently located on campus.

You’d think that a sports bar would make some kind of effort to show sports, plural. We arrived in the confident (but misplaced) hope of watching the rugby world cup semi-final, and things looked passable at first. Setanta Sports – which we believed to be the correct channel – was on two of the screens, not prominently placed, but at least on. And that’s where things started to go wrong. We asked if there was any chance of moving it to one of the bigger screens – the place was hardly packed, and nobody in the back bar (in which there are fully a dozen screens) was watching anything other than their food.

“Sorry, we can’t put it on the big screens, people are watching the games.” Or, a bold-faced lie meaning “I can’t be bothered.”

The front bar, on the other hand, was beginning to get busy, mainly due to a steady influx of people in rugby shirts and other miscellaneous England and France paraphernalia. Setanta, however, was resolutely showing the crucial Moldova-Turkey Euro 2008 qualifier.

About ten minutes in, it became apparent to the gathering throng that for all Moldova’s brutal tackling, this was not rugby union. Somebody demanded control of the remote, swiftly found the game listed on Setanta Pay-Per-View, and coerced the manager into calling and asking. Or at least going into another room for a few minutes. From what I overheard of the conversation when he came back, he claimed Setanta were unwilling to allow a bar to show the game.

“I think they’re showing it again tomorrow, about 10am,” suggested somebody.

“We probably won’t be showing it, there’s [American] football on.”

The Fawlty Towers school of management continued as the Moldova game was summarily switched off to show yet another gridiron matchup. The wait staff seemed much more intent on changing the game I was watching (the rules, it seems, change when it’s a case of so-called football versus the real thing) than in, say, refilling my glass or getting my food to me within 40 minutes of my order. Literally all of the twenty-plus screens of the sports, plural, bar, were now showing American football. Six games, none of them involving a team closer to Bozeman than Minnesota, a day’s drive away. Twenty-plus screens of football, while perhaps a quarter of the bar’s patrons were clamouring for a game none of the staff seemed the remotest bit bothered about getting hold of (plus me, wanting to see how the Moldova game ended up.)

There is a blindness, in America, to Other Sports. If you asked a random person in Spectators to name five sports, they would say – I would offer odds of 10/1 on – [American] football, baseball, [ice] hockey and basketball, pause briefly and eventually think of tennis. There is no room for rugby (gridiron with the artificial tension taken out and replaced with real drama) or soccer (hockey on grass without the sticks or the fighting) or cricket (a far superior version of baseball) or any of a dozen other sports. Even the results ticker at the bottom of the ESPN screens, on a day of vital Euro qualifiers in soccer, studiously declined to acknowledge the existence of any sports but football, baseball and hockey (basketball is out of season).

Sports liked by Americans are generally sports that few other nations play, or at least play well. Certainly the bulk of ice hockey players come from Canada or Europe, but they come to America to play. Basketball and baseball too import foreigners – but the only serious baseball league is in the USA.

The following sentence is not something I ever thought I’d say: I’m looking forward to going back to Britain, where people are less insular.

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