By Alistair Martin
18.06pm: I arrive at The Waterfront, a spacious modern bar-restaurant in the corporate Battersea Reach development near Wandsworth Bridge, to watch the highly anticipated World Cup group match between Brazil and Ivory Coast. It had been a long day, one that had originally seen me pitch up at a pub just across the Thames to watch Slovakia vs Paraguay, a draining seven hours and lets-not-mention-how-many pints earlier. However, buoyed by the promise of watching this potential doozey of a tie within the confines of this swish new riverside venue, I wasn’t even slightly flagging.
18.23: A promising start to the evening. The home-made nachos are the perfect compliment to crisp pints of Kirin, and although the place is slightly emptier than I would have hoped for the good of the atmosphere, the manager advises that he’s expecting a large party of Brazilians to arrive in the next half hour. We immediately switch tables in order to be in the thick of the samba atmosphere when it arrives. Settling back down, my mate and I discuss the other key World Cup issues of the day - Italy’s draw with lowly New Zealand, the disruptions within the French team, Germany’s missed penalty in their loss against Serbia and Spain’s capitulation to Switzerland. Mocking the plight of these other European footballing giants shouldn’t make coping with how cack England are any easier, but it does. God bless schadenfraude.
18.52: The Brazilians have arrived en masse, but despite the vibrancy of their yellow and green dress, they aren’t quite providing the samba atmosphere we’d expected. Whilst my mate is visiting ‘the bathroom’ (as I heard one of the Brazilians call it) I take a look out on the fantastic Thames-edge view. A swanky looking party-yacht passes and I can just make out one reveller being sick over the side. A neat combination those two noble British traditions, ruling the waves and drinking until we puke. Charming.
19.15: The TV’s are finally switched on, and Dutch master-cum-super-pundit Clarence Seedorf is being interviewed by the unintentionally hilarious, spherically-headed Garth Crooks. However, although we can clearly hear Seedorf’s mischievous cackle and Crooks’ clipped, Patrick Moore-a-like accent over the speakers, we are struggling to make out the picture. The screen, 42 inches I’d guess, is about 15 feet off the ground and seems miles away from even the closest seats. Hold your phone at arms length away from your face to give yourself an idea of the kind of spectacle we were being treated to. As our starters arrive, we consider requesting some opera glasses.
19.30: Kickoff comes around just as we finish off our starters. Both the classic dressed crab (not a crustacean in top hat and tails like it sounds, but crab mixed with mayonnaise and egg in the half-shell) and the tomato, avocado and mozzarella salad were cool and tasty. However, although the venue is now nearly full, the atmosphere remains disappointingly flat. I’m beginning to wonder whether it will ever warm up.
19.47: As Brazil’s Robinho treats us to some characteristically pointless step-overs, we wonder where our main courses are. I feel the lack of atmosphere and long day’s drinking starting to catch up with me, and could really do with the sustenance.
19.55: Double celebration: Luis Fabiano scores for Brazil, and our main courses finally make an appearance. As the Brazilians on the next table yelp with joy and launch into a rather feeble Mexican wave, we tuck into our black pearl scallops in ratatouille (decent) and fishcakes in lemon and parsley butter sauce (disappointing). The rest of bar seems oblivious to the fact that anything has even happened in the football.
18.22: Half-time. As the TV pundits analyse the first half action and pretend to have a clue what Emmanuelle Adebayor is talking about on the distant screens, I order a coffee – an indication of the rather soporific effect the flatness of the atmosphere and slowness of the service has had on our spirits. The coffee is of volcanic temperature – it is another twenty minutes before I can drink it without melting my tongue.
21.17: An incident-packed second half draws to a close with the inexplicable dismissal of Brazil’s Ka’ka. Earlier in the half, Brazil had scored two more goals, the first featuring a display of handballing from Luis Fabiano that would’ve made Maradonna blush. Both were greeted with obligatory but barely convincing whoops and half-hearted Mexican waves from our Brazilian table-neighbours. When Chelsea’s Didier Drogba scored the Ivory Coast’s first goal of the tournament minutes later, my mate and I were the only ones that reacted.
21.49. Two glasses of wine and one final whistle later, my mate and I begin the trek back to Clapham Junction station ready for an early night, and not just because of the early start we’d had for the Paraguay-Slovakia game. The situation may well be different when England are next on TV, attempting to salvage their reputation against Slovenia on Wednesday, but it seems that for matches involving the other nations, The Waterfront just isn’t a football venue. It’s a very pleasant place to spend a summer’s evening by the river, though, and perhaps a good venue for people with a casual football interest to keep one eye on the game without it imposing too much on their evening. However, it is probably a little too corporate in design and location to be somewhere where purists can immerse themselves in the festival of football. I’m not sure I’ll be back here this World Cup.