Sunday, 20 June 2010

Slovakia V Paraguay: The Ultimate World Cup Pub (bar & restaurant) Crawl

By Alistair Martin

When my Dad first started watching football in the early 1960s, an eager young North London school kid wading through the turnstiles at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane stadium, football was very much a working class game. A prepubescent street urchin from Archway, he rubbed shoulders with clippies and chippies, brickies and rag’n’bone men, nary a solicitor or accountant in sight.

Four decades on, and things are very different. As I pass through the same hallowed gates down the Lane, I do so side-by-side with civil servants and barristers, bankers and PR execs, myself having nothing more than one summer’s worth of labouring during the university holidays to claim for my working class CV.

The fact is that Britain’s long and ignoble class system is fast becoming an anachronism, and football, the toffs game played by thugs (as opposed to rugby, the thug’s game played by toffs), has become the nation’s game, enjoyed in pub and terrace alike by everyone from royal family to Royle family.

I point this out purely to avert any mockery that may be directed my way for parking up to watch Sunday’s first world cup match of the day, not at the Dog and Duck with some fish and chips and a pint of Best, but at Chelsea’s classy The Hollywood Arms, with a pint of Kirin and a very tasty pumpkin risotto.

After all, why should I feel the need to scoff down rancid hot dogs made from road-kill and old boot, just because that is what is deemed proper footy grub? Being a Spurs fan aside, I am a man of taste [Editor: questionable], who likes a good salmon fishcake as much as a good World Cup tie. And The Hollywood Arms provides both.

And it’s not just about the food and drink. The Hollywood Arms (whose name only sounds tacky if you consider it as some kind of off-shoot of the uber-naff Hard Rock Cafe, rather than a Victorian institution on Chelsea’s Hollywood Road whose establishment long pre-dates that of its Californian namesake) has the big-screens, surround sound and prompt service necessary for a great match-watching venue. It has staff and clientele who know their football as well as anyone, which puts it above many of the places packed with the fair-weather know-nothing’s who tend to crawl out of the woodwork during World Cups. It also boasted a better atmosphere for the inconsequential Paraguay-Slovakia tie than nearby Stamford Bridge has for most Chelsea home games (although perhaps this is no great achievement considering I’ve been in phone boxes with better atmospheres than Stamford Bridge. You get the point though).

Gabriel, The Hollywood Arms’ Italian shift manager, advised me that the pub gets pretty packed for England games, and that guests would be well advised to book their spaces for the remaining English World Cup ties in advance - the mid-sized upstairs room can be booked for parties of 10 and over, and would be a great place in which to enjoy the upcoming games (provided England can remember how to play football again after the Algeria match). The opulent furnishings would make it a bit like watching the match in some kind of Edwardian royal court, which might sound a little incongruous with the traditional footballing atmosphere. But who cares? Not me. I admit it, I am middle class. I love football but I also love good beer, good food and comfortable surrounds to enjoy them in. Is there any reason why I can’t just have them all?

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