Brian Deane has just scored at White Hart Lane and Leeds fans are going mad. It’s the last game of the 94/95 season and his strike has put Leeds back in Europe. All around me fans are jumping up and down, hugging, cheering, gurning at one another, spilling beer all over the place, one lad’s on the pay phone to his old man, ‘Can you believe it Dad, we’re back. We’re back dad!’ The chant goes up, ‘Deano, Deano, Deano...’ It’s not yet midday in Manhattan and McCormack’s bar is crammed with drunks craning their necks watching a game that’s being played 3,000 miles away.
Chris Whyte scores an own goal while playing for Birmingham against his old club Leeds in the League Cup semi-final. The bar goes wild, this time it’s The Kinsale Tavern. Some big ex-miner type who has been sat quietly next to me most of the game jumps on the bar and goes all Incredible Hulk, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! We’ll get a plane, we’ll fly to Wembley, Leeds scarves hanging out the back of a 747!’ Sixty or so Leeds fans go mad. It’s about 8:45a.m. yet the bar’s doing a roaring trade. Sure Frank, the owner, is outside washing his windows but that’s what he’s always done. Pauline’s pulling the pints and the other girls are serving up full breakfasts and everyone in the bar, there are no Birmingham fans, is happy, happy happy.
Everton have just beaten Man United in the cup final. You literally cannot move in The Sporting Club on Tribeca’s Hudson Street. It is mad. Spurs fans, Arsenal fans, Stoke fans, Leeds fans, are celebrating with the massively outnumbered Blues fans in here in full on ABMU mode. Outside those in the street, who arrived too late to get in, are dancing in the midday sunshine.
It’s 10.15 a.m. there’s a bloke from Sheffield a couple of Irish lads who might have drunk straight through from Friday night, a fella from Bury who supports Man Utd. and me sat at the bar in Stephen’s Green Woodside watching Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa while nursing pints of Guinness in a pub that the week before held about 200 Man Utd. fans.
There’s six of us sat in an Italian restaurant on Houston Street watching Leeds take on Milan on some dubious feed, in Italian, that nowhere else seems to have. The Italian fans are drinking espressos and eating little salads;our waiter seems confused when the menus are returned and six pints of beer are ordered for our table. One of the boy’s phone keeps going off. ‘Yeah, we’re playing good. Looks ok so far.’ Ring, ring,’ We’re in a little gaff on Houston...’ Ring, ring, ‘Still nil nil.’ Ring, ring,’If you were that fucking bothered you’d be here too wouldn’t you?’,
Boomers on the Westside is a wall of green and white interspersed with the odd splash of red. Liverpool and Celtic are playing one another in a European game. I’ve ducked out of work early, it’s 3:45 in the afternoon and life is, once again, good. A bloke walks in wearing a Rangers shirt, sporting a big grin. He’s refused a drink and asked politely to leave. He walks out still grinning, I think he’s possibly mad. The halftime results flash on the screen, Rangers are loosing 1-0 to Salzburg. Some one rushes outside and asks him to come back in for a drink. Everyone laughs. By 5p.m. the bar has run out of beer.
Last Saturday, I’m sat on my sofa in my pjs watching Leeds play Burnley. The kids are moaning, ‘Soccer again?’ There are 5 more games from England on the t.v. this weekend, numerous games from Spain and Italy and, probably, a French game or two thrown in for good measure. Times have changed.
When I first landed in New York Setanta Sports had a strangle hold on football broadcasting. Most weeks there was only one game shown live and you had to go to a bar early Saturday morning, due to the obvious time difference, pay a nominal fee, I think it was $5s in most places though God bless Barry McCormack, he didn’t seem to care as long as you were eating and drinking and most people were, and you got what you were given, mostly Manchester United or Liverpool games. ESPN would show midweek European games but, again, the options were limited. The F.A. Cup final would be on pay per-view so you could watch that in the comfort of your own home should you choose. Ironically, the F.A. Cup being football’s big day out, this was the one you were most likely to want to go watch in a bar full of football fans.
These days you are spoiled for choice. Almost every game that is shown on Sky back in Blighty is beamed right into your living-room and dragging your head off the pillow on a Saturday morning and actually making the effort to catch a subway or cab to a bar for your weekly fix is a thing of the past. Similarly, there’s no longer a need to fake illness or book half a day off work for that all important midweek Euro clash (if you’re one of the lucky buggers who’s team play in Europe) when you can simply record the match and watch it when you get home. So where’s all this leading then? To Brooklyn...
Basically, if a game’s not on here it’s not on anywhere in New York.
I met a guy a few years ago, lovely lad, an American who’s more passionate about this game of ours than anyone you’re ever likely to meet. His name’s Ross. He was a chef working for a wealthy family on the Upper Eastside at the time. I was working maintenance in the same building. He called me and still does, ‘The Leeds man,’ and we talked about little else but football. One day he showed me a little scrap of paper with an ink drawn sketch of an L-shaped room on it. It wasn’t easy to make out exactly what I was looking at but I learned it was a rough approximation of a bar that Ross intended to open shortly. A football bar. Truth be told I groaned inwardly. Here’s another nice guy going to pump his hard-earned into a dream, into a business that’s hard enough to succeed in at the best of times and, not only that, his main selling point is going to be football, something that anyone with a T.V and basic cable can enjoy at home. I need not have worried.
Ross is now the proud, though disarmingly modest, owner of a hugely successful bar called Woodwork - as in, ‘In off the Woodwork’ - in Prospect Heights. The L-shaped pen scribble has been realised in a gorgeous bare brick walled space anchored by a recycled oak bar top. The walls are often adorned, gallery style, with photographs from local artists (this is not your typical football bar), often displayed with the aim of raising funds for various charities. There are three large flat screen T.V.s on the walls making every seat in the house a perfect spot when a game is on which is often. Basically, if a game’s not on here it’s not on anywhere in New York.
Staying true to his culinary roots, Ross puts out food that is a cut above, way, way above, anything you’re likely to encounter in any of the other bars showing games around the city. Indeed, were Woodwork not a football pub, it would be worth a visit for the kitchen alone.
Though nominally an Arsenal bar, Ross is a passionate Gunners fan himself, Woodwork attracts football fans of every stripe. Of late it’s become somewhat of a base for Brooklyn based Liverpool fans though on any given game day you never know quite who you’ll find propping up the bar. Games in here are an experience, they’re fun. This is not the cram them in, give them crap beer, make as much money off them as you can, then fuck ‘em off out the door type of place you might walk into on the lower end of Manhattan’s 3rd Ave. Here I’ve tired explaining the offside rule to a novice football fan and I’ve had the pleasure of an elderly gent explaining to me just what it means to be a Barcelona fan and native while watching them take on arch rivals Real. There’s also a healthy MLS fan base. Ross is a season ticket holder at The Red Bulls and it’s not uncommon to see him handing over his tickets to a loyal customer. This past season the bar also sponsored Joel Lindpere who showed up for a meet and greet photo session with the fans in the bar. For some games they run a coach out to the stadium.
When the football finishes there’s no reason to head for the exit. Woodwork has become part of the fabric of Prospect Heights, with a large local folowing who drop in for a few beers after work or to catch a bite to eat. It’s the type of place I wish I had as a local though my liver is probably grateful that I don’t. My last foray over there, for the Leeds Manchester United cup game earlier this season, finished up at 4 a.m. the next day after an afternoon of drinking with a fellow Leeds fan quickly descended into one of those nights that pass by in the blink of an eye, populated by characters from the area, all very friendly and not in the least bit stand offish, despite our obvious drunken state. With the volume muted football played constantly on the t.v.s while the sound system pumped out the likes of The Clash, New Order, Chic, James Brown, The Smiths and Motown classics.
I can only see this bar doing better and better. The atmosphere is bang on, the bar staff are some of the coolest most laid back in the city and the drink and food selection are on a par with many places that would charge much more for fare of an equal standard. Across the street a brand new arena is slowly rising that will become home to the Nets basketball team who are poised to abandon New Jersey and cross the Hudson River. Woodwork is the obvious pre and post game spot. As for future plans, there is talk of opening a branch in Philadelphia something I think would be enormously successful given the level of interest in football in The City of Brotherly Love. Keep your fingers crossed Philly, you’re in for a treat.
Sad to say but living, as I do, in New Jersey these days, I won’t and I don’t get over to Woodwork as often as I should and would like to but it is the one football bar in New York I would recommend to anyone; it is the one bar that will get me off my lazy arse once in a while and back out to watch a game in the company of fellow football supporters of every stripe and, both my family and I think that’s got to be a good thing.
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