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San Diego shows out for World Cup watch parties

Soccer mania got an early start in San Diego on Friday. Fans lined up outside of Shakespeare Pub in Little Italy at 5 a.m. to be assured of a good spot to watch the first World Cup match between the U.S. and England.

“They were camping out with their chairs, sweaters and blankets," said Jennifer Snead, a Shakespeare employee.

By 9 a.m. people were being turned away from the English pub on India Street and the sidewalk became its own scene.

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"I used to watch the England games in England, and it's absolutely great,” said Alison Grand, an English expat living in San Diego. “But I think the atmosphere in Shakespeare's is as close as you are going to get to the real thing.”

England Soccer Fans at the Shakespeare
Claire Strong
/
KPBS
A trio of England fans hold up the team banner in front of The Shakespeare on Nov. 25, 2022.

The crowd at Shakespeare Pub was decidedly biased toward the English team, it was an island in a sea of pro-USA crowds in and around the downtown area. The biggest one was at the Rady Shell on the Embarcadero, where about 4,000 people gathered to watch the game on a movie theater-sized screen.

The Black Friday atmosphere at the Rady Shell was very much red, white and blue, with many fans wrapped in the colors of the flag and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” It felt like being close to the action in Qatar thanks to the venue’s extraordinary acoustics.

“To see this place completely full is crazy to me,” said Chula Vista resident Sebastian Lopez. “Support for soccer hasn’t been that great in the U.S., and now we’re seeing all that support coming out.”

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The Rady Shell also reached capacity by game time, but latecomers had alternate options. One was a watch party on Island Street in the Gaslamp. There, about 500 people — a mix of families and partying twenty-somethings — watched on big screens while enjoying food and drink from Gaslamp bars and restaurants.

“We see the passion of the San Diego fans,” said Alma Ascencio with the Gaslamp Corridor Association. “And since we’re close to the border — and Mexico fans are passionate — we decided to do something for the community.”

Fans watching the game at the Rady Shell
Jacob Aere
/
KPBS
A crowd of fans watching the World Cup at the Rady Shell on Nov. 25, 2022.

Among the passionate fans at the Gaslamp event was Gabe Hanna. “We’re gonna kill it today,” said Hanna, who was decked out in a flag cape and a red, white and blue wig.

In the end, the two teams played to a 0-0 draw, with the U.S. team facing a decisive match against Iran on Tuesday.

For the England fans at Shakespeare Pub, it felt like a loss. "We played awful," said George Howard. "We had a few good chances, but we were not good at all."

Meanwhile, back at the Rady Shell, Diego Diaz said it was statement game for both the U.S. team and San Diego's soccer culture. And he's looking forward to another party on Saturday, when Mexico squares off against Argentina.

"I'm coming back tomorrow," he said "This venue is amazing."

San Diego shows out for World Cup watch parties