Post-war World Cup blues

June 17, 2010

At The Globe, the center of soccer world in Chicago, the sunlight streaming in from the windows is causing a few of the morning revelers to squint. It’s a gorgeous day outside but no one here much cares. The World Cup goes on and on, and an impossibly ethnically diverse Swiss team is about to stun the heavily favored Spaniards.

In The Globe’s front room, so many big screens detail the action on ESPN. Men and women bend over their coffees and mugs of beer. Every seat is taken, though everyone seems to be struggling to face away from the blinding windows. In the back, a dark and sunless cavern, a smaller group is immersed in Univisión’s Spanish-language broadcast. The voices on the screens are a lot more excited than ESPN’s sedate commentators but the folks back here are quieter, more intense.

An immigrant from Serbia, Johnny (probably not his real name, though he won’t confirm or deny that) doesn’t understand a word of the broadcast. “I don’t really care about this game,” he says. “I’ll root for Serbia and then, later, for the U.S. Of course, I’m not optimistic about Serbia.”

He sits by himself, muscled legs up on the chairs in front of him, muscled arms across his chest. A solitary Bud Light rests on the table. He rode 20 minutes on his bike to get to The Globe and he’ll ride 20 minutes back.

“That’s my exercise for the day,” he says with just a hint of an accent. His job as a security guard affords him a flexible schedule so drinking a beer at 10 in the morning isn’t a big deal, but it doesn’t provide enough time or money for cable at home. It’s not quite what he had in mind in America.

“After the war, I needed a new start, a new opportunity,” he says. “I got caught in Bosnia, then Croatia, then Slovenia. I couldn’t get into Italy. I left the former Yugoslavia in 1993, just in time, before it got bad.”

But, in fact, Bosnian Serbs and Serbia had already attacked Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1992 and some of the biggest “ethnic cleansing” by Serbs happened that summer. Other than to emphatically deny a military role with a pursed-lipped shake of the head, Johnny doesn’t want to talk about any of that.

He stares fixedly at the screen for a few seconds. “I was almost professional,” he says, suddenly. “But I gave up my big European soccer dream for the American dream. I think I screwed up.”

 

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