boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Chants encounters

If British soccer fans behaved like this on the other side of the Pond, they'd be bloody. But in the close confines of a Cambridge bar, they stand and sing shoulder-to-shoulder.



It's 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and groggy soccer fans begin to trickle into the Phoenix Landing near Central Square to watch their favorite English teams do, die, or tie. Many of the fans - doctors, lawyers, students from Europe, Africa, Asia, and a fair number of Massachusetts natives - proudly sport team jerseys and scarves.

Minutes before the games, it's quiet. People, the great majority of them male, order breakfast and coffee, or maybe a Guinness.

Then, the multiple television screens throughout the place zoom in on teams walking onto the pitch.

"Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart/And you'll never walk alone!" loudly sing the three dozen or so Liverpool fans watching their team prepare for a bout with Birmingham City.

To Arsenal fans watching their game against Derby, such songs, especially from Liverpool fans, draw rolling eyes. "They can be noisy, even when their team is playing the most useless football in the world," said Emmanuel Bagenda, 31, a Harvard law student from Uganda.

"They're very intimidating, but, hey, who cares?" said Jud Koomson, 34, a resident physician at Cambridge Hospital who is originally from Ghana. "When it comes to good soccer, it's Arsenal."

Eric Lessard, 27, president of a local Liverpool fan club, dismissed that banter. "We're the best club in the world," he said before joining in another Liverpool song, "Poor Scouser Tommy," a Scouser being a Liverpudlian.

Transport this scene to a pub in Manchester, Liverpool, or even London, and you might get some fistfights - maybe even a riot. There, passions for one's team can result in mayhem if you walk into the wrong place with the wrong colors.

But here in this cozy Cambridge pub, such rivalries take a back seat to the love of soccer every Saturday and Sunday morning. Expatriates and local soccer fans, craving the atmosphere of the wild and crazy world of the English Premier League, playfully brush off the heated banter and offensive chants for the opportunity to be around other football fanatics who understand why devotion to club is so important.

"Here, it's more about being a soccer fan," said Hagop Kozelian, 28, an Arlington Catholic High School girls soccer coach and Liverpool fan. "There, it's territorial."

Bagenda said being soccer fans in the United States, where the game often takes a back seat to other sports, is another reason. "We are a minority of sorts," he said. "That alone allows us to come together, even though we have our different passions."

Phoenix Landing opens as early as 6 a.m. to accommodate fans who want to catch the early afternoon games in England, but 10 a.m. is usually when the house is packed. Screens can carry as many as four different games at the same time, including an upstairs theatre-like venue. That means rivals, who aren't even playing against each other, have a chance to sometimes sing songs at one another.

During a recent Saturday morning, dozens of Liverpool fans who came to the pub only to learn the game wasn't being broadcast stuck around to taunt Manchester United fans watching their game against Everton. After Manchester United scored its winning goal, the Liverpool fans broke out in song:

We hate Nottingham Forest,

We hate Everton, too,

They're [expletive]!

We hate Man United!

But Liverpool we love you!

Allan C. Hutchinson, a visiting law professor at Harvard and a Manchester United fan, laughs off such taunts and said it's all part of the culture of English football. But back home, if Liverpool's fans sang the same tune at a Manchester pub, he said, "they'd be asking for trouble.

"It's much more tribal in England," Hutchinson said. "There are no problems here."

In fact, during a recent match against Manchester United's heated rival, Chelsea, Hutchinson even allowed Chelsea fan Patrick Ohiomoba, 31, blue shirt and all, to sit at his table. As Manchester United dominated Chelsea throughout, eventually beating them, two-nil, Hutchinson cheered while Ohiomoba, a Unix systems administer, kept his head down.

Ohiomoba said didn't mind the sea of red Manchester United fans around him during the game. He had other concerns about his team's loss. "It was very poor refereeing," he said dejectedly.

Lessard said organizing a good fan club is key to building the right environment for soccer games at the Phoenix Landing. That's why he and others created a Boston website, lfcboston.com, dedicated to Liverpool fans in Boston.

The website features a game schedule and a fan forum. But more important, it offers lyrics and audio samples of popular songs sung at live Liverpool games, so fans coming to Phoenix Landing can be prepared.

For example, you can find the lyrics and a Google video link to Liverpool's theme song, "You'll Never Walk Alone, " penned, remarkably, in 1945 by Rodgers and Hammerstein for their musical "Carousel." (Gerry and the Pacemakers, that other '60s Liverpool band, had a hit covering it two decades later, and in the city's pubs, its popularity stuck.)

"My passion for Liverpool matches my passion for the Red Sox," said Lessard, who grew up in Maine but became a Liverpool fan in high school. Lessard said he goes to see a live Liverpool game every year, and even drags his girlfriend along. "She stood in the cold with me as I got tickets," he said. "It was awesome."

The website, said Lessard, helps bring together other area Liverpool fans so they can enjoy games together.

For other fans - "supporters" is the proper term - meeting like-minded souls and belting out an occasional song happens by chance. Jay Cohen, 18, a sophomore at Harvard and a fan of the London-based Tottenham Hotspur, said attendance depends on his club's opponent. During big games, Hotspur fans break out the songs. Most of the time, though, that's not the case.

"I've been here by myself a few times watching the matches," said Cohen, who grew up in North London.

"It's hard to get a chant going alone."

Russell Contreras can be reached at rcontreras@globe.com.

The Globe's Russell Contreras reports from Phoenix Landing.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES