mahmoud.jpgAs I steal liberally from the New York Times…

“This is a great time for Iraqis, and a small reward for their suffering from killings and displacement. This is a message to the entire world that Iraqis want peace, good, and building their country. This message is opposite to all the agendas working against the goals of Iraqis. The Iraqi politicians have failed in unifying Iraqis, but football did that.” —Akram Al-Ghaderi, 33, journalist.

As promised—and I know how many of you intended to hold me to this—I managed to crawl out of bed early this morning to watch the Asian Cup final between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Okay, I slept in a little and missed the entire first half. Fortunately, it was still knotted at 0-0 when I arrived at the pub. Even the sport’s most ardent supporters have to admit it’s a major flaw when you can miss half the event and still not really miss anything.

From what I saw, Iraq created more chances and were deserving of the win. Still, Iraq was so shaky toward the end of the match that its defense was registering on the Richter scale and if there had been three or four more minutes of stoppage time the Saudis would have found a way to equalize.

But the match itself wasn’t nearly as entertaining as my watching experience.

I’m walking toward the pub (Fadó… yes, it’s a chain, but it’s one of the only places locally that has things like the Asian Cup final on at 8-something on a Sunday morning). Anyway, I can hear a live call of the match pouring out of the bar from over a block away. I’m thinking “Sweet, it’s packed. This is going to be fun.”

As I get closer, I can actually hear what the announcers are saying, and they are not the kinds of things that are associated with a football match. I’m hearing words like “slide pull” and “puckout” not to mention proper nouns like “Limerick” and “Harrigan” and other things that don’t sound very Persian.

“Huh, that’s a little strange, but the Asian Cup final was listed on the Website, so it should to be on.”

So, I walk in and there are three guys who look a lot like the guys sitting at the end of the bar in Moe’s Tavern (not Barney but the other nameless and lifeless schlubs, particularly the one with the auto-worker glasses) only a paler shade of white, and they are watching Hurling.

I didn’t know hurling was a sport, but I’m pretty sure if it is, there’s probably a Sigma Chi team that could give Limerick all they could handle (although the fact that the Irish have turned it into a sport makes total sense).

And besides a bartender, they are the only three people in the bar.

I glance around and none of the other TVs is even on. Only when I walk to the back of the bar do I find the Iraq game on.

And nobody there watching it.

Yep, the entire population of people wanting to go to probably the most popular fútbol watching spot in the city to take in the final match of an entire continent’s championship that included a feel-good so warm it probably thawed old Walt a degree or two was me (or maybe ‘was I’… frankly that’s such an awful sentence I can’t think it matters).

And even I couldn’t be bothered to drag my ass out of bed before halftime.

Eventually I remember that I am in a bar, and that Iraq, secular as it might have been, is still an Islamic country, and Muslims don’t drink alcohol. But state liquor laws don’t even allow the bar to serve alcohol until 10 am, and even then only with breakfast.

So me and my coffee and nobody of Middle Eatern descent watch Iraq take a 1-0 lead in about the 71st minute.

With about 10 minutes left, another woman walks to the back of the bar. “Okay, probably more of an ex-Peace Corps type than a hardcore footie fan, but fine, I’ll give her the recap and have some company for the last few minutes.”

No, she comes in to complain about the noise. That hurling call I was hearing on the walk up was from a speaker mounted on the outside of the bar and blasting into the street. It was leafblower loud and if I lived across the street (as she claimed), I’d be pissed to have a fucking hurling match destroying one of my two weekly chances to sleep in.

So the bartender tries to oblige her and starts turning some nobs on the panel that controls all of the TVs and all of the speakers. Only she has no idea what the fuck she is doing and she kills the audio on the Iraq match. So I get to watch the last ten minutes plus stoppage with the hurling call bleeding over from the front half of the bar.

At about the 88th minute three other doughy white boys with full-on accents and English kits to match come in and start asking the bartender to switch to the Newcastle friendly, even though they weren’t sure if there was a Newcastle match being played.

Yes, they wanted to switch to an absolutely meaningless match which might or might not be taking place. And the waitress was willing to accommodate them, only she had already demonstrated a complete inability to operate the TV system.

In stoppage time about 10-15 Arsenal fans, or at least people in Arsenal jerseys, turned up. In about five minutes time, that number doubled. Arsenal was teeing it up against Inter in the equally meaningless Emirates Cup in about half an hour. Turns out the bar had actually put that one on the schedule, so the local Goon squad held trump over the Magpies.

And because Arsenal was on the same channel as the Asian Cup final, it was allowed to remain on. So perhaps for that reason alone, I got to see the conclusion of the match and the clumsy celebration after (that’s not a knock on the Iraqi team but on the organizers’ attempts to orchestrate every part of the post game).

I almost want to apologize to Iraq. Not about the war because that’s not really anything I could do much about. But I am truly sorry that your country’s equivalent of the Miracle on Ice got treated worse than hurling at a local pub.

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