Published June 26. 2014 1:09PM Updated June 27. 2014 2:58PM
The Harp & Dragon in Norwich was packed Thursday afternoon and it wasn’t because they were giving away free chicken wings. That was just a bonus.
Every bar stool and the main dining area was filled with diehard soccer fans who were rooting for the United States to beat Germany in the World Cup.
Chad Hervieux, general manager of the Irish restaurant and bar, said the free buffet was his way of saying thanks to loyal customers who have been filling the bar to watch the games.
“Last Monday, it was standing-room only,” Hervieux said. “I can see the difference in just four years. The sport is definitely catching on.”
Andy Koniecko asked first thing Monday morning if he could take off from work so he could watch Thursday’s game. He rallied a group of friends to join him at the Harp & Dragon.
He loves everything about the sport, and Koniecko, who has played on co-ed teams, thinks the game is a great unifier.
“It’s tough in this country because the game doesn’t get a lot of exposure,” Koniecko said. “With the World Cup, the entire world is watching. Every country has a common goal and wants to represent their country.”
From Westerly to Old Saybrook and New London to Norwich, workers either used their lunch break to watch the noon-time game in a local restaurant or gathered around a TV in the office. Many donned slacks and ties — or American flags — as they sipped Guinness and stared intently at TV screens and projectors. They returned to work satisfied, if not thrilled, with the game’s results.
“Anytime you advance with a loss, it’s not the way you want to move on,” said Dominic Larubina, of Mystic, who took the day off from his job at a biotechnology firm in Rhode Island to watch the game at Hanafin’s Irish Pub in New London.
Not a soul at High 5’s or Hanafin’s, both State Street pubs, admitted to rooting for Germany — not even Renate Wilson, who is originally from Bavaria but now lives in New London and works at Electric Boat.
She said she was rooting for the U.S. even though some German friends might frown upon it.
“I really would like the U.S. to get a lot more into soccer,” she said. When Germany won but the U.S. still advanced, she said it was the perfect balance for her.
The Harp & Dragon crowd yelled in unison around the 21-minute mark when Graham Zusi nearly scored a goal.
Shortly after, Chris Lane’s table of friends starting chanting, “I believe that we will win.”
Lane, who donned an American flag shirt and scarf emblazoned with “United States,” said he played soccer right through high school.
“It’s exciting,” he said of the World Cup. “It’s gut-wrenching. It makes my stomach hurt. I just love the game.”
When Germany scored the game’s only goal, the entire room shouted, “Oh!” in disbelief.
Jill Fritzsche and her friend Sharon Wallen draped themselves with the American flag as they sat on bar stools and watched the game.
“I feel like America needs me right now,” said Fritzsche jokingly, before turning more serious and saying, “These players are ultimate athletes.”
She said she had someone watch her store, Encore Justified, an antiques and vintage store on Main Street in Norwich, so she could watch the game.
“In Europe, everything shuts down when their country plays,” she said. “I think America needs to adopt that philosophy.”
Her husband was an All-American soccer player, and her 11-year-old daughter also plays.
“I really think the reason that soccer hasn’t caught on in the United States is because there isn’t much advertising dollars to be made. There aren’t a lot of commercials,” she said. “It’s a shame because it’s a beautiful sport.”
Justin Wickham showed his support with a U.S. team jersey and star-spangled socks.
Wickham follows the sport when it’s the World Cup.
“The game gets everyone around together for a common goal, and that’s to see the United States win,” he said. “We are rooting for the same team. The World Cup unites us all.”