West Africa vs South America, in Harlem
Jeremy Pasker | 7/10/2014, 4:11 p.m.
Separated by 5th Avenue and soccer allegiances, Harlem has become a Petri dish of culture and personality, a melting pot blending extreme diversity, creating something different from its origins. A difference mapped out by the soccer fans, which frequent the area.
Fan's are adoring. Fan's are passionate. Fan's can memorize statistics, transfer history and the names of the lowliest player on the squad as if their team were their first born child. When channeled harmoniously, the results can be electrifying.
The New Ivoire restaurant is painted the colors of the Ivory Coast flag. The orange, white, and green decorating the outside of the building is a mere taste of the authenticity found inside.
Here a cramped grotto on 119th street and Park avenue, Ivory Coast (Cote D'Ivoire) fans observed a noon first round World Cup match against Colombia. The tight space and crowded enclave was initially a bit hot, no one else seemed to mind though. The restless clamor and West African french dialect added to the growing tension, a mere half hour before kick off.
While the smell of food from the kitchen diffuses through the air, I was reminded more of an adolescent mess hall amongst friends than a bar. The room was fueled by a love for soccer and a playful hatred of France (which is now out of the Cup.)
“[Cote D'Ivoire] is good individually,” illustrated Mussa, a self described long time Ivory Coast fan. "But when they play as a team it's tough for them to have chemistry."
Mussa referenced, during lulls in laughter, how each member of the National team brings great Euro league experience to the cup but that experience hasn’t materialized into national play.
A quarter past noon the room morphs from a disjointed locker room atmosphere, when there were 20 different conversations happening about 40 different topics to an organized row of bleachers. It was as if all in the room knew the best way to watch a game in maximum comfort.
Most of the 50 people in the room wore comfortable business attire, slacks, shoes. They took the game seriously. They weren't playing around.
Alex, wore dress pants, shoes, and a striped shirt, augmented his fertile accent with head gestures and powerful gesticulation while describing his favorite team’s best shot at beating the better Colombian club. "We've got to [fight] inside. That's the only way we can beat Colombia."
Everyone was anxious and gripping their seats. It was widely acknowledged amongst those present that Colombia was better so any advantage Cote D'Ivoire showed elicited tremendous applause, and cheers, and excitement.
On the same token, any sign of disadvantage squeezed oxygen from the room. The mood ebbed and flowed with the rise and fall of Cote D'Ivoire.
"If we win, we qualify. If they win, they qualify. It's a very big game, you see," said Alex during the few moments I was able to distract him long enough to sustain a conversation.
No one had scored yet but the Crowd inside continued growing, as the space inside shrunk, as halftime neared.