By Emily Spalding
ATHENS, Greece — Somewhere in the Fluntern Cemetery of Zürich, Switzerland, James Joyce might be rolling over in his grave.
Nestled in an alleyway near Athens’ tourist neighborhood of Monastiraki, the James Joyce Irish Pub so reveres its namesake that even placemats and napkins display the iconic Irish writer’s face. Yet on June 16, the pub transformed into a multinational tapestry as it aired the 2018 FIFA World Cup soccer matches between Morocco and Iran, and later Spain and Portugal.
As the evening progressed, boisterous spectators flooded into the pub. Any soccer fan knows a defining ritual of the sport is enjoying a pint with friends. For visitors to the James Joyce, which attracts both locals and tourists, this friendship spanned a range of nationalities.
Ian Brennan, a marketing consultant from England, has previously encountered this melding of countries in his decades of world travel. Perched on a barstool, pint in hand, eyes fixed on a screen, he beamed with pride as he explained his dedication to the sport and the surprising kinship he has found globally with fellow fans.
“The World Cup is a great opportunity for everyone to come together, whether it be in Greece or England or anywhere. It doesn’t really matter the city, football is [such] a worldwide game,” Brennan said. “Football especially brings all of these nationalities together … Whether it’s Moroccan fans, Iranian fans, Senegalese.”
Brennan described how he enjoys visiting bars where citizens from countries other than his own are present, and that this sort of relaxed interaction provides a way to understand cultures with which he might be unfamiliar.
“If it’s a match where you are quite neutral, why not go and have a real connection with at least one group of fans?” he asked.
This connection is especially possible at the James Joyce because its location in the heart of Athens draws in a variety of people. Dimitris Kontogiannis, a Greek lawyer in training, said he frequents the James Joyce because of its unique social opportunities.
“[There’s] an opportunity to meet other people here, because this pub [has] people from all over the world,” Kontogiannis said. “I think that it’s a place different from other traditional Greek cafés … That’s why I’m here.”
Kontogiannis attended the match with Spanish friends. Nearby was Peer Grin, a plumber visiting from Sweden. Having just arrived in Greece that morning, Grin came to the bar alone hoping to catch the match and immerse himself in the culture of Greece simultaneously. Grin explained how he is able to get a better understanding of each nation by observing how fans in the stadium act.
“You can see how the people are reacting. Like, Sweden, we are a bit more calm. Spain is a bit more emotional. You can see how other countries, how other people are, emotion wise,” he said.
Others agreed. Brennan noted how he observes players and fans to assess larger issues in their respective countries.
“For me, I get the drama from the actual tournament itself,” he said. “There’s a lot of psychology and a lot of emotion that goes into sport that I think a lot of people don’t realize.
“They just think it’s a very one-dimensional thing and that, you know, it’s just a bunch of guys sitting around watching a bunch of other guys kicking a ball. But there’s a lot of psychology and human emotion, and the interaction between people is played out in 90 minutes on a pitch. That’s why I watch.”