Friday, December 26, 2014

Different teams, one purpose for fans at pub

Perched on a bar stool, 46-year-old Ricardo Ordaz wore a black Mexico soccer jersey and watched the screen above him intently. Behind him sat a dozen of his boisterous friends, most cheering, many smiling, all watching.

Across the front room, the largest in Center City's Fado Irish Pub, was Krishane Pillay. Pillay, 31, who has lived in the United States for 17 years, is from South Africa, the host nation for this year's soccer World Cup. Clad in the green and yellow of his home country, Pillay sat, hands clasped, leaning forward. Like Ordaz, Pillay was fixated on the giant projector screen, absorbed by Friday's game - Mexico versus South Africa, the opener of the biggest sporting event in the world.

Though continents away from the live action on the screen, Ordaz and Pillay represented their homelands as part of the Philadelphia community, feeling just as attached to the game, and the event as a whole, as many back home.

"Being Mexican makes you really love soccer," said Ordaz, a computer software engineer who moved to Philadelphia from Mexico City 15 years ago. "But being out of your country makes you cheer for them more."

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Pillay, who has family still living in Johannesburg and said several attended the game, feels similarly. A tennis player, Pillay came to this country because of apartheid in search of opportunity in sports.

"This culminates every sort of youngster's goal in South Africa, because they were deprived of so much of the international arena," Pillay said. "Having the World Cup down in South Africa just makes everyone want to go and excel in sports, because the whole world is watching. This is their soil, this is their sport, and I'm just so happy because this is going to open up so many doors for many talented individuals in South Africa."

At Fado, Pillay was part of a small group of native Africans taking in the game. Although the bar crowd was diverse - a mix of media members, casual fans, and nonpartisan bystanders - the largest contingent was Mexican.

Chants of "MEX-I-CO!" trumped all other sounds, with one fan continously exhorting his team with, "Vamos Mexico!"

Ricardo Limon, wearing a green Mexico soccer T-shirt and a Phillies cap turned backward, was among the Mexican faithful. Limon sees the World Cup as a time for people to band together.

"Today means a new start . . . this represents pride and Mexican culture and Mexican heritage in a game that's played throughout the world and brings people together," Limon, 29, said. "It means unity. Even though there are opposing fans here, we're all here for the same purpose."

David Blumeris, a friend of Pillay's, agreed. Blumeris, 40, is not from South Africa, but the neighboring nation of Zimbabwe. His country has never qualified for the World Cup, but he is prideful nonetheless.

"It's such a big occasion for the region as a whole. It's done so much for the region economically. In terms of pulling people together, Africa as a whole, it's huge," Blumeris said.

"You watch so much American sports on TV. Every single day it's basketball, baseball, the Flyers," Blumeris added. "And now to have something that I'm passionate about . . . this is something that's deep down in my heart that I love."

Evan Burgos For The Inquirer
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