Try telling the 100 people packed into Geno’s Traditional Food and Ales at 8 a.m. on a Sunday that Spokane isn’t a soccer town.
To the warm and inviting scent of eggs and coffee, a throng of barkeepers, waiters and waitresses slicing through the thick crowd, fans of Earth’s most popular sport drank, cheered and jeered as France and Croatia battled it out for 90 minutes to take home the coveted World Cup.
Organized by the Spokane chapter of American Outlaws, a national soccer fan club, it was perhaps the busiest Geno’s had ever been in its short three-year history as the Lilac City’s premier soccer bar – especially since they don’t technically open until 11.
At 7:20, a line had formed around the block and 20 minutes later, the place was nearly full.
“I actually ate breakfast at home,” said Marshall Powel, the pub’s general manager, as he took a short moment between helping wait tables and clean up spilled pitchers of iced tea. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to here.”
Every chair in the main dining room pointed at the flat screen hanging on the wall. With each foul, corner kick and especially goal scored, the place exploded in excitement. Kids shouted. Adults groaned.
At halftime, with France up 2-1 over Croatia despite possessing the ball for only about a third of the time, Lena Cooley, the club’s unofficial communications director, addressed the crowd and thanked them for rolling out of bed so early.
“Ladies and gentlemen soccer fans,” she told them after pulling a chair to the front of the room and firmly planting both feet on it. “If crowds like this keep showing up, Geno’s will keep opening early for us.”
At a back table in the main room sat George Hughbanks, his two sons, their friend and his mother. Save for George, the entire table of soccer fans and soccer players was rooting for Croatia, not because of any ties to the country, but because everyone loves an underdog.
“My turtle predicted France to win,” said 12-year-old Mason Hughbanks, of his reptile named Hurricane, after England’s star striker Harry Kane, who plays for the Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. “He’s usually right.”
As it turned out, he was this time as well. France would eventually beat Croatia 4-2, winning its second World Cup. But for a grueling hour and a half, the sprinkling of French fans sat in delight, punctuated with agony and a sprinkling of nervousness.
None of those emotions were more apparent than in the face of Daniel Gubitz, a 28-year-old wrapped in a French flag, a black beret on his head and red stripes painted on his cheeks beneath black-rimmed glasses. As he sat, his leg tapped with anxiety and his hands fidgeted. His eyes stayed transfixed on the screen.
Born in Grenoble, France, and having studied in the country while a student at Whitworth University, he was in full French attitude. For breakfast, he had French toast, and to help ease the nerves, a French 75 cocktail consisting of gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar.
“I actually thought these were Croatian colors,” he said in jest of the flag he was holding as if it were a blanket keeping him warm. “I didn’t know.”
His wife, Hannah Gubitz, came in support, decked out in an Arsenal FC jersey. It was the first time at Geno’s for both of them, and something told them they should definitely return. Perhaps to watch a more capable American team claim a win on the world’s largest stage in 2022.
“It’s great,” they said of Geno’s.
“But we’re not huge U.S. national team fans,” Hannah said. “Well, actually, we like the women’s team.”
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