No Sleep 'til Sapporo

With the World Cup taking place in far-off Asia, Portland soccer fans find themselves doing it all...night...long.

Just off Sandy at 5 am Friday, morning birds are singing and woozy Brits are howling. David Beckham--World Cup superstar for England, Mr. Posh Spice--just hammered a soccer ball into the back of Argentina's net. As Hollywood slumbers, the Moon & Sixpence is blowing apart at the seams.

Hours before sunup, red-shirted England fans with pupils to match packed the pub on Northeast 42nd Avenue, jockeying for space around the big-screen TV, hoarding last-call beers and power-slugging free coffee. By 0430 Pacific Daylight Time, when England kicked off against archrival Argentina in Sapporo, Japan, humans driven slightly crazy by the world's biggest sporting event crammed every corner of the little Portland bar.

Such behavior is, of course, entirely unreasonable, the kind of thing that causes bemusement among the uninitiated--Shazam, them soccer folks sure are nutty....

But it's not entirely uncommon. As soccer's quadrennial championship rolls on in Korea and Japan, insomniac insanity (or, hmm...lunacy?) grips Americans who follow their planet's most-loved sport. Asian kickoff times pose an inconvenience of intercontinental proportions: Live broadcasts on the ESPN networks and Univision start at 11:30 pm, continuing through the night. And so undaunted hardcores shirk work, road-test the tolerance of significant others and embrace new relationships with caffeine, all in the name of 22 men chasing a ball, somewhere across the Pacific.

"It sort of ends up taking over your life," says Kevin Dorney, stalwart owner of the Moon & Sixpence. "You end up taking lots of days off, but it's only once every four years."

In Portland, the Italians watch at Torrefazione on Northeast Weidler Street. The Brazilians hit Brasilia, a restaurant on otherwise-sterile Southwest Macadam Avenue. Ireland fans crowd Kells. Supporters of the surprisingly spry Americans venture to the Bitter End Pub, among other hotspots. Starting June 12, a nightly fiesta at Multnomah Greyhound Park looks to lure Asian, Latino, African and Anglo fans by the thousands.

"We're showing as many games as possible: 1:30 in the morning, 4 o'clock in the morning, whatever," says Brasilia's Cato Oliveira. "Just another excuse to party, right?"

A hell of a party, yes; best of all, it's 100-percent Shaq-free. No Bill Walton expounding in your ear. No Terry Bradshaw singing Beatles tunes. No ex-Kappa Kappa Kappa chuckleheads in white baseball caps. In the United States (unlike the other 31 participating nations), the World Cup is hardly another overhyped jock event--more like a secret ritual to which only a small, fever-stricken cult is privy.

Fine with me. If buffet-swollen sportswriters, NASCAR fans and human haircuts on SportsCenter don't "get" soccer, who cares? Some people don't eat sushi because it "tastes weird"; some don't read because it "makes their brain hurt." If you can't enjoy the Cup, that is most profoundly your problem.

Where else in sports do you find this cavalcade of weirdness? Scrubby Senegal beat world champion France. Costa Rica, an unarmed sliver of Central America, stuffed bellicose China. During Ireland's match against Cameroon, three wasted Irishmen forced me to strip and hand over my green shirt. (They returned it--didn't fit--and reclaimed the gamy Old Navy tee they'd given me as a replacement.) Cameroon's coach has this haircut...well, you just have to see it. Unlike the NBA, no one knows who's going to win; unlike the World Series, the world actually cares.

"The great thing is, you're up at four in the morning watching this stupid football match, and everyone in the world is doing exactly the same thing," says Dorney. "There are Bedouins huddled around a TV in a tent somewhere, watching it. The whole world stops to focus on this thing that, in the scheme of life, is actually pretty unimportant."

Unimportant it may be, but it has its rewards. At 4 am last Wednesday, as the U.S.A. clinched a manic upset of powerful Portugal, I cracked a patriotic Pabst Blue Ribbon and savored the moment. Even sweeter was the knowledge that weeks of this madness remain before the Final--a game that will be watched by billions--on June 30. There will be drama; there will be upsets; there will be heartbreak; there will be freaky hair; and, until 2:30 am, there will be alcohol served.

In my opinion, you'd be crazy to miss it.

Please call ahead to these Cup-friendly establishments:

The Bitter End Pub
1981 W Burnside St., 517-0179

Brasilia
6401 SW Macadam Ave., 293-2219

Kells Irish Pub
112 SW 2nd Ave., 227-4057

The Moon & Sixpence
2014 NE 42nd Ave., 288-7802

Torrefazione NE
1403 NE Weidler St., 288-1608

Multnomah Greyhound Park hosts nightly World Cup showings with big-screen TVs, a capacity of 5,000 and continental breakfast served after the Final. $10 admission for the rest of the tournament. Email ues@teleport.com. To subscribe, write to P.O. Box 12182, Portland, OR 97212.