You come to Charleston, S.C., for the Civil War history. You come for the pleasant weather and lowcountry charm. You come for the oysters and shrimp and grits.
And if you are a soccer supporter, you come for the Three Lions Pub at Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island, the marsh-land-turned-too-perfect-planned-community wedged between the Cooper and Wando rivers.
It is, indeed, a soccer pub, with Guinness, Newcastle, Harp and Boddingtons on tap and a chef on call. But really it’s a museum. Among those who explore the sport’s global history, the Three Lions Pub has gained a reputation for offering one of the broadest and finest collections of soccer memorabilia in the world.
Tony Bakker, a London native and Spurs fan, is the curator. In 1982, Bakker founded the software company Blackbaud Inc., and seven years later, moved operations from New York to Charleston. Bakker played in adult leagues and remained close to the game, so, in 1993, he launched the Battery, a third-tier USL club that owns the 5,100-seat stadium adjacent to Blackbaud’s corporate headquarters.
Over the years, his collection of soccer items has blossomed. Most of it he purchased; some was donated and loaned.
The stairwell leading to the pub on the second level behind the main stands is lined with jerseys, framed and autographed. The collection begins with the 1999-2000 kits from Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds, the top three finishers in the Premier League campaign that season. There’s Wimbledon (remember them?), Bolton, Brighton and Swansea City. The walls of the backstairs and restrooms are also covered in kits.
There are two display cases of balls, 40 in each, most notably brownish, faded spheres from the 1966 World Cup autographed by the Portuguese and Brazil squads.
Hanging exclusively on one corner of a wall is a framed tribute to Pele, complete with an autographed jersey. “The King, of course, has a private place,” said Battery President Andrew Bell, a native of Reading, England, who came to the States in 1995.
There’s an England No. 10 jersey, signed on both sides by dozens of former English players and managers. It’s glassed inside a wall divider so no autographs are obscured. There’s the uniform worn by Gary Lineker in his final English appearance in 1992, when he was infamously subbed out by Graham Taylor while still needing one goal to equal the national record. The 1998 Jamaican World Cup team, the Reggae Boyz, which has supplied players to the Battery over the years, is honored.
England’s national team is known for its affiliation with outfitter Umbro, but at this pub, you can see a rare jersey manufactured by Admiral from the 1970s. Peter Mellor, who coaches in the States, loaned his green Fulham goalkeepers jersey from some 35 years ago.
There’s an old turnstile from Old Trafford that serves as a table and a tribute to the legendary Englishman Sir Stanley Matthews. There is a line of NASL pennants: New England Tea Men, Philadelphia Fury, Caribous of Colorado, Hartford Bicentennials, among others. Along with an array of MLS paraphernalia, there are reminders of defunct teams too: Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion jerseys. Aron Winter, new coach of Toronto FC, which is participating in this week’s Carolina Challenge Cup, took particular interest in an orange Dutch national jersey that includes his signature.
Fifty or so scarves blanket a side room. Posters from most of the World Cups adorn another. A Battery supporter donated a hand-knitted scarf big enough to warm a horse.
There are so many items, Battery officials have lost count. Some merchandise is in storage because the club has run out of wall space in the seven-room, 5,000-square-foot facility.
“It’s an evolving collection. There’s potential, of course, to make changes and move stuff in and out,” Bell said. It’s impossible to put a monetary value on it “because it’s all so unique. There are things here now that you can’t replicate because the people who signed them aren’t with us anymore.”
On the third level of the structure, still more jerseys line the hallway leading to the four private boxes: Diego Maradona, Peter Shilton, Rivaldo, Reading, Newcastle, Celtic, MetroStars, San Jose Clash, among others. The boxes are named and decorated for four clubs: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs.
The pub is not a public facility. It offers pregame food and drink for Battery club members and guests, and serves as a postgame gathering point for players of both teams. It is rented out for corporate functions and private parties. During last summer’s World Cup, the pub opened to the public for England and USA matches.
Despite the limited access, “We have quite a lot of people who just want to have a look around. We’ll take them up,” Bell said. “If it’s gameday, we try to get them through early. We try to protect the integrity of it for the members, but we know -- for example, this week during the tournament -- people are going to want to see it. So we allocate a number of tickets [for access] to the pub.”
The Battery’s offices, adjacent to the stadium, are an annex of sorts, with additional displays.
The final stop is in Bell’s office, which is graced by an official poster for the brilliant and awful soccer film “Victory.” Yes, this place truly has it all.