Soccer fans bring flags, fervor to Dupont Circle

Two giant screens showed the soccer games, and hundreds of fans filled the circle.
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some arrived at dawn to lay blankets in front of one of the giant screens and plant themselves for three games. Later arrivals stood on tiptoe or shimmied up trees for a view. By 2:30 p.m., when the United States kicked off against England in their first game of the World Cup, Dupont Circle was a sea of sweaty bodies, face paint, flags and plastic noisemakers tooting like hyperactive foghorns.

As part of the event, Soccer in the Circle, organizers had set up two giant screens to show the day's games. By midday, hundreds of fans filled every available patch of grass, waving flags from the United States, England, Greece, South Africa and other countries. Shouts of "USA!" rang through the trees.

The crowd was largely young and reflected the Washington area's international mix. Jean-Claude Tounkara, 29, a Malinese American who lives in Silver Spring, argued with a friend who was supporting England as they waited for the match to start. "This is unprecedented -- people milling in here in Dupont Circle" for soccer, he said, adding that Americans' interest in the game and the quality of the team had "really picked up."

"There is a shift," Tounkara said. "It's not about South America anymore, it's not about Europe anymore. It's about Africa and the U.S."

Elina Teplinsky, 29, of Russia and Salvador Rivas, 28, of El Salvador arrived at 6:30 a.m. to root for Greece, which lost to Korea, and for Argentina, which beat Nigeria.

"We get to enjoy this every four years, so we've got to take advantage," said Rivas, who was wearing a Liverpool T-shirt and supporting England.

Teplinsky, wearing a Greece tank top and waving an American flag, was not put off. "That's the great part about the World Cup," she said. "Everyone can root for a different team -- and all the conflicts in the world are forgotten."

Joseph Lichterman, 19, a Capitol Hill intern from Detroit, said he was glad to see so much enthusiasm for the sport he grew up playing but which has taken Americans a while to warm up to. "I feel like I'm in a different country because everyone's so excited for a soccer game."

Some fans wore USA or England T-shirts or sported soccer ball-shaped hats, but Dean Howarth, 45, and Jeff Jones, 33, physics teachers from Arlington County, arrived in blue colonial frock coats and tri-corner hats.

"The last big battle that was fought in this area, we sent England home," Howarth said. "And we're going to do it again."

Had he faced any challenges from the other side? "They're kind of like laying low," he said, "but that's typical for Redcoats."

A few feet away, Emile Hoffman, 40, who had lived in England, dismissed the anti-England sentiments. "I support England because it's really in their hearts," he said. In England, "they're glued to the screen. It's maybe like this but five times bigger."

Once the game began, the crowd yelled with anticipation each time the ball neared the goal. Those who couldn't see over the people in front of them peered into iPhones to follow the game. Viewers ducked into the CVS across the street and found the shelves of bottled water nearly empty. England's early goal elicited groans from U.S. fans, but when the United States scored, the circle exploded in a deafening roar.

After almost two hours, the game ended in a tie and heat-addled fans streamed out, leaving the park strewn with water bottles, beer cans and a blanket or two.

Chris Sweet, 39, a native of Pinner, England, who lives in Warrenton, had spent the afternoon outnumbered by the enemy. But he said that what he endured wearing an England T-shirt in Dupont was nothing compared with the hostility an American would have faced in his homeland.

"I got a little abuse. I got drinks thrown at me. But it was all in good spirit, and that's a good thing about here in the States: People take the game in good spirits," he said. "So hats off to Washington, D.C., for making this such a wonderful game."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company