Fans at The Harp in Amherst help see US through to next round in Brazil

Tuesday, August 05, 2014
AMHERST — Even without any “U-S-A!” or newly famed “I believe that we will win!” chants, loud collective cheers and groans from nearly 100 fans at The Harp could be heard from across the street of the Irish pub early Thursday afternoon as the U.S. played Germany in the World Cup.

Smiles were abundant at the final whistle of Portugal’s 2-1 win over Ghana, which meant the Americans advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament despite their 1-0 loss to Germany.

While the bar was relatively quiet at the noon kickoff, by the time Germany scored against the U.S. in the 53rd minute of the match, not a single seat could be found at a bar stool, a booth or a table.

“I’m a lifelong fan, and I’m thrilled to see so many people getting into it this year,” said Lawrence De Geest of Amherst, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts. “The atmosphere here is very intense, but very positive. You hardly hear negative things said, which I think is very nice.”

De Geest, who was born in Belgium and grew up in the United States, said this year’s turnouts for U.S. World Cup matches “speak to Americans’ patriotism.”

“I think the atmosphere is great because this is an international sport at a very high level,” De Geest said. “People get to come here, and whether or not they like soccer or know much about it, they get to root for America, which I think they’re always very excited and thrilled to do.”

De Geest was joined at the bar by Ilya Chernyakhovskiy, another graduate student at UMass. Chernyakhovskiy grew up in Amherst and is studying for a master’s degree. Both are researching resource economics.

“I’m surprised to see so many people here, because I haven’t seen such a turnout in any other World Cup,” Chernyakhovskiy said. “I think the sport is really picking up, and I think it’s great because it’s making me more interested in the sport and I feel like I’m more likely to follow it throughout the year.”

Chernyakhovskiy said he was at The Harp for the opening game of this year’s World Cup, a 3-1 win by Brazil over Croatia, as well as several others, and the most fans were at the bar on Thursday.

“The atmosphere is always good at The Harp,” De Geest said. “I think it’s the nicest spot to watch the World Cup in Amherst, having tried a few different places.”

While the loudest applause came from goaltender Tim Howard’s diving saves throughout the match, the fans also showed their appreciation when the Americans earned two corner kicks during the game.

Of the six televisions in the building, five were tuned into the game between the U.S. and Germany, while the sixth at the end of the bar was showing the other Group G game between Ghana and Portugal.

A collective cheer and sigh of relief was released with about 10 minutes left in the U.S. game when Mark “Harpo” Power, the owner of The Harp, announced over the speaker system that Cristiano Ronaldo had given Portugal a 2-1 lead in the 80th minute and all but clinched the United States a spot in the knockout round.

“While right now this crowd is predominantly rooting for the Americans, there are people in here with ‘Deutschland’ shirts,” Power said. “I know there was a guy at the bar who was rooting for Ghana last time we played Ghana, so we’ve got a very diverse crowd.”

Power said that he considers The Harp to be “Soccer Central for the North Valley,” citing the dozens of soccer jerseys from around the world pinned on the ceiling of the bar. Each jersey was donated by a customer of The Harp, which Power opened in 2001.

“Soccer at a place like this is going to be popular,” said Bob Richards of Northampton. “At a different bar, it’s not going to be popular in two weeks if the U.S. aren’t in it, but this place will still be watching the World Cup regardless.”

According to Power, The Harp gained a reputation for being a soccer-friendly bar soon after it opened due to crowds of English and Scottish graduate students who found a spot to watch English Premier League games early in the day.

“We take great pride in the diversity of the bar,” Power said. “As an Irish pub, people sometimes get the wrong impression of the place, thinking that it’s chauvinistic or whatever, but it’s not. This is a very open place, so we have a lot of fun with the diverse crowd.

“Whether you’re rooting for Ghana, Portugal, the U.S., Germany, or any other country, there’s going to be some sort of representation right now in this bar, and all during the World Cup,” he added.