Friday, June 11, 2010

Hanging with Bafana Bafana (the boys) at the Checkerboard Tav

Posted on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 9:51 AM

A tie is still a win, at least when it comes to futbol fans in Spokane getting a chance to watch some World Cup soccer in real time. Even if that means showing up at an East Sprague tavern at 6:30 am Friday. A couple of lucky sorts who didn't have to work were tipping back beers, but owners Keith and Janice Raschko had a special blend of Craven's coffee brewed up for the two dozen soccer fans who turned out, many in colorful team jerseys, for the historic opener.

Host country South Africa and Mexico played to a 1-1 tie in the first World Cup championship game ever played in Africa.

Just being able to see the game live was a huge triumph for Spokane, says City Councilman Jon Snyder, who arrived wearing a brilliant, sky-blue jersey of a Mexican club team. Snyder recalls going to sports bars around Spokane during previous World Cups and finding no interest in televising the games.

"Spokane should be able to participate in the world's largest sporting event," Snyder says.

Among the people lined shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar were friends Matt Salazar and Erik Lehto. Salazar in the green of the Mexican nation jersey, Lehto wearing the bright yellow and green of South Africa's Bafana Bafana, or The Boys, as the team is known in their homeland.

"My dad was born in Mexico. I feel a real connection to the Mexican team," says Salazar, who just finished teaching a year of sixth-grade at the Paschal Sherman Indian School near Omak. He says he turned out to see a live telecast of the game at the Checkerboard for the history of the occasion.

"Mexico gets to play the first World Cup game ever played in Africa. This is our shot at history. Both teams are young and talented," Salazar says.

Lehto, who works for Catholic Charities in Spokane, says his parents in Denver mailed him the South African team jersey in a similar way of marking an historical occasion. And because their son is a huge World Cup fan.

"I've been talking about the World Cup for six months. I was even thinking of going to South Africa," Lehto says. Most Americans simply don't understand that, "The world comes alive every four years in June and July. During 2006, there was a drop in the insurgency in Iraq and (former president) Bush said, 'Look, our strategy is working.' But after the World Cup ended (the violence) went back up because people had just been inside watching the games."

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