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Local fans pick sides at U.S. World Cup party

NATCHEZ — While Super Bowl parties have become commonplace around America, a group of U.S. soccer supporters decided a World Cup party was in order for America’s game against England on Saturday.

Approximately 30 Natchez soccer fans gathered at a local residence to cheer on the red, white and blue as they fought England to a 1-1 draw in their opening match of the 2010 World Cup.

The group, of which many play on the local adult soccer team, the Natchez Gamblers, has been getting together to watch U.S. soccer matches, even exhibitions, all while sporting their Uncle Sam hats and replica U.S. jerseys, for quite a while.

“Anytime the U.S. plays, we get together,” Natchez High soccer coach and Natchez Gambler player Dennis Hogue said. “If someone says the U.S. is playing sometime, we’ll get together and watch it. It’s kind of a given.”

And like many of the group’s U.S. soccer parties, Saturday’s took place at Brent Bourland’s house, because, as Hogue said, he has the biggest television.

“It’s almost to the point of where we don’t even ask,” Hogue said. “If the U.S. is playing, we’re going to Brent’s.”

The mood of the party didn’t get off to the greatest start, as England’s Steven Gerrard scored a goal in the fourth minute, but the room exploded in the 40th minute when Clint Dempsey’s shot bounced off England goalkeeper Robert Green’s hands and trickled into the back of the net.

Well almost all of the room, anyway.

Lani and Kris Griffiths, recent Cathedral graduates who were born in England and lived there over 10 years before moving to Natchez, weren’t to thrilled about it.

Lani, who was wearing a shirt featuring the English flag, could only stare at the television in disbelief as the American fans around here went beserk.

“That was awful,” she said. “Things like that always happen to us. They’ll play so well and then make a stupid mistake.”

The cheering and yelling at the television didn’t stop in the second half as both England and the U.S. had chances to score, but in the end, everyone was happy with the draw.

“I thought it was a good result,” Harrison Burns said. “England is a great team and any result (draw or win) out of the game was a great thing.”

Hogue agreed that Saturday’s draw was a great success for the American team.

“I’m very pleased,” Hogue said. “In your heart of hearts, you think the U.S. might be able to pull this out because they’ve been playing well lately. But then England scores in the fourth minute and you’re like “Holy smokes, back to reality.’ But Dempsey’s goal was a gift and got us back in it, and we held on.”

Even Kris Griffiths wasn’t unhappy with the result.

“It’s kind of what I expected,” he said. “It was a physical match with both teams going for the win. I think both teams can get confidence from the game and go on an do well in the rest of group play.”

Saturday’s draw was only the third time in 10 meetings the United States hasn’t lost to England. But while the U.S. might be catching up with the English on the pitch, Kris Griffiths said they’re nowhere close to matching them in a World Cup party.

“The streets are literally empty,” he said. “And it’s because the pubs are filled to the brink. People are spilling out of the pubs.”

But at least Saturday’s World Cup party did give the Griffith’s a little bit of a taste of their original home, even if it was just a morsel.

“It’s nice to watch the game with a big group of people,” Kris Griffiths said. “I felt a little lonely (cheering for England) but I always feel a passion for my country.”

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