Postcards from the World Cup #4: shishas, lamb and howling with the Iranians
#4 BEIRUT NIGHTS, PARK ROYAL
19 Abbey Road, London NW10 7RB
Funny things zing through the mind while watching Honduras kick seven bells out of Ecuador on late-night telly (having first had seven bells kicked out of them by Ecuador): what, for example, of the black footy boot? When will ITV locate the Tyldesley Drone's 'Off' button? And how many tenses can Stevie Gee invent during a post-match interview?
Then, of course, the biggie: England, oh England – why are so many people surprised at our demise? As far as Postcards...is concerned, the only shock this summer was that Roy's Boys finally worked out how to gather results like Spain. Just without the style. And with four strikers rather than an imaginary one.
Thankfully, there are 31 other teams to enjoy in Overlord Sepp's Statuette Of Football Handouts, six – six! – of them were playing on Saturday, and by the gods while our livers are bruised, our minds are still willing. And so to Middle Eastern restaurant Beirut Nights, where the support for Iran is huge and smoking is a sport in its own right.
On the face of it, watching Iran as they try to halt dizzying tango champion Lionel Messi for an entire afternoon might not be the best way to lift the England-related malaise. Carlos Queiroz's men had, as these very dispatches noted some days earlier, single-handedly attempted to anaesthetise football during their zilch-zilch draw with Nigeria. A repeat might push a more rational fan to the very edge of reason.
Thankfully our Man in Tehran has been delivering positive reports from Iran's first London viewing: "Not only did we play out one of the most thrilling 0-0 draws a Monday night had ever seen," he wrote in rose-tinted Helvetica, "but we also managed to summon about 15-20 Iranians and honorary Iranians to a German beer hall in Liverpool Street.
"We had a lot of Geordies in the group, so we appropriated Newcastle chants for Iran – Blaydon Races became Tehrani Races, and My Garden Shed became My Darling Sheikh. There's a crowd going to Beirut Nights – get yourself there for Argentina, should be good. But be warned, we'll lose…"
Cheered by the sniff of a party, we arrive in Park Royal, west London, on a blistering afternoon. The bar staff of Beirut Nights are in the process of turning on four widescreen TVs positioned on the terrace outside. The reason for al fresco viewing in direct sunlight quickly becomes apparent.
Within minutes, the first of what become 20 or so shisha pipes are lit up, and the sweet tang of strawberry-flavoured tobacco drifts into the streets (the menu comprises over 33 varieties, including Pirate's Cave, Blue Mist and our personal favourite, Cuban Mojito). Meanwhile, plates of fresh fruit and bowls of pitta bread with spicy houmous make for tasty match snacks.
Not that eating is a priority today. For the next 90 minutes plus injury-time, this restaurant of fans in face paint and flags attempt their best Dot Cotton impressions as Argentina attempt to force a goal in the face of heavy resistance. Nerves are frazzled after only five minutes; pipes bubble and hubble. The South Americans look dangerous. Early predictions average around the 3-0 to Argentina mark, though it's widely acknowledged that these are probably grossly optimistic.
Talk about making a racket, though. Half a dozen girls in football shirts (one with 21 and "DEJAGAH" printed on the back) and hijabs have gathered around a telly and shriek every time Messi approaches the halfway line; tackles are cheered like goals. If Postcards… thought our jittery nerves would settle with England's departure, then we were wrong. As the Iranians gather confidence in the second half and press for a goal of their own, allegiance to the underdog kicks in.
But it's the hope (and secondary smoking) that kills you. On the upswing, Beirut Nights sing chants of "Iiir-aaan, Iran!" as first Reza Ghoochannejhad and then Askhan Dejagah go close. With minutes remaining, there's even talk of them pulling off their greatest result ever.
And then, with crushing, soul-sapping inevitability, Messi curls a tracer shot home in injury-time. First there are screams, followed by howls of agony, and then a desperate, tragic silence as 50 fans exhale a despairing bonfire of Dragon's Breath in unison.
Bloody hell, it hurts. And it's a feeling any England fan will understand only too well. The response is usually to drink heavily and talk of "sacking Roy". The Iranian reaction is to spark up and smoke another tobacco plantation.
They might have lost, but the sun is shining, the food is nice and there are still 30 other teams carving up the spoils in Ultimate Leader Sepp's Goblet Of Sponsorship. Let's join them in their merry puffathon. It's what Jack Wilshire would do, after all.
WHAT WE HAD: Mezze platter (houmous topped with lamb, patties stuffed with haloumi, lamb meatballs, spicy potatoes) £14.95.
Matt Allen will be criss-crossing the captial in the line of duty for the next month. His aim? To find the best World Cup-themed parties in London. If you know of any, please tweet him.