Postcards from the World Cup #5: unwavering hope, drum solos and Hoddle confusion with the Koreans
#5 The Fountain, New Malden
120 Malden Road, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 6DD
So far, Postcards… has visited some pretty unusual spots while trying to understand the nuts of bolts of international football and The Human Condition (a rather poncy way of covering over the fact we're partying with fans of countries that aren't England). Pubs, social clubs, restaurants, smoking dens: all of them casting light upon the unique national and cultural quirks within our global football community.
And then there's The Fountain in New Malden.
Stuck on a ghastly roundabout at the end of a nondescript high street so boring a scathing sitcom seems inevitable, The Fountain looks a fairly unremarkable boozer from a distance (in fact, if New Malden were a football commentator it would be Alan Smith, though without the Arsenal bias; we're in Chelsea territory). But scratch beneath the surface and there's so much more going on here than London Pride ale, fruit machines and half-eaten packets of Nobby's Nuts. An expansive pub garden is one of London's best-kept football secrets – during the World Cup at least.
Not that you'd know from passing. The South Korean flags that hang from the fence are the only clue that this could be something of an international stronghold. Get a little closer and there are posters written entirely in Korean advertising up-and-coming games.
It's only once you're inside that the full scale of this pub's allegiance becomes clear, where a couple of hundred South Korean ex-pats sit patiently, waiting for Adrian Chiles to finish his pre-match drivel so we can get on with the more exciting business of the coin toss (and for the record, Korean fans seem just as bemused by Glenn Hoddle's wrist wear as the remainder of the watching world). It's quite an unusual sight.
But how the hell did this happen? When did this quiet, suburban thoroughfare become the biggest enclave of Koreans outside of New York and, indeed, Korea? Well, the truth lies in a very interesting history lesson that we'll deliver as succinctly as possible: in the 1970s, a former South Korean ambassador set up home here, and before you knew it everyone else had followed suit; enthusiams was high, with some estimates later placing the Korean population in the surrounding borough at around 20,000.
Come the 21st century, 15 homespun restaurants had popped up in town and the heady aroma of frying belly pork and soy sauce was filling the high street. Which makes for a refreshing change from the usual fare of Dallas Chicken and Curry Cottage.
The Fountain has since become the town's football epicentre – and what a cultural experience it is, too. For this game against Algeria, three big screens have been positioned in the garden as crowds of fans sit on the grass in polite silence. Such is the civility, one chap even hands out pages from the Sunday broadsheets to save anyone's backside from getting damp with the evening dew.
Once the teams walk out, the percussion starts. Somewhere down front, a man tonks enthusiastically away on a drum and a strange tin pot that makes a dull, clanking noise. Though rather than leading a rallying call-and-response rhythm, as say, a Brazilian drummer would – or god forbid, the bozos from the England fans' travelling band – the tempo seems reactive; a soundtrack to what's happening on the TVs ahead.
During moments of high drama – the kick-off, a goal-line scramble – he bashes away with all the enthusiasm of Keith Moon after a particularly heavy afternoon on the sauce. During moments of sobriety and reflection, such as when Korea concede two rapid first-half goals, his paradiddles take on a more sombre pace. The fans sit around him in funereal silence.
And then, South Korea score…
A brilliant mania takes hold. Screams, shouts, people wave flags; the Clunky Drummer breaks out into a Phil Collins-style solo and the whole garden goes berserk. When South Korea later finish again to bring the scores to 4-2, the enthusiasm is undiminished, even though the game is well and truly done.
And herein lies the lesson: losing stinks, no question. But it doesn't have to be the precursor to months of navel gazing, blame games and Harry Redknapp's ubiquitous soundbites. Sure there's a place for that, but you can also get out your drums and bang away.
The South Koreans walk home through New Malden High Street knowing their World Cup party is pretty much over – with Belgium to play they need a miracle. Funny thing is, it hasn't ruined their night one bit.
WHAT WE HAD: Beer, Nobby's Nuts, Nature Valley Bars, Quavers, £19.99.
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. And bring your drums.