Jack the meat cutter works nights and gets off at 6. Instead of going home on Saturday morning, he heads for the Cock 'n Bull on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and waits in the chilly predawn for Tony the owner to open up. Always the first to arrive, Jack grabs a seat down front. By 7, he is joined by Carl the American, an assistant TV director, and Brian the handyman, who grabs a stool and chats with Dave the bartender. They are all here to watch some football.
Make that real football--what we call soccer--from the English Premier League, televised live via satellite on a big screen and five TV monitors. Soccer matches begin at 3 p.m. back in the mother country, which accounts for the ungodly start time here. Owner Tony Moogan first discovered games on the dish in 1990. "Someone in England, I think, told me you could get the games on satellite, but you've got to look for them. I brought in a sleeping bag and threw it on the floor after we closed at 2. I set the alarm for a quarter to 7 and didn't expect to find it. I'd been living here since 1980 and never had live soccer from England. And I found it. I wanted to tell everybody, but I couldn't. They were still in bed."
Santa Monica has always boasted a sizable Brit expat population, but many of the fans who show up at the Cock 'n Bull on weekend mornings drive down from Santa Barbara or up from the South Bay or over the hill from the Valley. Unlike sports bars that cater to a particular NFL team, the C'nB attracts boosters from all over the Premier League, many wearing jerseys and T-shirts sporting the colors of their favorite teams: Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United.
Things were a little slow a few weeks back when the morning's game was between rivals Arsenal and Manchester United. Brian O'Malley, who's been showing up without fail for three years, explained over his coffee that Man United was on a four-game skid and that its supporters had stayed away to avoid further mocking should the team lose again. One Man United fan who did make an appearance was Carl Dubliclay. "In 1978, a friend got me into the World Cup," he said. Immediately hooked, he caught games on PBS until he heard about the Cock 'n Bull. "I enjoy Dave and the people who come here. It doesn't matter how Man United is doing." Dave is Dave McNally, bartender ("I work every soccer shift") and die-hard Everton supporter ("Don't forget to print that"). He's having a good morning because his team is up 7-1. He perpetually answers the phone, passing on results to folks still in bed and announcing scores received from across the Atlantic, particularly any news about Everton.
The morning turns out to be a good one for Dubliclay as well. Manchester United gets a second-half goal and a late save by its goalie to beat Arsenal 1-0. By 9 a.m., the singing of team songs has died out, the references to "wankers" have faded away, the last English breakfast (Irish bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes, toast) and empty pint mug have been cleared. Most of the crowd has left, blinded by the sun as they drift out of the bar. Nine o'clock--still time to get home and catch some American football.