Alex Johnson never questioned that his honeymoon in Jamaica had to end on Friday, because he knew that come the next morning, he'd be parked at his favorite pub in Fells Point.
The U.S. was set to play his beloved English national team in the World Cup, and that's not something you mess around with if you're one of the regular patrons at Slainte, where the bar motto proclaims, "Soccer is religion!"
"I'll put it this way," said Johnson, a native of Sheffield, England, who moved to Baltimore four years ago. "I'm way more nervous about this than I was about my wedding."
World Cup mania swept the Baltimore region Saturday. In downtown Towson, families gathered outdoors to watch the 1-1 tie between the U.S. and England match on a giant screen. At the Pratt Street Alehouse, they served a bitter brew concocted especially for the occasion. But it's hard to imagine a more intense center of fandom than Slainte.
The regulars, such as Baltimore native Bret Holmes, showed up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday so they could get some beer in their bellies before the day's first match between Greece and South Korea. Almost two hours before U.S. vs. England, a dozen people waited in line to shove into the bar, which was already packed to capacity.
Holmes grinned at the scene, remembering how he and his dad had to find a Greek joint with a Spanish-language cable feed just so they could watch the games back in 1990.
"This is the biggest soccer match in U.S. history," he said. "You get a lot of fringe fans, but for the most part, it's great."
Once the match began, the American and English fans traded nationalistic chants, touching on everything from goaltending prowess to which nation deserved more credit for winning World War II.
"You've got no history," the Brits sang mockingly. "You're not singing anymore," the Americans retorted when English goalkeeper Robert Green allowed the game-tying goal to trickle out of his grasp.
The scene in Towson's Patriot Plaza was a bit more casual and solidly pro-American, with hundreds of fans standing reverently through the Star-Spangled Banner.
"How can you not enjoy watching soccer, one; and two, all these people from the United States, together, in one plaza watching a sport that supposedly we don't support in our country?" said Alison Merkle of Overlea.
For some of the American regulars at Slainte, it wasn't as easy to choose sides for Saturday's match. They take their allegiances to English clubs seriously.
"I go with England, because I didn't grow up following American soccer," said John Roscoe, a Baltimorean clad in the white and red jersey of the Brits.
"Is this guy giving you a lot of excuses for why he's a traitor?" asked fellow regular Steve Plank. "Chelsea [Football Club] is my life, but today, [expletive] that! I root for the U.S."
Roscoe's friend, Katie Preece, had a sneakier plan to balance her allegiance between the U.S. and the English players from her favorite club team, Manchester United. She showed up in an American jersey but had an English top tucked in her purse, just in case the game got away from the Yanks.
"If it's 3-0 at the half or something, I might as well pull the double-cross early," she said.
Preece's dog is named after an early crush, Manchester United star Ryan Giggs. Almost every weekend, she makes the drive up from Rockville to watch "football" with her mates at Slainte.
"It's a real community," she said.
There's Manchester John, Vlade the lone Italian fan and bartender Liverpool Dave.
"He will not serve you if Manchester is up on Liverpool," Preece said.
"But it's all in love," said Roscoe. "We call it the football family. My best friends in Baltimore are in this bar."
The average American sports fan might not care a lick about a Chelsea-Liverpool match early on a Saturday morning. But head to Slainte and you'll find a packed bar of fans in Chelsea blue and Liverpool red, pounding pints, singing and trading profane insults.
For these hard-core fans, it's a little weird to watch packs of casual fans swoop into Slainte for the World Cup.
"It used to upset me," Preece said. "I used to be very territorial about the pub. I didn't want all these plastic people around."
"I don't mind it," Johnson said. "I think it's a good thing that more people love football."
Asked how he would feel if England lost, however, he said, "End of the world, man. End of the world."
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Stevens contributed to this article.
Sign up for Baltimore Sun local news text alerts