.Back to the Brit for the 2024 Euros

The intersection of Almaden Expressway and Cherry Avenue has come a long way since the 1990 World Cup. Cultural epicenters like Pak’nSave and Bakers Square are long gone, but European soccer fans remain.

On a recent invasion of Britannia Arms Almaden to watch UEFA Euro 2024—aka the Euros, formerly known as the European Championship, otherwise referred to as the second biggest tournament after the World Cup—I encountered a zillion neighborhood memories, all of which would not let me leave without immortalizing their shadowy influence.

As I stood there watching England and Serbia battle it out, I recalled 34 years of watching England games in this pub, going all the way back to the 1990 World Cup. That World Cup took place in Italy and was historic in San Jose for many reasons. Hardly any bar was showing it. The Cup was live via satellite (the only way to do it back then), so one had to search out a place that understood the world’s game enough to dial it in for a month. For the England games, the Almaden Brit was jammed to over-capacity, with people elbow-to-elbow throughout the room.

That year, 1990, England beat Cameroon in the quarterfinals—the first time an African team had advanced that far. Then Jürgen Klinsmann and the Germans defeated England in the semis, and went on to beat Diego Maradona and Argentina in the final. To be more specific, it was the West Germans. The 1990 World Cup was the last time they played as a separate country. They reunified soon after.

Yugoslavia was also in that World Cup. It was one of the final tournaments for that country, the memories of which blew my mind even more, because in 2024, as I stood there at the Brit, two countries from the former Yugoslavia were playing. Slovenia had just played earlier in the morning, and Serbia was now against England. Yugo-nostalgia is actually a thing these days, or so I hear.

The memories didn’t stop there. In 1990, just outside and across the parking lot, Highway 85 did not exist yet. The other direction, across Almaden Expressway, huge orchards occupied all the land right where the Bass Pro Shops monstrosity is now.

For that 1990 World Cup, the Mercury News sent over a reporter and photographer to objectify fans watching the games. I was there when they showed up. To them, we were specimens pinned to board, watching this crazy foreign sport that didn’t have any slam dunks or home runs or long bombs (to use their words), so they assumed Americans didn’t understand it. The Scots, Irish and Brits in the pub were calling each other ‘mates’ and the Merc put that word in quotes because they thought it was some goofy foreign phrase.

That 1990 story is still on the wall at the Brit to this day, over by the cocktail server station. I was standing right next to the photo in that story, so I didn’t make it into the shot, but I totally remember when that happened.

People pictured in the photo and quoted in the 34-year-old story were even present last week when I showed up to watch England. Decades later, they hadn’t left.

In 1990, much of the rest of the neighborhood was textbook suburban America. For many nuclear families, it seemed like the cultural night out was Red Lobster. Even before Pak’nSave, the same building was The Treasury, another catch-all department-store masterpiece in the same vein as Gemco or Gold Circle. I think my parents bought me a Van Halen cassette there when I was 12.

Since the whole ’80s South San Jose experience was on par with the film Repo Man, Britannia Arms Almaden during the 1990 World Cup was Camelot. It was our little bubble of culture in the midst of indistinguishable suburbia. It gave us hope for San Jose.

This year, for Euro 2024, the Brit was not packed wall to wall like 1990. After all, anyone can watch the games from home nowadays. But the spirit lingered.

West Germany is no more. Yugoslavia is no more. But Britannia Arms is still here. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.

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