Soccer

Manatee High alum has World Cup fever in London

The World Cup banners, flags and pendants have been up for a few weeks inside and outside the old pub.

The buzz has become a crescendo.

Jeff Hernden is pumped.

“It’s going to be absolutely electric,” he said. “Other than being in South Africa, the place for me to be is here.”

Hernden is in London.

A 2002 Manatee High alum, he’s the head bartender at The Morrison, a sports bar in the Fulham section of England’s capital city. The 150-year-old pub will have today’s USA-England match on its 10 HD flat screens, and it will be jammed.

Hernden will be a tad outnumbered in his USA jersey.

“We might have six Yanks besides Jeff,” owner Ross D’Aniello joked.

After 18 months serving thirsty football-mad Brits, Hernden is used to it.

“They’ve been giving me ‘stick’ (grief) for awhile,” he said. “Telling me, ‘It’s going to be 5-0 and (star forward Wayne) Rooney’s going to score all of them.’ And, ‘We’re going to wipe the floor with you.’ It’s all in good fun. It’s their past, their life, their religion.

“Actually, they’re expecting a close game.”

So how did a kid from Bradenton end up in jolly old England?

As a Florida State undergrad majoring in history and international affairs, Hernden studied for a semester at FSU’s London campus.

He was smitten.

“I fell in love with the city, the vibe. It’s so cosmopolitan, a big city with a small town feel,” he said.

It was all Hernden talked about while waiting tables at Demetrios, where he worked since high school and after he won admission to the prestigious London School of Economics.

He could’ve flown over without a jet.

Hernden got his masters from LSE in politics, government and the European Union.

That he didn’t land a regular 9-to-5 gig hasn’t slowed him down.

At 26, single and educated, Hernden is living the life.

Mom is envious.

“I’m excited for him,” Carol Hernden said. “His ideal was to land a job with one of the (Premier League) football clubs, but it’s been a wonderful experience working there. He’s got money in his pocket, a roof over his head and friends everywhere. The world has shrunk down to his backyard.”

And it’s sitting at the bar demanding another beer.

Hernden serves them up with a smile.

“What I love the most is getting properly ingrained in the culture here,” he said. “You get people from abroad who study here and only get involved in the touristy things.

“I’ve tried to immerse myself.”

One of the best ways was heading to the parks on weekends, joining pickup soccer games.

Naturally, Hernden had to prove to the local lads whether this Yank had the right stuff.

Four years as a Manatee Hurricanes midfielder?

So what.

“It was interesting,” said Hernden, a soccer player since he was 5 at Palma Sola Park. “As soon as I opened my mouth they knew I was an American. They thought I was going to be horrible — until I got the ball and scored a couple of goals.

“After you show how well you can play, you get accepted.”

The Morrison owners sure did.

“He’d come here to watch games, needed a few quid to put in his pocket, became friends with the family and we kidnapped him,” D’Aniello said. “He’s our hardest worker. When we made him head barman, we gave him the keys to the empire.”

A place to live above The Morrison included.

“We often say we’ve ‘Anglified’ Jeff,” his boss said. “Saying ‘mum’ instead of mom, ‘football’ not soccer.”

Not only has Hernden shown the English a healthy respect for their game, but he’s become enamored of their other sports like rugby and racing, as well.

Even cricket.

“I went to Lord’s Cricket Grounds in north London for the England-Bangladesh match,” he said. “They had 25,000. People drinking champagne at 11 a.m. That’s a very laid back sport.

“Football? It’s a lot more in your face — singing, shouting, a more manic atmosphere.”

And that’s just in the pub.

It will be like that today at The Morrison.

“We’re expecting to be packed to the rafters,” Hernden said. “I’ll be so busy I won’t be able to sit down, have a beer and enjoy the match as much as I’d like to.”

Not one?

Got to represent for the USA.

“Maybe I will,” Hernden said. “Just to be cheeky.”

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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