Good Beer, Bad Beer, and Soccer

I’d like to tell you about a bet involving really good beer, really bad beer, and also soccer, but first a clarification: Though you’d think it would almost have to be, “Bud Light & Clamato Chelada” is not the worst beer in the world. Just so we’re clear, “Clamato” is a portmanteau of “clam” and “tomato,” two ingredients that can be found in this Budweiser product. “Chelada” is Spanish for “please don’t drink this, ever.”

Per RateBeer.com, the two lowest-rated beers in the world are Natural Lite and a beer I’ve never heard of called Sleeman Clear. The site’s users think the first is a 1.05 on a five-point scale; they think the second is a 1.07. Bud Light & Clamato Chelada actually scores a 1.18, and as such, is only the eighth-worst beer in the world.

As of this writing, there are six warm Bud Light & Clamato Cheladas in my garage. They are tall, monstrous, silver-and-blue pounder cans, and they haunt my dreams.

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Imagine you grew up in, say, southern Wales. And your friends were really into soccer, and you liked soccer fine too, and then one night you were flipping around the various BBC channels and you saw ten minutes of “American” Football and you thought, “This is it. I really like this. That team that just scored? They are now my favorite team forever.”

(Because I don’t want you to hate me right away, I’m going to stick to calling European football “soccer,” and American football “football.” I don’t want to spend the next two hours defending one totally arbitrary rhetorical strategy over another, and I change my mind on this one pretty often anyway. But for the sake of this writing, we’ll just stick with what we know.)

And then imagine how you’d feel a year or two later, when you realized what it was you’d done when you signed your football life over to the Cleveland Browns.

In the nine or so years that I’ve been a fan of Newcastle United–a team I first began following because I liked their uniforms, and they weren’t Manchester United–Newcastle has been relegated once, finished in the top five once, and otherwise finished somewhere between 15th and 10th place (out of 20) every year. In the 304ish games since I began watching, they’ve lost 134 times, won 95, and the rest of the time–75 matches–they’ve walked away with soul-sucking draw after soul-sucking draw. I’ve bought six jerseys, I’ve watched them play at St. James Park, and I’ve drunk Newcastle Brown Ale in a bar in Newcastle.

(If you happen to hate soccer, it is almost certainly for one of two reasons. First: you just hate soccer. Totally justified. No one wants to spend 90 minutes watching two teams Not Score. Or, you hate the people who like soccer. And this, like hating people who post on Facebook about This One Totally Meaningful Experience they had at a Phish show, is a perfectly valid reason to hate soccer.)

And my reward has been as follows: twelve fired managers, zero season titles, zero domestic or international trophies, and a winning percentage of .313.

I signed my life over to the Cleveland Browns of the Premier League, and because I know that the promises we make as fans are not fungible, I’ll enjoy almost nothing about Newcastle United pretty much ever.

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Here’s how a reviewer on RateBeer describes Bud Light & Clamato Chelada:

“A guy at work had a friend drop a bunch of these by his house. The story goes that a semi wrecked on interstate 77 and this guy picked up a bunch of these. Refrigerated 25oz. can poured into a glass. Nice hazy translucent orange with very small off-white head. Aroma is tomato juice, clams, and dog vomit. Medium/light body, medium/light carbonation, and very little small-bubble lacing. Taste is tomato juice, clams salty, some lime, and hints of bud light. This is the worst tasting concoction I have ever tried, I would have given this a negative number for taste if it was an option, I am really glad I did not pay money for this. I think I had 2 oz. of this, but am not sure, my first drain pour. I actually had to run a fair amount water down the drain to get rid of the smell. I am not sure if it is the worst smelling, I had a mead which may have been worse. Awful.

If you’re wondering where he had me, it was “dog vomit.”

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Conversely, the finest beer in the world may very well be Westvleteren 12.

Even in the claustrophobic and exhausting world of craft beer, it’s something of a legend. Westvleteren 12 is a Belgian quad, it comes in at 10.2% ABV, it tastes less like dog vomit and more like toffee, dark fruit, brown sugar, and maybe barley wine. If you want to buy it, you’ll need to head over to St. Sixtus Monastery in Belgium on a day when they are actually willing to sell it to you, or you can try to import it from Canada for upwards of $100 per six pack. You can also head over to eBay and try some sort of illicit purchase of “empty” Westvleteren Bottles.

And, if you stopped by my garage, you’d find four of them sitting quietly next to six ferocious Bud Light & Clamato Chelada tall boys.

This is a column largely about the hopelessness, the sheer inconsequentiality, of bottom-of-the-table fandom, but it’s also about a bet I made with my lunatic friend AJ in the middle of August: four Westvleteren 12s versus six warm Bud Light & Clamato Cheladas, all to be drunk at or around 1 PM on Sunday, May 16th, the final day of the English Premier League season.

AJ’s historically bad Aston Villa–a team already in 20th place in the English Premier League, a team that has already fired one manager this season and may very well fire several more, a team that is a near lock to be relegated–against my Newcastle United.

My Newcastle United. My Newcastle United that began the season with a new manager, that spent its summer signing $75 million worth of new players, that would seem too large to ever be relegated, that is currently in 19th place in the Premiership, that has lost games this year in absolutely dumbfounding ways, and has won a total of three times since last February.

A straight bet. The higher finisher gets the Westvleteren, the lower gets the Bud Light & Clamato Chelada. No one leaves my porch until all ten bottles are empty and the crying has (basically) ceased, and for the first time in years a season feels like it has consequence.

It’s like the Browns were playing the Jaguars, and someone was actually watching.

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I’m convinced that being a fan isn’t about the winning. It isn’t about the pursuit of “glory” or championships or honor or whatever, either. Like most relationships, it’s about survival, consistency, and more than anything, giving in to the slow march of time.

In the case of the Cleveland Browns, the test is to muster up enough optimism to believe nine wins exist somewhere in that 16-game schedule; the hope is that a wild card berth is just within reach. In the case of Newcastle United, there isn’t even the hope of a playoff. There’s just another 38 games to be played, another ten-month season, a lifetime of 11-15-12 seasons with a decennial 5th place finish and a decennial relegation season for variety.

But the suffering promises to be (slightly) different this year. Because Newcastle United is indeed particularly bad, and so is Aston Villa.

And, generally speaking, so are clam-and-tomato light beers.

I’d like to win the bet. I appreciate Westvleteren an awful lot. And drinking six warm pounders of a Bud Light Tomato and Clam beer may literally be the worst afternoon of drinking I’ll ever experience. I don’t really like light beers broadly, or Bud Light specifically. I’m pathologically afraid of tomatoes. And also: I’m a vegetarian (yes, clams count).

There’s also a part of me that not only expects to lose, but kind of hopes to lose. That hopes for the worst possible ending to another nondescript season, that hopes all this misery can add up to something larger and more tangible and perhaps a little noble. That needs the final punch to the stomach Bud Light and Clamato Chelada #6 will bring sometime around 5 PM on that terrible, terrible afternoon.

Because otherwise it’s just another bad 38 games in a lifetime of bad games and bad seasons. An accumulation of futility, adding up to nothing.

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Mike Simpson is a sportswriter and a fiction author. He knows more about soccer than you do. You should follow him on Twitter.