London

How London's Colombian soccer fans have found a home at the Bull and Barrel

London soccer fans with Colombian roots have adopted the Bull and Barrel bar on Talbot Street as a hot spot to watch their soccer team's exciting World Cup run.

Bars will be packed as Colombia takes on England today at 2 p.m.

Gerry Rozo has had this Colombian flag since he watched the World Cup in France back in 1998. He calls it his good luck charm and it will be making the trip to the Bull and Barrel as fans gather to watch Colombia take on England today. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

At first glance, it seems like an unlikely partnership.

London's Colombian soccer fans ... and a country music bar with a mechanical bull. 

But the two have come together with local soccer excitement running high for this year's World Cup. 

It all started when members of London's Colombian community — nicknamed Londombia — asked owners of the Bull and Barrel on Talbot Street if the bar would be willing to open early and turn on the games during the group stage of the World Cup. 

Many Londoners with Colombian roots — a group estimated to number about 10,000 — were already regulars at the bar's Latino nights on Fridays. 

Bull and Barrel ownership obliged and after Colombia dropped the first game to Japan, the team has continued to win and add to the crowds along the way. On Thursday, Colombia sealed their advance to the knockout stage of the tournament with a 1-0 win over Senegal. 

Yellow-shirted Colombian fans packed the Bull and Barrel for Thursday's match. Inside, it was shoulder-to-shoulder.

"The atmosphere was amazing," said Gerry Rozo, a Londoner born in Colombia and a passionate soccer fan. "People were wearing their jerseys, they had their faces painted, it was very exciting."

Rozo came to Canada with his family in 2001.

They faced challenges upon arrival. His mother didn't speak the language, leaving Gerry and his sister to translate while they navigated their new country. 

"As soon as we came, we started connecting with the local community, there were a lot of Colombians moving to Canada at that time, but that's when the Colombian population in London really started growing."

Rozo arrived in London with a love of soccer — he prefers the term football — that first took root when he travelled to the 1998 World Cup in France as a 17-year-old. He still has the same Colombian flag that he took to that world cup 20 years ago. 

"I take the day off each time Colombia plays, and each time this flag is with me. It's my good luck charm."

Fast forward to 2018 and Rozo is enjoying the excitement of Colombia's advance to the knockout stage. 

And the place where he'll be watching today's 2 p.m. game against England is the Bull and Barrel. 

Bar staffer Jordan Minter said the Colombians have become a welcome addition to the bar's clientele. 

And urban saloon with a mechanical bull, the Bull and Barrel on Talbot Street has become one of the top spots for members of the local Colombian community to watch World Cup games. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"The first game they came and it was beyond exciting, it was packed, we had to turn people away," he said. "And then they won and we thought 'Maybe we're onto something.' We hope it keeps going, it's been great."

Minter said the Colombians are perfect customers. 

"They're remarkable. They're an awesome group of people, they're polite, they're courteous they scream when there's a goal but they're as quiet as a church mouse when they're watching the game up until then."

Minter expects the crowd of Londombians to be speckled with more than a few England fans today.

English sides typically have strong support from Canada at international tournaments. 

"Honestly, we want some England fans in here too," said Minter. "England is no joke so it's going to be tense, it's going to be fun."

World Cup isn't the only bit of excitement downtown today. Country music legend Shania Twain plays the first of two shows at Budweiser Gardens tonight. Minter expects many Twain fans will drop in for a pre-show pint, just as the Colombian fans — either jubilant or disconsolate — begin to drift out. 

"Between those two events it's going to be a very busy day," said Minter. 

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.