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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Croatia’s surprise run in the World Cup made soccer fans out of one Croatian family

Mirela Giaconi and her grandchildren in front of the “Croatian Sensation” banner at Sandwich Odyssey. // Photo by Megan Sokol

By Megan Sokol

The Beyer sisters watch the World Cup every Sunday at the Gruff brewery, simultaneously serving Croatian sandwiches and snacks while bonding with soccer fans while they drink beer and watch the game. Lauren and Erica Beyers were not soccer fans, but with their home country, Croatia, playing in the finals, the sisters decided it was time to pay attention.
“I’m not a huge fan of soccer, but I’m all into this one,” said Mirela Giaconi, Beyers’ mother, who immigrated from Croatia in 1964.
Lauren Beyers said most non-Croatian fans resonate with the team because they come from a small country and they are the “underdog” of soccer finalists. Croatia fought their way into the World Cup final despite sitting at number 20 in the world rankings heading into the tournament.
“Croatians are the best at everything,” Erica Beyers said.
Giaconi was at the grocery store and overheard a conversation between two young people. “‘who are you rooting for?’” said the first. “‘I’m rooting for Croatia,’”

“I’m just listening in,” Giaconi said, “and the [second] kid said, ‘I’m rooting for Croatia too. I didn’t know Croatia existed.’”
The Beyers’ own the Bellingham restaurant Sandwich Odyssey, which opened in 1994. Giaconi dubbed one of her most popular burgers the “Croatian Sensation.”
Lauren Beyer explained that many Croatian immigrants came to Bellingham as a consequence of World War II.

Croatia is a fishing country, Beyer said. Croatians’ diets and professions revolve around seafood.
Giaconi said that, in consequence, most of the people who frequent the Croatian Cultural Center in Anacortes are fishing in Alaska.
“Olga’s husband is in Alaska right now he just went into Ketchikan for the game in Ketchikan,” Gianconi said. I spoke to my cousin in Croatia and Croatia is just insane,” Giaconi said.
Giaconi’s family grew up in San Pedro, a city in California that has a dense Croatian community.
“They closed down Ninth St. in San Pedro because [there were close to] 10,000 people watching the game,” Giaconi said.
“My friend showed me this funny video,” Erica Beyers said. “It’s a fire department in Croatia and all the guys are sitting and watching the game and the bell goes off and they get out of there, and the two guys score and went ‘oh s*** they missed it!’”
The Beyer sisters planned to arrive early for their shifts at Gruff Brewery on June 15. They served food and drinks like always, and on this particular Sunday, they rooted for Croatia to win the World Cup.

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