In March, I attended my first foreign game and it was completely different to the matchday experience that I’m used to in England. I was visiting my girlfriend Kristin, who lives in America and we went to go and watch the Colorado Rapids, her local MLS team. They were hosting the Minnesota United at their home, The Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium.
There was an English connection as Adrian Heath is Minnesota’s manager. The former midfielder played for seven different English clubs over the course of his career, most notably for Everton where he won two league titles and an FA Cup. In fact, it was Heath’s scored the winner in the 1984 Semi Final against Southampton to secure Everton’s first FA Cup Final appearance in eighteen years.United are the third American side that Heath has managed after previously taking charge of Austin Aztex and Orlando City.
There is a preconceived notion among many fans in England that the Americans have no real idea about our national sport. Opinions such as “They call it soccer” and “They have their own sports that they are more interested in” are both valid.American Football, baseball, ice hockey and basketball dominate the nation’s interest. You often get crowds of over 80,000 at college football (gridiron) games and the Superbowl and World Series draw in huge television audiences.
My visit to The States coincided with March Madness, a college basketball tournament where it seems that everybody (basketball fans or not) join in and fill in a prediction bracket to guess who will win the competition. Kristin and I visited a sports bar where they would hopefully be showing the Arsenal vs Sporting Lisbon game. The place was huge and must have had around twenty television screens. All but one were showing different college basketball games, with only one in the corner showing the Arsenal game!
There are a few videos online of American football (soccer) fans singing various chants at games that English fans consider to be cringey. The chants are very supportive of their teams and do not display any anger or hatred towards the opposing team or match officials. The chants over here in England tend to be more of the latter, especially when things start to go wrong for their team.
The stadium was just over half full when I went to The Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium, with a small gathering of Rapids fans behind one goal who lead the chanting. They had a small band playing instruments to help with building up an atmosphere and one fan at the front who led the chanting.
If they were intending to get the whole stadium singing, it didn’t work. The most boisterous moment of the evening came when everyone sang The Star Spangled Banner, a tradition before every sporting event. The national anthem is only sung here before major cup finals and international games, so it was strange to hear it before a run of the mill league game!
Having being used to chants and shouts of abuse with colourful language (to put it mildly!) over here in England, it was surreal to not to hear this throughout the game. In fact, the only controversial chant that was made during the ninety minutes was an anti-Mexican slur that was chanted at the Vikings goalkeeper by the Rapids fanatics behind the goal. Moments after the chant began, an announcement came out over the tannoy requesting the chant stop as this went against the club’s morals.This would never happen in England. If it did, it would be laughed at and probably sung much louder in defiance by those involved.
All in all, my experience in the States was that of a rather flat atmosphere. This may be because the two ends behind the goal were open and the sound could have just drifted away. The stadiums here have all roofs on and the sound is contained within them, causing the atmosphere to be a lot louder.
The whole matchday experience was very family-friendly. There were sectioned off areas for Rapids season tickets with picnic tables to sit at and watch the game. These ran the length of the concourse and were positioned before the entrance to the seating areas. On the tables were sweets for children, something that you’d normally see for sale at the cinema or theatre in England.
The refreshments were extremely expensive. I bought two cans of beer, a hot dog and a portion of nachos and it came to almost £40. It would cost me just over £10 at most grounds for a pie and a pint over here in England. You could also drink alcohol whilst sat in your seat, something that is unheard of in the top divisions over here.
In terms of the quality of football, I’d say that most National League teams could have given the Rapids or United a run for their money. My girlfriend thought that it was funny when I made negative comments about the players when all of the other people around us took to shouting out words of encouragement.This negativity is something that is all part of the game over here in England. Many fans think that as they’ve paid their money they are entitled to air their negative views. I heard nothing other than words of support from the fans and that was certainly a surprise.
One final thing that has been part and parcel of the matchday experience for me ever since my first game back in 1993 is the matchday programme. My Dad bought me a programme outside Highbury at my first game thirty years ago and told me when he handed it over to me that I should buy one at every game I go to. I promised him that I would and now after 543 games, I’ve kept to my word.
At the turnstile at The Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium, a team sheet on an A5 card was handed out to the fans. It didn’t cost anything, which was a welcome change to an expensive programme that you get at most matches in England. Both squads were listed on one side and the reverse was blank with a yellow background. I couldn’t understand why this space wasn’t used, but soon found out after kick off.
When a player was knocked to the ground, many of the fans waved the yellow side of the team sheet and I realised that this was so they could indicate if they thought that it was a foul. This is something that I’ve not seen in England and definitely don’t think that it would catch on.Normally you’d hear a few people shout out at the referee questioning his eyesight and decision-making with a few swear words and insults thrown in for good measure.
Experiencing football (or soccer in America) matches in both countries is completely different. The atmosphere here is a lot more boisterous and can be ill-tempered at any given moment. Hatred is openly vocalised towards opposing fans, match officials and the other team here, but the atmosphere is a lot more sanitised in The States. So if you have a young family and don’t want them to hear swearing, take them to a game in America (but avoid the refreshments!). If you want them to experience real passion, take them to a game in England!