I went to my very first football match today! (That's soccer, to all my American friends!) John and Lucy had an extra ticket and asked if I was interested. I know, I know, it's amusing. Saying I'm not much of a sports junky would be a massive understatement. In fact, I realised, in the first five minutes (in which, the first point scored put everyone into a frenzy), that I'd actually never watched an entire football game!
Nevertheless, I did watch it in its entirety... both 45 minute halves! And though I asked more embarrassing questions than I care to admit, I actually kept up with it fairly well and enjoyed myself. Arsenal vs Everton... end score: 4-1 (Arsenal proceeds to FA Cup semi-finals!)
Quite honestly, the most interesting part to me was just watching everyone and comparing it to U.S. events. So here's what I noticed:
1. No alcohol is allowed in the actual stadium. I list this first, because, frankly it has such an impact on the other items in my list. The concessions sell it in the lobby, but fans have to drink it there and can't take it back to their seats.
2. The game is less of an event. In the U.S., there are vendors walking around, people milling back and forth for food and souvenirs, games being played on the big screen, and everyone is chatting, joking, talking..... here, it's all about the game. They'll cheer, and chant, and be involved, but it's all based on the plays on the field and all done together as a crowd.
3. There's more of a group feel than an individual feel. Maybe this is my American independence coming out, but it was weird to see the clan of Arsenal fans... flow together, stand together, chant together, hug each other. It's hard to explain, but it was there. There wasn't individual groups partying while others watched the game (maybe again, due to the less party, more business attitude.)
4. Everything was more orderly. Now.... I've heard that if the match gets heated, this can change. (This was an FA Cup match, and not a Premier league game, so it's not quite an intense as others could be.) But again the crowd worked more as a unit, there weren't crazy drunks rambling around. Though whether thats because drinking isn't allowed in there, or what, I don't know. The stadium was cleaner (again, fewer food vendors). And the pitch sidelines were so calm, especially compared to American football, where a dozen burly men come and go off the field with every change of possession.
5. These folks are serious about their football! Whether its in the songs and chants, cheers and hugs, or in the unison curses hurled at the field, these Brits love their team. Though, really, when I think about it, its not much different than Alabama, and their identity as either an UA or Auburn fan. It's the real deal... your team is your passion. And that's probably where I'm just a bit left in the dust.
Anyhoo... it was awesome. So much fun, and I'd love to go again!
I'll leave you with a clip from the match. Penalty kick for Arsenal... first attempt was nulled by a yellow card, and tensions were high for the second attempt. For his sake, I'm glad he made it. Its a tough crowd. :-)