That's English Premier League football, in case you didn't know.
I am not a soccer fan by any means of the imagination. I don't know the intricacies of the game, the rules, the great global teams or the players (other than the really attractive, famous ones ie Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo). But I knew when I came to England that I wanted to go to at least one EPL match. I always loved how the fans sang, how beautiful the stadiums were, the exciting play, just the ambiance of the whole thing. I was perhaps performing an act of bandwagonry, but I was going to enjoy any match I went to.
I had done a bit of research before I crossed the pond to see how available tickets would be. Turns out they're nearly impossible to get and ungodly expensive. So my jaw fell to the floor when the professor in my Globalization of Sports class (God bless undergraduate education) told us we would be taking a MANDATORY FIELD TRIP to the Chelsea vs. Reading match on January 30. We paid a course fee at the beginning of the semester for tickets to two matches. This was our first, and my excitement was twofold: 1) I was going to a fabulous football match other people would die to see, 2) I was missing my section of Contemporary British and European Theater.
Off to Stamford Bridge!
- Before the match, our class was given a briefing of sorts on the ins-and-outs of the match (key players, history between the teams, directions to the stadium, etc.). Most notably, the sheet said on the bottom, "Please remember you will be sitting with Chelsea fans, therefore do not, under any circumstances, cheer a goal scored by Reading." Note taken and obliged. Another thing...you can't bring a bottle of kind into the stadium, due to the tendency to throw the bottles filled with liquid on the field. These people mean business.
- A very posh crowd. Lots of men still in their suits from work, wrapped in blue and white (Chelsea's colors) scarves. There are hardly any baseball caps. It seems like scarves are the classic garb of choice for football.
- The Chelsea team store was fantastically obnoxious in so many ways...the size (two floors), the prices, the number of items (I bet you could outfit your entire home in Chelsea gear), the number of people. I nearly bought four different items--an Adidas backpack, a teddy bear with a team sweater, a mug, a blanket--before settling on a jersey. Most of the jerseys were at least 30 pounds (60 bucks-ish), but mine was on sale for 17.50 and fit me like a glove. I had to have it.
- I always have a surreal moment when I walk out of the concourse and into the seating area of a new stadium. This moment was no different. The match had started about 2 minutes before I stepped into the East Stand Upper section to find seat 0176 in row 18 when I looked out onto the field. It was such a perfect shade of green, the fans were all seated comfortably in their seats and had begun to sing, and the lights glowed a bright white to enhance the specs of cobalt blue throughout the stadium. Stamford Bridge has a retractable roof, and it was about 51 degrees. I sat in my seat, put on my gloves and sighed with delight. It was as if the stadium were sparkling.
- I was a little worried, because I grabbed my ticket from an obnoxious girl (I'll refer to her as OG) who sits behind me in class and I was afraid I'd be sitting next to her and her Blackberry-addicted friends. Luckily, I ended up sitting next to my professor and a friend of my flatmate's. Of course, like in class, OG and her friends were behind me, making plans for later in the evening and hardly paying any attention to the game. I am willing to bet 100 pounds she owns some item of pink Red Sox gear. I'm such a horrible person for saying these things, but it's probably true.
- My professor basically made my night. Usually if you get stuck near a teacher on a field trip, they'll talk your ear off. This guy did. But he also happens to be the most adorable Scottish man I've ever come across. He is also the only Scottish man I've ever come across. In addition to being Scottish, he spent a long time living in Canada. So he has a Scottish accent and the tendency to say "Oot", "Cleveland Broons" and make obscure hockey references. He's the type of guy you'd want to be your grandfather.
- For the first five minutes, I just took everything in. Then I actually started watching the match, and it ended up being more engaging that I thought. I used to try and watch it on tv, but it just got really old really quick. For some reason, in person, the game seemed to go a lot faster. I got really caught up in the footwork and the passing, and trying to see what the players were seeing. Don't think it worked, but I tried.
- GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Michael Ballack sends it in for Chelsea, 1-0. He scored the goal on our end, so we had a great view of it. Remember, by default and for my own safety, I am a Chelsea fan. The excitement lasts a good 45 seconds.
- Halftime. Is it odd that I have my first Heineken in England? Eh, it had to come sometime.
- Something very interesting I notice...cheering for a good try at scoring a goal. This is new phenomenon for me. I usually moan/squeak/grunt when either team comes close to scoring a goal, or if Randy Moss drops a pass or a David Ortiz homer hooks just foul, thinking my unusual noises will make something positive happen. At tonight's game, all of the fans start cheering. It's as if they're saying, "Good try." This is rather unusual to me, as I just get frustrated and think my team is destined to lose when there are so many so-close-yet-so-far moments. By the end of the match, there's some frustration, but good spirits from Chelsea fans for most of the match.
- I also find it amusing that instead of booing, so many people whistle. I can't whistle. I feel like the whistle is more annoying, but booing conveys emotion better.
- Get this...OG and her friends leave the match with a good 20 minutes left in a 1-0 match to go to a pub and get hammered. The professor seems a little miffed, but hey, they came to the right place to get trashed.
- Chelsea wins 1-Nil! Professor wraps up his lively commentary by saying Chelsea could have been up by 2 or 3 at the half, and that Reading played much better in the second half. He disagreed with some of the officiating. He talks in whispers when talking about his favorite team in the EPL (he revealed to us today it's Tottenham), and sends us on our merry way. I ride home on the Tube, listening to the incoherent melodies of drunken stupor.
I had a great time, to say the least. I will try and make a concerted effort to watch more football on tv and try to understand it more. It's not nearly as mundane as I thought. I'd love to go to another game before I head back to the states.
A couple more things...
OG got caught in class today shopping online on her laptop. I was thoroughly satisfied.
Johan Santana to the Mets basically makes my life. I'm happier that Lester/Ellsbury/Masterson etc. are staying than I would have been if Santana was coming. I couldn't have asked for a better scenario...he's going to my favorite team in the NL that also happens to rival the Yankees. How perfect.
American football...I'll either be watching the Super Bowl in my flat or at the Cheers Bar in London. We have to make a decision soon. I will make no predictions. I will only say that the Giants scare the crap out of me, just like the Jags and Chargers did. I am the master of reverse psychology and underestimating sheer awesomeness. It hardly ever fails.