Monday, April 30, 2012

An American Chelsea Supporter in London



I was only mildly disappointed in the lack of hooliganism at Stamford Bridge. Walking to Chelsea’s historic stadium on a uncharacteristically sunny February afternoon, I was expecting to see packs of drunken Chelsea Headhunters prowling the streets in search of Bolton supporters to punch in the mouth. Much to my surprise (and thanks to stricter policies, policing and CCTV), the scene outside and inside the stadium was one of the most calm and polite amassing of humans I have ever been a part of. It was a very refreshing experience to not have to deal with throngs of drunken, potbellied Americans chugging lite beer from the tailgate of their pickups. I guess my expectations of hooligan violence were falsely fueled by exaggerated internet stories, urban legends, and Hollywood’s artistic license. I now know how Englishmen must feel when they come to America only to discover that every girl doesn’t look like Scarlett Johansson or Angelina Jolie.

One Life, One Love, One Club

At matchday, Feb 25 2012, Chelsea was barely hanging onto 4th place in the Premier League table (and the last coveted Champions League qualification) and Bolton was fighting to avoid relegation, so despite a substantial mismatch of talents, we were optimistic for a competitive afternoon. As an added wrinkle Chelsea’s Manager Andre Villas-Boas was on the hottest of hot seats and in desperate need of a victory (we would learn of his firing a week later while waiting at Charles de Gaulle).

The food options in the stadium weren’t much to blog about. For me, the limited in-stadium selection boiled down to two choices, a traditional English meat pie and a traditional flaccid grey American-style hotdog on a small soggy bun. I never, ever get hotdogs stateside, but I couldn’t resist this limp slice of Americana, plus I was starving. I wasn’t expecting much from the English in the way of food, and the cooks of Stamford Bridge didn't do much to help that stereotype.

Frank Lampard takes a corner

During a tentative, scoreless first half and a highly entertaining second half which saw goals from David Luiz, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, I noticed a lot of differences between English football and American sporting events. Differences that I wish were found their way to stateside stadiums. In no particular order
  • No national anthem
  • No stoppages for commercials, but that's just the nature of the beautiful game
  • No beer allowed beyond the concourses, an awesome idea that would prevent situations like this, but Owners/Bud/Miller would never let it happen in the US
  • No salesmen walking around the stadium obstructing views while tossing bags of peanuts and hoisting towers of cotton candy
  • A refreshing absence of advertisements in the stadium, sure there were some ads but it was far from overbearing
  • No talking or music played over the loud speakers. The only noises heard during game play are the referee’s whistle, the announcement of goal scorers and chanting fans. There was no organist, no arena DJ playing tired rock anthems, not once were the fans pleaded to ‘make noise,’ no kiss cams or jumbotron games, there was no down time announcements and no midgame advertisements, just the sound of the game and its fans.
  • There was only two screens in the stadium, poorly placed not-so-jumbotrons that we couldn’t even see from our seats. So if you wanted to see the game you actually had to watch the pitch from your seat in real time.
  • People intently watched the game. No getting up during play, no looking down at phones, it seemed as if everyone was paying attention. Tickets are hard to get and from what I could tell are not squandered.
  • Chanting/Singing. TV really doesn’t do football chants and songs justice. The chants are unrelenting and unbroken throughout the entire game rising organically from the fan sections in the lower level. Every so often a chant will gain enough momentum to be sung in the entire lower level, and every so often the chant will spill from the lower level to the upper levels and the entire stadium will be in unison.
Singing must be a problem at the Kona Kai

From what I could tell people went to Stamford Bridge that afternoon to see their team play Bolton, that’s it. There were no attempts by club management to enhance the ‘stadium experience' to the levels American owners do, there were no theatrics and no pandering to casual or non-fans. There were just 22 guys on a field kicking around a ball and 40,000 fans cheering them on, and in the end that is what it all should be about.  

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