Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Coloradoan in England

One of the guys that I'll be traveling to South Africa, Brett, is originally from Grand Junction, Colorado, and even spent time working with the Rapids back in the day. Though he now lives in England, he still follows his hometown Rapids and the U.S. National Team.

I asked Brett if he could describe for other Rapids fans what it's like to be a Colorado / USA soccer fan living in England. Below is his story:

I, like some of you, am preparing to head off to watch the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth…the World Cup.

The excitement is building, and I am counting the days until I can board that big jet plane that will take me to the Dark Continent. While I have been to the last 4 World Cup Finals, coached and played the beautiful game since I was a child, and worked in many capacities in the professional game, I am just like most of you.

This might lead you to wonder why I was asked to write this article, or why you are bothering to read it. Good questions, I must admit. I am a proud member of Sam’s Army, but I will be travelling to South Africa as a force of one surrounded by the enemy. I live in Northern England, the home of soccer and coincidentally our first opponent this Saturday.

I was recently asked how the buildup to the World Cup in England compared to that of the United States. The short answer is: it doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t compare to anything in the US at all. Every aspect of daily life here now revolves around this amazing quadrennial tournament. To demonstrate this I would like to recount a couple of days last week that truly put things in perspective.

I was walking into to town with my wife and son, and everywhere I looked St. George’s cross was flying high…and I do mean high. The pub where I ended up watching the Mexico v England game has a 30 foot flag adorning the building.

This wasn’t a gradual transition mind you. It was as if there was a traditional English calendar that stated, “Exactly three weeks before the start of the World Cup Finals, all good Englishmen must present their colors”.

It’s as if the entire country began singing along with The Clash to “This is England”. We popped into the Mark’s & Spencer’s, a local grocery store, and they had converted an entire 100’ aisle into an English Supporters Section.

I asked a store clerk, “Um, excuse me. Where did the bread go?”

“Down on aisle 12, I think,” he said. “But we have a lot of England kit here!”

After assuring him that I didn’t really need any new kit, we picked up the groceries and continued down the main shopping street to find a place to have some lunch. Every store we passed had obviously used the same decorator, as that damn red cross was everywhere.

Within three blocks I realized that the entire town had been transformed. The health food store, the cell phone stores, the travel agents, the book stores, the florists, the charity shops…yes, the charity shops all had their windows painted in dragon hating pride. Each of them offering some incentive to cheer the boys to victory.

I probably could have lived the rest of my life without seeing a sign that urged me to “Help beat colon cancer in the spirit of Bobby Moore and England” (Sir Bobby was the captain of the Cup winning English side of 1966 and died of colon cancer). With the health of my colon imbedded in my mind, we continued on our way.

After getting nearly run over by a Peugeot with twin England flags proudly displayed, I was really starting to dislike the damn things. Truth be told, though, I was secretly begrudging of the national pride the country as a whole displayed for the sport I had loved since I was a child.

Returning home, my son wanted to watch some television. I acquiesced, and while scanning the menu was bombarded with a dizzying array of programs: The 20 Greatest Players in World Cup History, The 20 Most Embarrassing Moments of the World Cup. The 30 Greatest Goals in the World Cup…the list went on and on.

Which one to watch?

Of course my son, who was thinking more along the lines of Ben 10, was not amused. The Cartoon Network won out, but not before seeing a commercial that seemed to cement the day’s experiences. It was for a national banking chain and they promised to deposit 25 pounds in every current account if England won the World Cup. Every customer, 25 pounds. That is commitment. I went to bed that night wondering if I should move my checking account.

The next evening, I made my way down to the pub to watch the England vs Mexico game. Due to some very odd scheduling, which was the source of three newspaper articles, the match was on a Monday evening.

Thinking it might be a light crowd I showed up about 20 minutes before kick-off. Bad move. The place was packed, and people had obviously been there for hours. I managed to find a place standing at the bar where I had a view of one the big screens just as the game kicked off. While the game was less than exhilarating, the atmosphere in the pub was electric.

Everywhere around me, there were conversations about the team that Fabio Capello, England’s Italian manager, had put out. When England finally scored their first goal, it was met by a roar, but also a fair amount of cynicism.
That is the thing with English fans. They constantly expect their team to win, but just as often criticize it when they don’t do it with style and panache. At half-time I managed to wander over to a tall table where a spot had opened up, and struck up a conversation with the other residents of the precious real estate. I asked one of the guys what he thought of the game,

“Dreadful” he said. “It’s bloody Mexico, for ........ sake. The only thing they are good at is the Wave”

“Mexico are good team,” I said. “They have advanced to the second round in four straight World Cups.”

“They are crap. They qualify in a weak conference,” he replied.

Sensing a general bias here, I asked, “So you think that Mexico, and the US are only in because they qualify from a weak region?”

“Of course it is…..everyone knows the Yanks can’t play football.”

“But a lot of our players play for clubs in Europe, several in the Premier League.”

“Aye, but none of them are stars. You are a bunch of squad players. You have no one who can deal with Rooney, Lampard, and Gerard.”

Things got a little more contentious when I stated “Andorra did. You only beat them 2-0 and they only have 84,000 people.”

He smiled at that, bought me a beer, and we began arguing about how the English can claim that CONCACAF can be called “weak” when they qualified in group that contained Belarus, Andorra, and Kazakhstan. By then the second half had commenced and England started to look like the English team these 300 crazed and none to sober fans had expected from the outset.

Mexico’s performance was beginning to make my argument look very weak, but I continued the good fight. I even threw out the Holy Grail of Belo Horizonte Brazil where the US beat England 1-0 in 1950. Of course, the battle was lost from the beginning, because I am one of the aforementioned Yanks, and Yanks know nothing about football. Everyone knows that. Except us.
After the game, the mood in the pub was raucous, and I had made a few new friends, sort of. I had at least proven that I knew the game, and that when having a conversation with me you couldn’t take me for granted simply because I was a Yank.

I think the metaphor was lost on them.

I did agree to meet them 5 days later, same time, same place to watch the England vs Japan match. As you can imagine that one was a bit more fun to discuss with the natives. (Japan was winning before scoring two own goals to give England the victory).



1 comment:

Darco20 said...

Yeah, England fans tend to go a bit overboard whenever a big international soccer tournament rolls around. I visited once after Euro 20004, and flags were still hanging everywhere!

And always show up to the pub early! The pub is a popular thing in British culture, most people will go every day after work with colleagues, and a lot of people watch all the games (club or national) with their mates there. Fun little footy culture. I'm actually keeping a world cup blog if anyone is interested, be nice to get some hometown Rapid fans viewing it.