Well I can promise to anyone who reads this that this will be one of my most interesting posts, and frankly is a blog that I couldn’t wait to write. I would like all who read this to know that I am writing this at midnight on and off of the adrenaline now pulsing through my body after a truly remarkable event I just had the blessing of witnessing.
Great Britain and the United States may be extremely different but there is definitely one thing that we share, an unrelenting love for sports. But the similarities almost stop there because the pastime sports of our respective countries are very different. In the UK, rugby and what we call soccer (and how I will refer to it just for sake of clarity) are by far the most popular sports here. While in the U.S. rugby is a very unknown sport to most Americans, and soccer is a sport who I now believe has only committed the crime of trying to compete with our national pastime, football. I know especially for everyone back in Howards Grove, Madison, Green Bay, Eau Claire, River Falls, and everywhere else the consensus seems to be that football is superior. I know that I myself shared this belief and wrongly so in many instances because as I have learned from this incredible night both sports have incredible attributes that need not be held against each other.
Being the son of a football coach and growing up in the world of football, I terms of my fall sports calendar it’s all I have ever know. I have embraced the culture and happenings of Friday nights, Saturday afternoons, and Sundays filled with football. I have loved every minute of playing and watching the sport I love. But I never got the chance to step out of my comfort zone and watch soccer, which is a sport I am fairly unfamiliar with. But on a calm fall night in west London, I had the privilege of watching Chelsea FC vs. Fulham FC in third knockout round of the Carling Cup. This was branded to be an unimportant game where Chelsea would trounce Fulham and we would be on our merry way, but there was much more excitement to what was supposed to be an uninteresting game.
My first experiences of Chelsea Stadium were frankly disappointing. I hate to say it but places like Green Bay and Madison have a much better atmosphere outside of their stadiums than Chelsea does. Where you would see parties on the street, brats and burgers on every grill, and blaring music was instead replaced but a few full pubs and shops, and a fairly docile crowd shuffling towards the stadium. I was slightly disappointed to when I saw the stadium and its mere 40,000 capacity, and thought back to the places I have been which hold more than double that capacity. There were no fancy warm-ups, crazy pre-game traditions, or marching band on the pitch, no all that was going to happen was a soccer match. But what an incredible match it was. For only 40,000 people, that crowd noise of the stadium definitely punches harder than it’s weight. I cannot describe both the variety, ferocity, and duration of the chanting I heard. Especially from the mere 3,000 Fulham fans (who were by far the best visiting section I have ever heard, they are incredibly supportive about their team and I cannot state that enough) who found a way to at times drown out the noise coming from the 37,000 Chelsea fans. In terms of sheer decibels, I am sure any NFL or college game is louder but much of that can be attributed just to sheer size.
Soccer and especially prestigious clubs like Chelsea have much more of a world-wide impact than any American football team. For example: I bet many people from America can name the big league clubs in Europe (Chelsea, Man. U., Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc.) but from experience here I can say with 99% confidence no one has ever heard of the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Alabama Crimson Tide, Wisconsin Badgers, or any of the high level football teams. I saw flags labeled with the name Chelsea from countries like Norway, Hungary, Croatia, England, Wales, France, and many others.
Then there was the actual game. I didn’t understand how hard it is to connect the series of events necessary to score a goal. I saw a game that was 0-0 after regulation, but it was still incredibly entertaining because due to how many close calls there were. Low scoring games were what I used to complain about whenever I would talk about soccer back home but now I have a much greater appreciation for why that event occurs. Two offsides calls, a flat out miss on a penalty kick, and astounding play by the Fulham defenders and goalkeeper made scoring any goals impossible. The game came down to penalty kicks, which is in my opinion an unfortunate ending for such a great match in which Chelsea won 4-3.
I spent a long time on my tube ride home thinking, did I have a better time watching football or soccer better, and is one superior to the other? My best answer is no, I can’t honestly decide. I have been spoiled with some great events in my football life both playing and watching and I have only seen one soccer match in person (and as much as I enjoyed the match it really wasn’t a big game like a championship or World Cup match) so it would be unfair to decide. Though I can’t say I would declare one or the other a “winner” I have learned something. Sport is sport, and though we may being trying to put a different shaped ball into a different net or endzone, the feeling we get from watching and competing is the same. We should embrace all sports together and just love what we are doing. So to everyone out there in Mad-town, Fulham Broadway, Green Bay, HG, De Pere, or West Ham just keep doing what you are doing. I know for myself I am going to make a concise effort to embrace all sports, including ones which I have not given proper treatment to their due respect, and enjoy every second of it.
Joe Hansen is studying abroad in London, England, with the Foundation for International Education (FIE).