Lawrence varsity athlete reflects on European and American sports culture

By Atley Gay

During Fall Term of 2014, I had the privilege to study at Lawrence University’s London Centre. All the hype you hear about studying abroad is true. I was apprehensive going into the experience. Will this opportunity really change my outlook on life? Will I enjoy this as much as my peers have? Will I miss it when I leave? The answer to all is a resounding yes!

The experience in London showed me there is so much more to the world than what I know in the states. I enjoyed my experience and miss being there. Lawrence’s London Centre gave me an opportunity to continue my liberal arts education in a different country and to experience and immerse myself in that culture.

As a Lawrence baseball player and an avid sports fan, I was excited to see how the sporting culture and style in London were different from the sports culture in the U.S. I love baseball, football and basketball and hoped to connect with a fellow baseball fan, but the closest I could find were cricket fans.

Cricket is played with a bat and ball and is similar to baseball, though the rules and lingo are much different, and the length of matches can last up to five days!

However, most of my sports conversations were focused around football, and I soon learned my idea of football was not what Londoners were talking about. In London, and pretty much the rest of the world, football is what Americans call saoccer, and what we would call football, they call “American football.”

I often talked with locals about the proper sport’s names, and on two occasions I had lengthy conversations in local pubs that were focused entirely on the football vs. “football” comparison.

One thing that was generally upsetting to Londoners was the American’s use of the word football which was explained to me as follows: “football” athletes are only allowed to use their feet to move the ball, hence “foot-ball,” while American football focuses on moving the ball with the hands, and is only kicked occasionally.

I did my best to use the proper reference for each sport but it was definitely hard to get used to. The Londoner’s message to the states: “It’s football, not soccer!”

Football (soccer to you and me) is a huge part of the culture in London. In fact, all over Europe, soccer is nothing short of a religion. The hundreds of clubs all have huge, passionate and loyal fan bases. The U.S. has tremendous sports fans too, but in Europe the passion they display for their teams is on another level. I experienced this passion first-hand at three football matches.

The first in Athens, Greece, was a match between teams from Panathinaikos and Atromitos, Athens. It was exhilarating. We sat next to the Panathinaikos fan section, and I don’t think a minute went by without cheering, chanting, or singing. The other two matches were in London. I was able to watch team USA play Columbia and see a game with the Queen’s Park Rangers, a local team from White City, London.

The USA game was great, because I could finally chant “U-S-A,” but the Columbia fans filled three quarters of the stadium making it impossible to compete. The Queen’s Park Rangers game was similar to my Athens experience with non-stop chanting and cheering. The atmosphere at these regular season games with the endless cheering is like nothing I’ve experienced in the U.S.

Back to American football: Since 2007, the NFL has traveled to London to play for the International Series. Last fall London hosted three games. I was interested to see how a traditional “American” sport fared in London.

Game one was my first weekend in London and there was a Fan Festival on Regent Street that was swarmed with thousands who came to get a taste of the NFL. Fans donned jerseys from every team¬–even the Packer’s. As I met more locals, I discovered there is a strong American football following.

Two things I learned from conversations in London regarding the NFL: Many Europeans follow the NFL and hope they continue to play a series in London; and American football is awesome, but is NO comparison to the “football” they play.

Lastly, I would like to send a message to my fellow Lawrentian athletes: Studying abroad is a realistic and attainable goal, even as an athlete. Many student-athletes talk about studying abroad but decide not to because of the commitment to a sport.

If that is the case, discuss it with your coach. I am confident they will be supportive of your “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Many of my fondest memories from my trip were meeting new people and talking about sports. It was easy to connect because I was an athlete.