Across the Pond

Andy King and Paul Senner

During our free time at the London Centre, it has become our custom to take in Britain and the world’s most popular sport, football – or soccer if you’re an ignorant American. There are many professional teams in the U.K. that are divided into several divisions, including the top division, the Barclay’s Premier League, followed in order by the Coca-Cola Championship, League one and League two.
We have had the opportunity to experience a few matches while in London including a Carling Cup match up between West Ham United and Burnley FC, a FA Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Barnsley FC, and a Carling Cup match up at Manchester United FC versus Derby County. All of the matches were of top quality and featured some of the most talented footballers from around the world.
West Ham was the first match we attended. It was particularly exciting because we were sitting in the Bobby Moore Stand, which is for the hardcore home supporters.
The fans were ruthless and enjoyably vulgar in their support of the Hammers and distaste for the opposing side. Our second match was at White Hart Lane in North London to watch the Spurs take on last year’s underdog Barnsley, a lower-division team who beat top Premier League sides Liverpool and Chelsea.
The home side came out with a poor start and Barnsley controlled the run of play. Fans around us booed, swore and called out players like David Bentley, saying, “You’re not f****** Beckham; knock that cheeky s*** off!!” They were very displeased with the way Bentley and the rest of the Spurs were playing.
However, in the second half, a key substitution was made and Jamie O’Hara stepped onto the pitch for Bentley and made an instant impact. The Spurs ended up winning the game 4-1, while at the same time, they won back the support of their fans.
The third match we attended took us on a trip to Manchester to watch United take on Derby County in the Carling Cup semifinal leg two.
This game was important for United’s survival in the Carling Cup after they lost an earlier match in the month to Championship side Derby at Pride Park.
Being in front of 75,000 fans at Old Trafford was an experience unto its own. Every time Manchester United scored, the stadium erupted in cheers and fans celebrated like we have never experienced before. United won with the style and class of a top-notch football club even though they fielded a very young team.
With these experiences behind us, we look forward to our next match, which will take us to Fulham FC Saturday when they take on Portsmouth FC in a Premier League match up. We are both very excited because we will be looking forward to watching U.S. Men’s National Team star Clint Dempsey play on his club team.
Perhaps the greatest difference between watching soccer in the U.S. and watching soccer here is the passion and commitment of the fans. In America, soccer has to compete with other major sports like American football, baseball and basketball.
In the U.K. soccer is top dog. This means that football culture here in London is pervasive. There are matches on in almost every pub, and almost every Londoner has a favorite team depending on what part of the city he or she lives in.
This means that fan rivalries are fierce, and in the old days, they led to widespread hooliganism and violence. These days fans are tamer, but just barely. In one pub we went to, Liverpool FC was playing their archrivals Everton, and there were competing groups of fans singing and taunting the fans of the other team right there in the Pub! This is something you would never see in the U.S. for any sport. It is this passion and love of the game that we will miss when we return to the states. If only Lawrence soccer fans would be so vocal …