Tag Archives: football

So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

Being British in America can sometimes be akin to life as a happy-go-lucky labradoodle – everybody thinks you’re very sweet, but they don’t really understand you, and they’re often shocked to find out that you really do exist.

The problem is that as soon as you tell someone that you’re British, people jump to certain assumptions. As far as some Americans are concerned, everybody has met the Queen, and quite possibly have had tea with her. I know I still miss my weekly cup of darjeeling and occasional chocolate hobnob with Her Majesty, as do most expats I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve also met Harry Potter, David Beckham, or that kid from the Twilight movies.

For clarity’s sake, fish and chips is not the only food we Brits eat, contrary to popular opinion. We also eat black pudding on Tuesdays, and tripe on the second Sunday of every month.

And yes, absolutely every single one of us is stark raving posh. Whether we’re from a dilapidated estate in Newcastle, or a country pile in the home counties, each and every one of us was born with a plum and/or silver spoon in our mouth, and is the heir to a fortune built off the exploitation of children in the (former) colonies. Quite.

Of course, my insistence that “we’re just like you, you know” generally falls on deaf ears. And mostly that’s probably down to language. A lot of that might be our own fault. After all, if – as I did this weekend – you use the phrase “I’ve been running around like a blue arsed fly,” you’ve got to expect that people are going to regard you as being a bit different.

That said, Americans (whether cosmopolitan New Yorkers or sheltered West Virginians) love to perpetuate a stereotype as much as the next man, and never more so than when it comes to the British.

Last week, Metro newspaper published an article entitled “Be prepared for a second Brit invasion” regarding a marketing accord between London and New York, to drive locals in each city to visit the other one. Helpfully, Metro offered five “terms to know” for anyone hoping to either go to London, or understand the hordes of Brits apparently about to descend on New York. For your delight and edification, I list them below:

1. “Footie: Means football, as in “I’m off to watch the footie.”
If you’re a football fan, you should know that the first rule of being a football fan is “never refer to it as footie”. It’s marginally more acceptable than soccer, but only in the way that maiming is more socially acceptable than murder.

2. “Bladdered: Means drunk. ‘I am so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another pint.'”
Words fail me. I have never once in 35 years heard someone use the phrase “gargle a pint”. Even Dick van Dyke would have rejected it as too unbelievable. The irony, of course, is that most American beer tastes worse than mouthwash.

3. “Meat and two veg: Slang for male genitalia.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I struggle to be able to think of a situation in which an American in London (or a New Yorker talking to a Brit over here) is going to need this phrase. Anyone believing that “fancy a sample of my meat and two veg” is part of the essential lexicon of love, with the ability to win the heart of a passing Brit faster than any Shakespearean sonnet, should probably think again.

4. “Trainspotter: A dork. The kind of guy who keeps a log book of train schedules. The British love their trains.”
Show me someone who believes that the British love their trains, and I will show you someone who has not been to Britain. The sad thing being that American trains make their British equivalent look world-class.

5. “Brad Pitt: rhyming slang for defecation.”
Maybe I missed a meeting, but last time I looked, rhyming slang for ‘defecation’ was Eartha Kitt. That’s showbusiness for you. And there was me thinking that Brad Pitt was rhyming slang for “actor with marginally less talent than he thinks, with a penchant for screwing leading ladies’.

So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains. Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence in our collective personality, guys!

Still, at least we don’t believe that universal healthcare means an inevitable march towards Hitler death camps, eh?

Clash of the titans

When it comes to sport, there’s no place for people who sit on the fence. I can understand people who don’t particularly like sport at all, but it’s the sports fans that can’t quite bring themselves to pick a team that are weirder to me. Yes, I know that in a ideal chocolate box utopia where the world is governed by cute little puppies, sport should be about the Olympic ideals and the dignity of sportsmanship. But this ain’t no utopia, and when it comes to sport, tribalism and the desire to win lead the way.

The thing is, I love a sporting rivalry; the above-and-beyond enmity and loathing that exists between two teams, sometimes than for a reason that was forgotten decades ago. The kind of competition between two fierce rivals that has fans of both teams thinking of little else for the week before they clash, and which causes the losers to slink off with their tails between their legs resolving not to read the sports pages for at least a month.

Britain does sporting rivalries particularly well. In cricket, there can be little more exciting than a clash between England and Australia, even if the only thing at stake is a tiny urn containing a bit of burnt wood. Infact, so strong is the rivalry that the avid English supporters known as the Barmy Army (or, as I prefer to call them, the ‘Public School Oiks With Too Much Time On Their Hands After Daddy Died And Left Them A Castle’) have landed themselves in deep water for attempting to put the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting off his game with booing and some polite inquiries into the exact nature of his parentage.

Then there’s England vs Scotland (or indeed England vs Wales) in the rugby – a rivalry more explained by England’s political domination of its two smaller mainland United Kingdom territories. After all, when it’s still effectively legal in my native Chester to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow after nidnight, it’s not hard to understand why the Welsh and Scottish might get a little hot under the collar about a sporting chance to redress the balance.

It’s football (or, as I have to insist on calling it in the US, football) where the fiercest rivalries exist. Up and down the land, local rivalries such as Portsmouth & Southampton, Norwich & Ipswich, Chester & Wrexham, Sheffield United & Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle United & Sunderland all exist to fill newspaper column inches and the minds of those who support one or the other.

For me though, the fiercest rivalry is that between Manchester United and Liverpool. I mean, I would say that, given that the pain of being a sixteen year old in the away end at Anfield watching my beloved United taking a 4-0 beating at the hands of Liverpool still hurts to this day twenty years later. I’ve sung more songs about my inner contempt for Liverpool supporters (mostly people I’ve never met, let’s remember) than I’ve eaten bags of fish and chips. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips.

Put simply, United fans and Liverpool fans hate each other, and never the twain shall meet. Apart from in the home of my (Liverpool supporting) sister and her (much more sensible and United supporting) husband, obviously.

And to be fair, I’d never have it any other way.

Here in the United States, the level of rivalry in sports just isn’t there. Sure, there are college sports rivalries, and occasional local tensions, but nothing that would inspire more than a vague “Rangers suck” cry in a crowded bar; presumably a reference to the quality of New York’s ice hockey team rather than the sexual proclivities of the state’s country park guardians.

Part of that comes from the fact that there’s really no such thing as ‘away support’ in American sport. Sure, people expatriated from their home city might put in an appearance when their team swings into their new town, but there’s no away section and fans of both teams sit together in relative harmony. Apart from when one or other has had a few Bud Lights too many, obviously. Fortunately the New York Knicks haven’t hosted a game against the Chester Jets yet, so I haven’t seen a need to test the theory out too closely.

There is, however, one rivalry that seems pretty deep rooted – the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. So, feeling the need for some sporting tension this week – and, more importantly, acutely aware that impending fatherhood means that there will soon be more chance of me being invited to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world than spend a night drinking beer and watching sport – I grabbed a ticket for the Red Sox trip to the new Yankee Stadium to witness the battle for myself.

The sad thing was, the rivalry was muted at best. Sure, there was the occasional t-shirt alluding to the fact that there was never a curse of Babe Ruth and that the Red Sox had actually just sucked for 86 years. But apart from the occasional boo for a Boston player, or a jeer directed at a Red Sox-hatted fan, it could barely have been more harmonious. Of course, it helped that the Yankees battered the Red Sox, although that merely seemed to empty out the stadium way before the end of the game.

Thankfully though, order was restored an innings before the end of the game. A young guy mistakenly walked up the wrong staircase after a visit to the bathroom, and looked around confusedly for his friends who were actually a whole section away. Enjoying his mistake, a crowd of Yankees fans roundly booed and jeered him, and sent him scuttling back to his own seat with his tail between his legs.

Some people would say it was the baseball cap with Boston’s logo on it that caused the heated treatment. But I know that it was actually his t-shirt.

After all, you can’t expect to wear a Liverpool football shirt in public and get away with it.

They think it’s all over

It’s not every day that I start to get a hangover at about 4pm, but then I guess it’s not every day that Manchester United win the Premiership. That’s the English ‘soccer’ league, for the uninitiated. In retrospect, starting to drink beer at 10am on a Sunday was never going to be one of my best-laid plans. But having already bitten my nails down to stubs in the run-up to the deciding game, I had to find something to do with my hands. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it…

Of course, while soccer is admittedly undergoing a young person/Beckham-induced boom, mainstream America’s indifference towards the beautiful game is well documented. My office is actually packed with football fans, but – like Britain’s reaction to baseball, American football and (to a lesser extent) ice hockey and basketball – ‘proper football’ is about as interesting as rat droppings for most people.

As such, it can be difficult to find anywhere to view matches where the big game atmosphere constitutes anything more than The Special One asking me to pick my shoes up off the floor. But with United (or ManYoo, as they’re generally called by the limited number of Americans who have heard of them) just needing a win to clinch their tenth title in sixteen years, I ploughed the depths of Google to find a bar in Brooklyn that would be showing the big clash.

Seeing the closed doors on my arrival at Floyd NY didn’t bode well, but it turns out that they were just trying to keep the sun off the giant screen showing the game within. And despite being the official home of the New York Tottenham Hotspur’s Supporters Club, the place was packed full of United fans eager to see Rooney, Tevez, Ronaldo (and eight more men that no normal American has ever heard of) attempt to win the title for the second year running.

Now here’s the strange thing. The majority of the people in the bar were probably British – or at least not American. Put them in a bar in the UK, and they’d almost certainly be screaming at the television every time a United pass went astray, or swearing with abandon at each missed opportunity. But unless you’re in one of the huge football pubs (such as Nevada Smiths or the Red Lion, if you’re in New York), football watching seems to be a much more cultured and respectful pursuit – and that rubs off on even the British hardcore. So much so that when I laughingly mentioned to a couple of bystanders that the Chelsea captain John Terry would probably miss the Champions League final with a dislocated elbow, they gave me a look that suggested they suspected me of surreptitiously relieving myself in their pints of beer.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of joyful roaring as each of United’s two winning goals went in, and collective relief when the final whistle went to confirm them as champions. But whenever you have to rely on Spurs fans to provide the only chanting at a game, you know something’s gone horribly wrong.

Now with the Premiership finally in the bag, the only question is where to watch the Champions League final.

“From behind the sofa with my hands partially over my eyes” is my current thinking.

Open brackets

I’ve been a footballsoccer fan for as long as I can remember. I’ve still got a picture of me resplendent in my first ever Manchester United kit, proudly sitting on Brit Out Of Water Senior’s lap one Christmas. And I was even humiliated at my wedding (sorry, who am I kidding, I mean at The Special One’s wedding) with a blown-up photograph of a bobble-hatted me aged six, standing infront of United’s ground. Rarely can dimples have looked more prominent.

On one of my first trips to Old Trafford, I can vividly recall sitting on a coachbus taking us to Manchester, and desperately trying to make sense of the ‘league ladders’ that had fallen out of my brand new copy of the bible (or Shoot! football magazine, as I believe it was actually known).

Essentially the Shoot! League Ladder was a piece of cardboard with a tiny piece of card on it for every club in the country. Each one was pushed out of the cardboard frame until you had 92 thumb-sized tabs that could be pushed into the perforated card to reflect where each club was in the league at that point in the season. Given that this was the 1980s, I never had to move Manchester United’s piece of card much above position 8, although I did take a relatively inexplicable interest in seeing the rise and fall of “Harry McNally’s Blue & White Army”. Or Chester, as most pundits seem to insist on calling them.

Statistics have always been at the heart of being a sports fan. Whether it’s the percentage of first serves achieved by Andy Murray or Roger Federer, or the lap times of a 10,000 metremeter runner, being a proper sports fan is something that requires a mind for numbers. You also need an extraordinary ability to retain the facts that Rain Man would struggle to remember. I only remember the date of Brit Out Of Water Senior’s wedding to The Wicked Stepmother because it coincided with Ryan Giggs’ first goal for Manchester United, in a 1-0 triumph over our light blue City rivals.

Of course, in America, sports stats are just as important. But to say that I know nothing would be to do a disservice to those who know nothing. I’d have a better chance of guessing the number of grains of rice in the world than I would have of telling you how many three pointers Nate Robinson has scored in the last three seasons.

Yesterday I was forcedpersuaded into taking part in my office’s NCAA brackets competition. I assume that NCAA stands for No Clue About Anything as that pretty sums up my knowledge of this sports prediction tradition. Essentially there appear to be about 32 teams (which I assume to be college teams, given that UCLA and Stanford were among them), and you have to choose who will beat who, all the way through to the eventual final. I guess that the person who gets most right wins the prize.

Suffice to say that it was only about half way through filling in the form that I realised that this was a basketball competition. I haven’t even heard of some of the places involved, let alone know whether they’re a good team or whether they’re capable of beating another team I’ve never heard of. I ended up with Tennessee winning, just because The Special One would never forgive me if I didn’t. It’s akin to picking Scunthorpe United to win the FA Cup because you like the colour of their kit.

Apparently they call it ‘March Madness’. The only madness is the fact that I’ve made another $20 donation to a fellow colleague’s pocket.

We interrupt this game for a display of patriotism…

I wouldn’t call myself a baseball fan – in fact I’m not sure that I’ve even sat through a whole game in my life. But burning some calories at the gym tonight, I found myself strangely gripped by the Yankees vs Red Sox game on the TV above my head. So much so that I even turned it on when I reached home to catch the last three innings.

In the middle of the seventh innings – the seventh-inning stretch, I think it’s called – just before the Yankees were due to bat again, everything suddenly came to a halt to honour servicemen in action across the world, with a ‘rousing’ rendition of “God Bless America”. Apparently Major League Baseball directed teams to play the song before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They scaled back the request a year later, saying teams only needed to play the song on Sundays and holidays, which remains the case to this day.

Not for the Yankees though. They still bring everything to a halt two and a half innings before the end of every game, and even use ushers to prevent people moving during the performance with the help of the odd chain or two. It’s like Manchester United playing Liverpool, and the game being called to a halt for five minutes for a performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. And fans being stopped from making their way down to the concourse to buy a steak and kidney pie.

They say that the temporary break in proceedings can offer a competitive advantage to the Yankees, with the opposing pitcher unable to warm up while the performance takes place. It certainly didn’t harm them tonight – the Yankees won 4-3 in the ninth innings.

PS They say Americans will never properly ‘get’ football soccer because there are too few goals. But baseball is this country’s national sport, and yet so little ever happens. The Red Sox didn’t even score until the sixth innings, and there were only three home runs in about three hours of ‘action’. Maybe there’s a chance for Beckham and co after all?