Posts Tagged ‘ Ground Hopping ’

Soccer Trips 2017

2017 promises to be another great year for American soccer, and this year is particularly special because Atlanta United kicks off their first ever MLS campaign. But soccer happens all over this country at all levels and my goal each year is touch base at each level.

This year began with Atlanta United friendlies. First up was the quick drive up to Chattanooga for the game against Chattanooga FC. The Chattahooligans were great hosts, providing space at First Tennessee Pavilion and a huge breakfast buffet spread. Besides getting to meet fans from Atlanta and Chattanooga, I ran into Dennis Crowley, founder of Kingston Stockade FC of the NPSL. He came in from New York to check out the scene and we had a quick chat. Read my recap for Terminus Legion.

The following weekend was the opening match of the Carolina Challenge Cup. Atlanta United fans descended on Charleston to watch the Five Stripes face off against Columbus Crew SC. All four Atlanta United Supporter Groups did a shared tailgate, which was awesome. Returning to Charleston was great as well as the housing at Camp Cheek.  Read my recap for Terminus Legion and listen to my interviews with Atlanta United fans on the Terminus Legion podcast.

I went to the first ever Atlanta United game. The club kicked off at Bobby Dodd Stadium and it was awesome evening. Tailgate, march, tifo, great match. As a season ticket holder, I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Here’s the Terminus Legion podcast from the tailgate.

 

Here is my proposed schedule for the rest of 2017.

  • May 31 Savannah Clovers at Georgia Revolution. NPSL
  • July 3 Nashville Soccer Club at Peachtree City MOBA. PDL
  • August 6 Atlanta United at Sporting Kansas City. MLS
  • September 15 Bethlehem Steel FC at Louisville City FC. USL
  • September 16 New York Red Bulls II at Cincinnati FC. USL

Here are some of my previous trips.

You want to join me on a road trip? Comment below or hit me up on twitter @austinlong1974.

And check out Steven Bernasconi’s project, The Soccer Tour. He has put together an amazing 2017 and can’t wait to learn more about his adventures.

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Fan Experiences in England and the United States

Paul Gerald is a self described soccer nut and is working on a  book, An American’s Guide to Soccer in England, which he plans to have his book out in the summer of 2017. He has been on the SoccerNomad podcast to talk about his trips.

After our last chat he shared some similarities and differences between being a soccer fan in England and the United States.

I have been fortunate enough to see experiences in my soccer life of late: going to more than 35 games in England and seeing my beloved Portland Timbers win the MLS Cup in person.

The latter was a magical night at the end of a magical run and gave me a taste of Major League Soccer away days. The former is part of research for a book, a sort of travel and cultural guide to the English game

Here a couple of comparisons of the fan experience in each country:

Stadium Locations

In the US, many stadiums are on the edge of town and/or were originally built for American football. There are exceptions – all three Pacific Northwest stadiums, for example – but other places like Kansas City’s Sporting Park are between an outlet mall and a racetrack, and RFK Stadium in DC was original built as a multi sport facility in the 1960s and abandoned by the Redskins years ago, for good reason.

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In England, most stadiums are smack in the middle of town. Chelsea, for example, are one of the great clubs in the world, with a cabinet full of trophies. But their stadium, the sparkling 42,000-seat Stamford Bridge, is about a two-minute walk from a tube station in a busy neighborhood in West London. The same is true for Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle, and many others.

Some of the newer grounds are rather stale and on the edge of town (Stoke and West Ham, for example), but I give the advantage here to England.

Stadium Size

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Here there is some similarity, except for MLS sides who play in giant stadiums made for the NFL. The biggest club stadium in England is Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, with about 75,000 seats. The next five biggest are between 50,000 and 60,000, and after No. 10 it’s all under 40,000. In the Premier League they get as small as 20,000 at Swansea City and 11,000 (!) at Bournemouth.

The average purpose-built MLS stadium is around 20,000. So we’ll call this one a draw.

Weather

The vast majority of seats in English stadiums are covered – as they need to be, since the season runs from August to May and at least half of that is rain with temps in the 30s and 40s. In the US, we have the sense to play in the summer and sit in the sun. Advantage MLS.

Local Rivalries

My Timbers have the league’s most heated rivalry with Seattle, which is “only” 170 miles away. For comparison, Liverpool and Everton are one mile from each other. Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, two bitter West London rivals, are three miles apart. You could walk to those two and Chelsea in a total of six miles. It goes on and on. Big advantage England.

Away Fans

By rule, but not always in practice, away fans are supposed to get 10% of tickets to an English match, and up to three times that for a Cup tie. This means that throughout the Premier League, and in many lower league games, there are generally thousands of away fans singing their guts out the whole game. The biggest I saw was 9,000 Sunderland fans at Manchester United.

Look what they did when they scored a late goal in that game.

At the vast majority of MLS games, the best that can be hoped for are pockets of away fans, and away goals are met with a weird, eerie silence. Advantage England.

Distraction Action

Before games in England you get a lot of announcements and ads on the big screen – if the stadium has one, and most do. And there’s an on-field announcer whom everyone ignores. During the game? Nothing. They won’t even show a replay if it will piss anybody off. And I know of one club, Crystal Palace, that has a dance team.

In the US, you get some sponsorship messages here and there, but it’s much better than the nonsense at an NBA or NFL game. English people love that stuff, by the way; they think it’s like going to a circus. For soccer, though, we’ll call this one a draw.

Singing and Chanting

Near as I can tell, MLS culture is pretty much an adoption of English culture, all the way to the point of people wearing scarves to a game in 90-degree weather. There’s plenty of singing in both places, but from what I have seen, MLS severely lacks two things: spontaneity and player-specific songs. There are also very few opening game anthems in the US, which we need to work on.

Here’s 57,000 West Ham fans sing “Blowing Bubbles,” East London accent and all, at their new home stadium.

Slight advantage: England.

Eating and Drinking

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My favorite thing to tell English people is that not only can we drink inside an American stadium, there are people walking around to sell you beer! They absolutely cannot believe this. Ever since about 1990, when they started cracking down on hooligan culture, it is against English law to consume alcohol while you can see a soccer pitch – even in a suite. They also have no concept of what tailgating is, but they think it sounds utterly amazing and can’t wait to get over here and try it out.

Big, big advantage to the USA here.

Fan Behavior

The biggest misconception about English fans is that they are all hooligans. In fact, in 35 or so games I’ve been to, I have felt uncomfortable exactly twice: When I wore my Fulham colors outside Sheffield’s Bramhall Lane after a tense draw (lesson learned) and the time I naively wore a red jacket to a game at Everton (bigger lesson learned).

Still, I give the advantage to the Yanks here. The level of obscenity and abuse (at their own team, most of the time) is really over the top at English grounds – one reason that almost all have a family-friendly area. In the US, except for maybe a few of the derbies, fans mix together well, and everybody really seems out to have a good time.

One big disadvantage to MLS, though: I cannot believe how many American fans talk during the game and get up to walk around. Neither of these happen during the game in England, except when people beat the rush to the beer stand before halftime. It is all about watching, and knowing, the game.

Taken as a whole, seeing soccer in England reminds me of going to college football games in the South when I was a kid: It was mostly local teams with lots of fans there, TV and in-game distraction didn’t get in the way, and the stadiums felt cozy and intense. The English are in the slow process of replacing their old grounds and losing some of that atmosphere, but for now, and for my money, there’s no better sporting experience in the world than heading down to an English ground for a Saturday afternoon kickoff, with scarves and songs flying. I hope to run into you there sometime.

Check out my website, EnglishSoccerGuide.com, and follow along on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for reading. For MLS and EPL fans, what have your experiences been? Let us know in the comments below.

An American’s Guide to Soccer in England

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An American’s Guide to Soccer in England

English groundhopper Paul Gerald came back on the SoccerNomad podcast to recap his latest trip to the UK. Paul hit Watford, Tottenham, West Ham, Bristol and others as he gathers material for his upcoming book, An American’s Guide to Soccer in England. Paul provided some great insight and tips for fans interesting in going to matches. He plans to have his book out in the summer of 2017, so keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, check out his blog English Soccer Guide and follow him on twitter @authorpaulg.

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Thanks for listening! You can also subscribe via iTunes and please leave a rating and review. Follow me on twitter @austinlong1974.

I’m Only Happy When It Rains

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The Knoxville Force faced off against in state rival Nashville FC not only for three points in the NPSL Southeast Division but also as part of the Volunteer Shield.  After an opening day loss at New Orleans Jesters, the Force rebounded with a win against the Hammers (sorry Forrest and Collin). Nashville were 1-2 in the conference with a win against New Orleans and losses to Chattanooga FC and Memphis City FC. Those two losses also impacted the Volunteer Shield, which is a supporter group created trophy recognizing the club with the most points in head to head games between the Tennessee NPSL teams. Think Cascadia Cup for the Volunteer State.

We pulled into the hotel under threatening skies. I immediately checked the weather and saw that there was a 94% chance of rain at kickoff. Being a fragile flower, I asked Scruffy City Syndicate if umbrellas were allowed in the complex, which they were, so game on.

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I wouldn’t say I love college football, but I’m a fan so had to see Neyland Stadium. We drove by in a torrential downpour, snapped a couple of pics and headed to the tailgate. Turnout was low due to the weather but the Scruffy City Syndicate had fired up the grill and had hot dogs and beers ready for anyone ready to brave the downpour.

Ben Winder greeted me and gave me a brief recap of the group. Founded in 2014, SCS has a close relationship with the Front Office and has secured an area in the stands to support the team. Plus they got a deal on season tickets that allows them to offer a great membership package. As for the club, the Knoxville Force combined efforts with the Emerald Youth Foundation ahead of the 2015 season. This season the team has a new coach, Bradley Camp, and a revamped roster.

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After meeting everyone, SCS showed me the pièce de résistance—Vanimal. Complete with a sound system and grill, the beast is a beauty to behold. Not only can it carry all the supplies but it also seats several loyal fans. Terminus Legion needs one of these ahead of 2017.

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SCS packed up and headed in. Their tailgate spot is right across from the complex—super convenient. Sansom Sports Complex is a relatively new facility and features a clubhouse, a covered small sided practice area (which came in handy this night) and two turf fields. A grass field is under development as well. The complex is easy to get to and visible to the community around them.

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The match started off with a bang as Knoxville Force scored just two minutes in. NFC recovered and took control of the match, with Elliot Goodwin (#23) constantly running at the Force backline. He scored the equalizer (offisde?) and Nashville FC punished poor defending to go into halftime up 2-1.

Knoxville came out and were on the front foot in the second half. Yinka Lawal (#9) was a force up top but wing play was a real strength. Midway through the second half the Force knotted things up and with the game creeping towards a draw, this happened. Cameron Schneider received a cross at the top of the box and chested it to himself for the acrobatic finish. One of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen live.

The Force subbed and reorganized after a late red card to close out the match. Huge win for Knoxville as they go to 2-1 in the league and the Volunteer Shield standings. Next up is Chattanooga FC at Finley Stadium on Tuesday.

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(Pic courtsey of Erica Waggoner)

Scruffy City Syndicate put a great show. Small in numbers but huge in terms of attitude. Plus the next generation is getting involved, complete with costumes and a pyramid. Big props to El Beasto!! It was great to stand with them and many thanks to Ben and the gang for letting me hang out with them.

If you were at the match, let me know your thoughts. As always, check out the rest of my groundhops— past and present—on the MatchDay Memory page and hit me up on twitter @austinlong1974.

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Resources

Emerald Youth Sports

Knoxville Force website

Knoxville Force Wikipedia entry

Match Recap via Emerald Youth Sports

Volunteer Shield

Scruffy City Syndicate

Nashville FC website

Summer 2015–Ground Hopping

Due to changes in life, namely geography and finances, I scaled back on my MLS stadium tour. After several interactions with fellow groundhoppers, I decided to check out lower league grounds in the Southeast.

First up was Charleston. For Memorial Day, the family headed to South Carolina to visit with friends and I made sure there was a Charleston Battery home game that weekend as well. My son and I headed to Blackbaud Stadium and met with Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Regiment for the tailgate. We played a quick game of FIFA 15 and then joined the group for the stadium tour.

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What an amazing experience. The President of the Charleston Battery led us through the facility, pointing out items in a priceless collection of jerseys, pennants, programs, programs and more. I was in #KitNerd heaven. I didn’t get to see the Manchester United suite and it’s probably better because I may have not left without a police escort.

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We back to the tailgate and checked out the wonderful spread put out by the Regiment. Pre-game festivities were wrapped up with a march and taking our places in Section E1. During the match, there was this kid leading the cheers, and it was awesome seeing the supporter culture passed down the generations.

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The quality of the match wasn’t spectacular, although the opening goal from the Battery was well crafted. Charlotte equalized with a dodgy penalty and after that chances were few and far between. The USL match ended in a 1-1 draw.

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The ground itself is well designed with two stands, with one for the press box and suites and box seats and the other a stand of bleachers. Each end is open and allows for different activities, food and walking areas.

Next up was Nashville, TN. Took a Greyhound to the match. Figured why spend four hours in a car by myself just listening to music and podcasts when I could get stuff done? Did some writing and blog work and watched a movie on the way. The bus was 45 minutes late leaving, which I’m learning is par for the course on these trips.

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Once I got into the Music City I walked to Vanderbilt Stadium. Mild misfire on my part. A three mile hike in 90 degree heat was not one of my best decisions. I walked up to the gate just before kickoff and was met with a ticket line out to the street. I finally got in, bought my scarf and took a seat.

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(photo courtesy of Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves)

The match rewarded me for my efforts. Nashville opened the scoring as their right winger torched the Reserves left back. But almost immediately from the kickoff Janny Rivera hit a 30+ yard bomb that crashed the underside of the crossbar and in. A real thunderbastard of a goal. The teams traded goals in the second half, and as the clock clicked closer to full time, Santos Ramirez popped up with a header to secure the vital points. Jubilation from the visitors as they headed back to Atlanta.

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My next trip was a virtual home game as the Reserves met the Georgia Revolution. The Revolution play at the Rockdale Youth Soccer Association complex in Conyers,GA, a little bit of a hike for me, especially in traffic. Several heavy thunderstorms through the day had made the pitch quite soggy, with several areas of standing water. Both teams had trouble finding their rhythm and the first half was a disjointed, scrappy affair. The second half was scintillating. A mistake by the Revolution left back allowed the Reserves winger in and his cross was met at the back post. The hosts responded quickly and then took the lead with grass cutter free kick. The Reserves levelled after some cool nerves in the penalty area. The visitors pushed on for the win but the Revolution won the day as a free kick was flicked on to the far post and knocked home.

I’m hoping to make one more trip this fall, but follow these guys on twitter or search #Groundhopping to read insightful trips from around Europe:

  • Alex Baker (@alexpieter)
  • Peter Miles (@PeterRMiles)
  • Groundhopper (@Groundhopping1)

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Check out more posts on my trips, research and memories on the MatchDay Memories page.