Back in mid-January, Cory celebrated his 33rd birthday. Because I totally dropped the ball and didn’t start planning something for us to do until a week before his birthday, we didn’t get to celebrate until last weekend. So, what does a guy in England want to do for his birthday? Go to an English football game, of course!
Now, I’m not exactly a go, sports! kind of girl, but Cory has been to two musicals with me since moving here, so I owed him one. And since football is more than just a pastime in England – it’s a part of the culture; a rite of passage for all the little English boys and girls out there – I decided I better give it a go.
Cory picked our game – QPR vs Southampton. I’m not even going to pretend I know who these teams are. (Actually, Cory just corrected me. Apparently we call them ‘sides’ here.) He booked our seats in the family section of the stadium since football fans are known to get a little rowdy, and we had Lexie coming along with us, too. And so, on a freezing cold Saturday afternoon, we joined about 18,000 yelling, singing fans at the Loftus Road Stadium for our first English Premier League game. (Lexie’s and my first game, not Cory’s.)
The minute we walked into the stadium, a guy tried to paint my face blue and white. And if we hadn’t been heading straight to a dinner with friends afterwards, I might have let him. Speaking of team colors, I actually had to wear Cory’s coat to the game because the only coat I own is bright red, the same color as the opposing team (Southampton). I definitely prefer looking like a giant green marshmallow to being heckled by overzealous fans, so Cory’s coat it was!
We had arrived early, so the guys were still taking practice shots as we made our way to our seats. I was so excited to see our seats were only five rows off the field! (Pardon me – five rows off the pitch.) But I swear, not two minutes after we sat down, a rogue ball came flying through the air and was only inches from slamming right into my face when Cory blocked it. That was when I stopped being excited about having seats so close to the action.
Luckily, once the game started, the temporary goal that had been in front of us was taken away, and the actual goal was situated a nice, appropriate distance from where we sat. (I never stopped flinching when the guys would kick towards the goal, though. Football PTSD.) Almost right off the bat, one of the players got knocked out and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. (That totally could have been me ten minutes earlier if Cory’s reflexes weren’t so superhuman.)
Now, I’ve been to my share of football games. Cory played for our college in Tennessee and then continued to play for other leagues after graduation, but – and this is going to make me sound like a terrible girlfriend/wife – I’ve never taken the initiative to actually learn the rules of the game. So the only way I ever knew if something happening on the field was good or bad was by the reactions of everyone else in the stadium. And when it comes to English football fans, they certainly don’t hold back. I’d equate English fans’ investment in the players, plays, and outcome of the game to that of American college football fans. Meaning – every call, every play is taken very, very seriously, and you absolutely must vocalize your displeasure or approval either way. Simply by the mood of the people around us, it was reasonably easy for me to keep track of what was happening in the game. Funny how a whole nation of people who are typically fairly reserved, can become so emotionally and vocally uninhibited the moment they enter a stadium.
I’m never one to pass up a chance to try something new on my Canon, so this was also an opportunity for me to practice shooting at a sporting event, something I’ve never done before! And after getting home and looking at my results, I realized I definitely should have been shooting at a much faster shutter speed than I chose, but a few of these still came out okay. After completely missing the action in my first few shots, I learned to anticipate the direction the ball would be going and then it was a lot easier to capture the ball and players in motion. And when I got confused, I’d just look down at the professional photographers below us and point my camera in the same direction they were. The expressions on some of these guys’ faces – hilarious!
The game itself I guess was good. The thing about English football is, no one can score and people will say it was a good game. I don’t get that. I need to see numbers on a scoreboard to feel like anyone’s making any progress. At the end of this game, the score was still 0-0, but then they tacked on an extra four minutes to the time. In that four minutes, Southampton scored. Then QPR scored, but their shot didn’t count because something about off sides. (Yeah, don’t ask me.) And even though I wasn’t invested in the outcome, I was still sad when our team lost. And sad that I had to go a full 90 minutes before someone actually started scoring. (This is why I prefer basketball.)
So would I go to an English football game again? You bet! But not in February. Holy smokes, it was cold. It was in the 30’s (F) and windy, and by the second half, I was already daydreaming about the warm Vietnamese restaurant we’d be going to afterwards. But yeah, April or so? Count me in. We had a blast cheering along with the rest of the fans and, dang it, if I’d known what the heck everyone was singing, I’d have joined in with that, too! This was such a fun day, barring the almost broken nose incident. Now I just need to pick a team to start caring about. I’m thinking Liverpool, if only because that’s where The Beatles are from. And I wouldn’t be booed out of the stadium for wearing my red coat.
Have you ever been to an English football game? Who’s your team?