For those of you who missed any mentions, for the last week I was in London, England on vacation. I timed the trip around the San Francisco 49ers matchup with the Broncos, but also planned to use it to do some sight-seeing and hang out with some friends I hadn't seen in years. All in all the trip was a huge success and I'll post some pictures from the 49ers game sometime this weekend.
One of the experiences I enjoyed more than anything else was attending an Arsenal Premier League soccer match. I played soccer as a kid but abandoned it after about the age of six. In 2000 I saw the Major League Soccer championship match in Washington, DC as part of a college project. Other than that I've never been to a soccer match and seen very few. Nonetheless I was excited to go to this match with my friend who has season tickets to Arsenal. While I have certain teams I follow intently, I consider myself a broad sports fan. I'll watch football, baseball, basketball or hockey if there is an intriguing game on, even if one of "my teams" isn't playing. Hockey's tough for me on tv but I love it in person.
I mention all this because the Arsenal match was a chance to see a world class team in action. I won't dog on the MLS too much, but the level of talent is not comparable to the elite leagues across the globe. They're obviously more talented than I am, but minor league baseball players are also more talented than I am. I think many of us want to see the best do their thing, and MLS does not provide quite the same opportunity as the Premier League or one of the other top-flight leagues around the globe. It's probably one reason NFL Europe was not a huge success in Europe. My trip taught me that Europeans do like American football, but again, when you're not getting the top athletes in the world, fans are less inclined to really ramp up the enthusiasm.
Arsenal took on West Ham in the game I attended and won 1-0 on a goal in the 88th minute. Arsenal had numerous chances to score (VIDEO HERE) and when they finally did score, the place absolutely erupted. Given the paucity of scoring in soccer matches, I suppose I should not have been stunned by it, but the level of excitement still caught me off guard. As fans jumped up and down with each other it reminded me of celebrations following walk-off home runs in baseball. And the tension throughout the game as Arsenal looked to get a win against a team they were expected to beat was something to behold. It was a mere midseason matchup but it felt like an epic struggle throughout.
Since attending the game, I've been thinking I'd like to try and become a more frequent follower of Arsenal. I realize this is a 49ers football blog, but I bring this up at this point because of the comparisons one can make to when many of us were first deciding to become 49ers fans. For many folks, they were born into 49ers love as is the case for soccer fans in England. As LondonNiner put it when we grabbed lunch, he follows Tottenham because his family is a Tottenham family. He wasn't really going to get to choose another team.
I know some people around here have not been 49ers fans their entire life, while others have been 49ers fans since birth. I picked them as my team in the 80s when I was about five or six years old and didn't have my own team in Las Vegas. Now, for the first time since then I find myself potentially picking a new team to follow. One caveat on that first time is my fandom of the Oakland A's starting in 2003. I began working there and that led to my appreciation of the team so I don't consider that the same as picking a team to like.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand. For fans that have been 49ers fans your whole life, or at least since you were a kid, how do you view people who start to follow your team long after they had their chance to choose sides as a child? For the 49ers, new fans aren't exactly hopping on a bandwagon, so it's always appreciated seeing more fans. When I look at Arsenal, they're a team that is generally successful, finishing no worse than fourth in the Premier League and finding success in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. So there's certainly some bandwagon appeal there. I'd like to think that having attended a match, and having spent some time learning about the team, I could elect to become a fan and that would be that.
I just find it so interesting for me because it's such a rare opportunity as a sports fan, and particularly as a sports fan who doesn't jump on every bandwagon there is, but rather sticks with my teams through thick and thin. The 49ers really were the last team for which I "chose" to be a fan. I hear people who hop on bandwagons without fail. I look at LeBron James who has indicated he's a Cowboys and Yankees fan. Or recent Washington Nationals #1 pick Bryce Harper, who declared his favorite sports teams to be: Cowboys, Lakers, Yankees, Texas football, Duke basketball. I don't even know what to say about that. Kinda makes me want to puke.
It remains to be seen how closely I'll stick on this. One drawback in the US is that most of the matches are at the butt-crack of dawn on the weekend. I do think one way for me to try and actually keep this newfound fandom alive would be to find an Arsenal pub where I can enjoy the matches with other people. I caught the Tottenham-Inter Milan Champions League match on Tuesday night at a pub in London and the excitement of everybody made the game that much more fun to watch. It remains to be seen if I have the discpline to watch the games all the way through on my own. Thankfully I did find some Bay Area Arsenal fans, so we'll see how that works out.
Outside Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal
Emirates Stadium isn't a monstrous place but it's very nicely built. Wembley was better on Sunday for the 49ers game, but Emirates is very solid.
Betting Booth inside the stadium
This was probably the most amazing aspect of the game. They have a booth inside the stadium where you can bet on the game. It stays open throughout the game so you can bet on all sorts of possibilities ranging from final score to when will Player X score a goal. Roger Goodell (or any American sports commissioner) would have a heart attack at seeing this.
Our betting slip
First off, you just write down what you're betting on. In Las Vegas they have fill in the bubble cards which are a bit more structured. I didn't see if you could be on Arsenal just to win or to cover a spread (I'm sure it was available), but the most prominent action was in predicting the final score. My buddy and I bet (and lost) £5 on Arsenal to win 3-1.
This guy got up fairly quickly a few moments after this picture and was back in action as if nothing was wrong. The injury faking is one of my biggest complaints about soccer at this point, although it can be funny seeing the sell job by some of these guys. What I like even more is the fact that the fans boo almost every injury. I'd imagine they're almost conditioned to these guys faking it. You almost NEVER see crazy crowd reactions to injuries in American sports until the obligatory applause after a player gets up and is helped off. In soccer the fans are vicious about injuries.
Injured Player with Stretcher
This guy actually was a little bit hurt as they even brought out the stretcher for him. He ended up walking off the field with a little bit of help but was more injured than the guy above.
I didn't get my camera out fast enough to get a picture closer to the goal happening and at this point the celebration was starting to break up a bit.
Like the picture above, I didn't get this picture quickly enough and the celebration had started to die down.