Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Much better news today

Vancouver is getting a Major League "Soccer" team!

It ain't no English Premier League, but it's the highest standard of football available in North America!

My Dad took me to my first ever Newcastle United game when I was ten. I'm a third generation fan on one side, fourth on the other, and he felt it was time to begin my education (thanks for the twenty-odd years of pain, Dad). He even managed to talk his way into the dressing room before the game, so I got to meet my hero Peter Beardsley (and other members of the team, including a very young and hungover-looking Gazza), and we beat Southampton 2-0.

I instantly loved it - being part of a crowd, the singing and chanting and cheering and jumping up and down, the banter, all of it. I once took a friend to a Scotland-South Africa rugby game in Edinburgh - she hated sport but thought that she "should go and see what it's all about" - and while she spent most of the game shivering and sulking, she came to life as Scotland pushed for the line, recycling the ball over and over, and eventually scoring a try through sheer bloody-minded perseverance. As the whole stadium leaped to its feet and roared, she admitted that she could see the attraction. But I've always felt it - tens of thousands of people (and thousands or even millions more in front of their TVs) uniting in one wish that, if fulfilled, causes an outburst of pure joy and elation and causes strangers to hug and grown men to declare that they love each other.

My Dad and I went a few more times while I was growing up in York, about a 90 minute drive away. An evening game against Norwich (we won 4-1) and a quite terrifying cup game against Wimbledon (we lost 3-0) stand out in the memory - the latter occasion was the one and only time I ever stood, and being at about head height to the concrete barricades, with TV images of Hillsborough still fresh in my mind, I did not particularly enjoy it. The drive back up to Ashington in my Dad's cousin's van was equally harrowing.

Then, when I was eighteen, I moved back to the region of my birth to attend Newcastle University, and lived within sight and sound of the magnificent St James' Park stadium during the Keegan era of the late 1990s. I was in heaven, even though it was almost impossible to get tickets and I only got to go to a game once a year or so. (My favourite experience was when a friend of my then-boyfriend asked me, in a very patronising voice, "is the stadium bigger than you'd expected?" His expression got more and more surprised as I answered "well, it's really improved since I first came here nine years ago, the corners have filled in, they've added the extra tiers, and of course there's no standing section any more. And I hear the dressing rooms have really improved since the time I got in there to meet Peter Beardsley").

The only time I've ever got tickets since, with Mr E Man in tow for his first ever Premiership game, the fixture was cancelled 20 minutes before kick-off, due to snow. We got to see Alan Shearer throw a snowball though. Mr E Man opined that he threw like a girl, which almost caused my Dad and me to abandon him to his fate at the hands of 50,000 irate Geordies, but we chose the path of light and my Dad explained loudly "it's alright, he's Canadian".

In contrast, the Vancouver Whitecaps have never aroused the same feelings of tribal passion, despite links to Newcastle through the likes of Beardsley, Bobby Robson, and (much less impressively, although he's a decent keeper), Tony Caig. I've been to a couple of special occasion games - the Beckham spectacle, and a pre-season visit by Newcastle's bitter rivals, the Mackem Bastards Sunderland. Bolstered by body guarding support from Mr E Man and another burly friend, I wore my Newcastle shirt, and with one exception (the drunk angry guy who tried to write on my shirt in red pen), had a grand old time bantering with the opposing fans (best observation: "did you know you've got shit down your shirt, love?"). The football has always been of poor quality (although the 'Caps destroyed Sunderland - heh!) and of secondary importance to other distractions. Including the fact that you're allowed to drink beer at your seat!

But my one experience with MLS - a Columbus Crew game in 1997 - leaves me optimistic that the standard of football in Vancouver is about to improve to the extent that I will actually want to go and watch a regular season game. (Back then I found the MLS standard to be somewhere between Newcastle and York City, who I've seen once, and never again, although hopefully the MLS (and York City) standard is rising). I'll definitely give it a try, dragging friends and/or nephews along with me if necessary. No doubt the new team will be significantly cheaper and easier to see than the Canucks (who are hopefully streaking their way into a decent play-off run as we speak. Getting to the second round this year would be nice, guys...)

To be continued... in 2011...

6 comments:

  1. I already have a date to go and see a game with a Dutch friend and her two young sons! We might even go before 2011.

    Maybe.

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  2. I hate it when besotted sports fans say 'we' won or 'we' lost, when they are no more than spectators.

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  3. Well, fair enough.

    BUT I think you're ignoring the very nature of sport. It's a tribal thing, and I assert that a team IS a "we". It's a living entity made up of current and past players and management, fans in the stadium and watching at home, the stadium itself, a sense of belonging, of history, of civic/regional/national pride, of family ties, and all that.

    Of course the tribal nature of sport can also be a negative - when I lived in Glasgow I was all too aware of the nastiness behind the Celtic-Rangers rivalry. But in a single team city where one sport is king (Newcastle-football, Vancouver-hockey), you get a real sense of the "we" in sport. During the Keegan years, the mood of the city of Newcastle matched the football results. Friends from outside the region who supported other teams said they'd never seen anything like it. Friends who didn't follow sport at all would notice it and comment on it. ("Everyone seems really cheerful today, did Newcastle win last night or something?"). When the Canucks are in the play-offs, Vancouver has a frenetic energy to it. The bus drivers change their electronic destination boards so that the route number alternates with "Go Canucks Go!". People with team shirts / car stickers and flags smile and wave at each other.

    It is a "we".

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  4. Hahahaha, in that case you can't say 'we' won the war. Or 'we' instituted civil rights or whatevertheheckelse. Tribal group identity leads to us claiming pride over a ton of shit we had nothing to do with personally. I see no reason why not to apply to sports, where by purchasing tickets and providing moral support we provide a lot more to the team victory than say, a group of senators passing a bill.

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  5. RPG, my "we" is 9th. Shame, we used to be somewhat decent. I used to go once a month or so when Tony Underwood and Rob Andrew were in the team - I got to meet the Underwoods' famous Mum in the queue for hot drinks once. She is awesome! Oh, I also met Tim Rodber and Martin Johnson. I thought Rodber was tall until Johnson came out...

    Hermitage, quite! And when it comes to war, civil rights and (proper) football, it is hard to say which is the most important of the three.

    (That was obviously a joke. Everyone knows that there's nothing more important than football).

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