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Welcome the Beautiful Game - Across the Pond


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by gmvillan

When I moved to America from Brum in August 1991 to begin my two-year college course, I never envisaged that, in 2007 I would be writing something for fellow Holte-enders embarking on possibly their first trip Stateside to watch the beloved claret and blue.

As I left for America Ron Atkinson had just taken over as manager with Andy Gray as his number two. My last game before leaving was a home game against “boring” Arsenal. I stood in my usual spot on the upper left-side of the holte. I feared that my two years in the USA was forcing me to miss the dawning of a new age. New manager, new players, a new optimism about the place…….. same chairman – I should have known better.

I’ve seen Villa about twenty times in the past 16 years. I’ve never sat on the holte end. Each time I come home I think about it, but it just seems somehow wrong to sit where I once stood. So, I always buy a ticket in the lower trinity, where I used to sit as a kid (before Dad said I was old enough to go on the Holte with my big brother).

Needless to say, I’m now living and working in America, with family and Aston Villa FC being the last two links that tie me strongly to the UK. Sure, I show passing interest in the fortunes of Barry-less England, but without Aston Villa, Mom & Dad, and my siblings, there’s not much else left.

For those of you who are planning on the trip to see the boys play Toronto and Columbus, (and didn’t make it over for the 1999 “Gotham Cup”)here’s a few things to expect at a sporting venue Stateside…..

1. Tailgating – a wonderful and unique pre-game, in-the-car-park (parking-lot) experience. Literally, you show-up hours and hours before kick-off, park your car and pull out a portable grill, then proceed to cook hot-dogs, hamburgers, chicken or anything else that can be grilled. In addition you’ll typically have a “cooler” full of ice-cold Budweiser which assists in washing down the food. Not everyone has a grill and not everyone has a cooler full of beer, but most people with have one or the other. In American football, tailgating is especially popular, with specific sections of the parking lots at the large stadiums reserved for RV’s (Recreational Vehicles – ludicrously large motor-homes) where you’ll see TV’s on, card-games in progress and all manner of frivolity. I cannot imagine this scale of partying for Villa vs. Toronto or Columbus, but you can certainly expect tailgating to be in abundance….. Find some drunks who’ve been there for a while (like me for example) and they’ll probably offer you food and drinks!

2. Singing & Chanting…..doesn’t happen….. OK, well it does, but to be honest it’s weak in the extreme, especially when compared with the imagination, depth and musical prowess in the typical English football ground. There are basically two chants. A) “let’s go blank-blank” (followed by five quick claps, or B) “Blank Blank sucks!” Essentially both of these “chants” are centered around five or three quick single-syllable claps. Go anywhere in North America and you’ll hear the same nauseating chants over and over again with the name of the local team or rival inserted….. When I brought my college “soccer” team to see Villa-Bolton in August 2005 they sat open-mouthed gazing at the Holte End, trying to figure out what was being sung to the tunes of Amazing Grace and My Old Man’s a Dustman….. I’ve been told that Toronto FC has the most passionate and European-esque fan-base in the MLS so I’m interested to see if they compare….

3. People stand up and walk around in the middle of the match – all the time!! My first soccer experience in the USA was England’s ill-fated tour with Graham Taylor in 1993 when Lalas scored a header and we lost 2-1 (thanks Chris Woods and Martin Keowngoal). By the end of it, as well as being entirely frustrated by England, I said I’d never go to another game in this country (I was at the World Cup twelve months later!). Food vendors walk up and down the aisle yelling at you, people decide to get up in the middle of the half to get a drink or to the toilet (bathroom) or 100 other reasons. It drove me nuts! “Sidddown! I can’t see the f**king game!!!” Once I experienced baseball, I understood why this is an American tradition – if you don’t stand up to buy drinks etc. at a baseball game then you will fall asleep…..

4. Booing Bad Referees – Ah, the international language….. same everywhere I’ve been! Trust me, they are just as bad here as Graham Poll and David Elleray. Although don’t expect any renditions of “Who’s the w**ker in the black” or “the referee’s a w**ker.” (see section 2 above). Here’s a couple of unusual quirks to the rule interpretations on this side of the Atlantic: 1) Drop-balls are virtually unheard of. Most referees will award a free-kick to the team who touched it last when they stopped the game. 2) A player who tries to kick the ball while he is on the ground will be penalized for “dangerous play.” Please don’t ask me why – I’ve been here 16 years and I still don’t get it…..

If the moderators allow, I’ll follow-up with some more general information as the dates get closer, including some things to expect and avoid (conversations about Bush for example) while over here. I’ll be at the games with a group of friends (we’re driving ten hours from the New York area) so needless to say, I’m looking forward to being amongst my own for a few days in late July….. Up the Villa.

an enjoyable read and I look forward to the extra info gmv. If you could include the lottery numbers so that I can pack in work I'll meet you for some tailgating ;-)

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Great article, but allow me to give the Toronto angle. This is Toronto's first season in the MLS and their arrival was greeted with some scepticism and even cynicism by the Toronto media. However, after selling 14,000 season tickets well before the season started (and 11,000 of those sold before Beckham announced he was going to LA), the scepticism began to fade. Six home games into the season and each one sold out along with all the remaining matches, by far Toronto sports' best and loudest atmosphere from an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd, and no one's mocking football's return after the demise of the Toronto Blizzard of the NASL some years ago.

1) Tailgating. There is tailgating in Toronto and I believe it's a new phenomenom for Canada as I certainly hadn't seen it at any other sporting events before - not that I'm in the habit of attending either baseball or the Canadian Football League (gridiron). There are usually about a 100 Toronto FC supporters in the car park having a good old booze-up and sing-song before walking into the stadium en masse. It doesn't seem to happen mid-week as everyone's too busy dashing from work through the rush-hour traffic just to make it in time for a 7pm kick-off, so I'm not sure that there'll be anything before the Villa match. However, check the car park on the east side of the ground. If there's a party going on, I'll be the one wearing the genuine 1982 Champions of Europe le Coq Sportif home shirt...even if it is now several sizes too small.

2) Lots of singing and chanting at TFC...admittedly most of it coming from the 'supporters end': the Canadian equivalent of terracing. Pretty authentic and knowledgeable too, including an abundance of "The referee's a w*nker" and tributes to TFC cult hero Danny Dichio! The rest of the crowd tends to be a little quieter, but the south end more than makes up for that. Not sure how much noise there'll be for the Villa match as not all of the TFC regulars may attend.

3) Food etc. All true...but you can also drink beer in the stands, and sometimes they even bring it to you. How's that for civilised! (Although two recent incidents of opposition players being pelted with beer after celebrating goals a little too close to the stands may curtail the flow of beer somewhat). The downside of so much beer is the queues for the toilets at half-time. TFC also offers chip butties which I am sure is unique at any North American sports stadium.

4) The officiating so far has been nothing short of abysmal and I don't imagine it will get any better. As for chants about referees, in addition to rousing references to them being self-pleasurers, there was a rather nice and more innocent "I'm blind, I'm deaf, I wanna be a ref " at the last match which had even the novices joining in.

In short, there's good atmosphere at TFC matches and good passion but no one's taking it too seriously...yet. This is a brand new team in a very-American league and the supporters know they're destined to struggle for a while. However, under Mo Johnston's leadership there's no shortage of effort on the pitch. Although the passion is increasing, many supporters seem to treat it as an afternoon at the pub except with entertainment.

The last match was against New York and there were quite a few Villa shirts around to see Juan Pablo. After attending approximately one Villa match per season while he was with us and never seeing him score in person, I suppose it was inevitable that I'd see him score twice against Toronto FC last week. He's a thought, a step, and a touch above the rest in this league. After the match he was quoted as saying:

"I must say this is the best ground I've played in thus far in MLS. The atmosphere was terrific. That's what soccer's about, that's what we want to see here in this league: passion and stadiums full. It was great, I really enjoyed today because it was a very good performance on the field and the support was great."

If this is a normal summer, expect a beautiful hot and humid evening with cooling breezes from Lake Ontario. With a nice view of the Toronto skyline and a few cold beers, there are far worse places to watch Villa...even if it is only a friendly.

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