| The game in America is totally devoid of the passion, pace and aggression which make for great football
I was a bit wary about going to watch professional football (or soccer as the deluded Yanks call it), but my friends are regular Chicago Fire attendees and they persuaded me to give it a go.
I find it somewhat galling to call a club after a disaster, such as the blaze that decimated the city. You wonder how long it takes for something like that to become acceptable. How many generations before you have a side called the Hiroshima Nukes or the New York Nine-Elevens'
I love and miss football, so why am I so reticent' Well, for starters, Chicago Fire don’t actually play in Chicago, but at the Cardinal Stadium in Naperville, which is 45 miles away. They previously shared Soldier Field with the American Football team the Chicago Bears, but this ground is currently being redeveloped.
Fire aren’t expected to return until next season, so, for now, every game is an away game. It’s a bit like Hearts playing their home fixtures at Ibrox in Glasgow. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.
The whole experience is something that all apologists for British football’s new order should see. It’s a television-friendly spectacle with lots of children, women, and ‘characters’ done up extravagantly in the club colours.
It has ritual chanting on demand with a complete absence of the F-word.
There is a distinct lack of liquored and testosteroned-up groups of working-class males. In short, it’s a sterile, bland and almost stultifyingly boring experience.
The school-sports atmosphere seems to transmit to the players and the game itself is totally devoid of the passion, pace and aggression which make for great football.
The process of transforming the great, urban, working-class game of Association Football into a middle-class suburban pastime is well advanced in Britain. We, too, now have greenfield stadiums built for the car, with not a pub in sight, television-led sponsorship and an influx of yuppie nouveaux supporters, while so many of the people who followed our clubs through thick and thin are priced out of the game.
Thankfully, we have a long way to go yet before it ever gets as saccharine as it is here in America.
The signs are ominous as soon as we get into Naperville. It’s a college city, serving the Northwestern University. In fact to call it a city, as it does itself, is a ridiculous concept. This place is a suburb to its fingertips, a dull strip-mall hell where everything is in its place and there is a place for everything.
It is the sort of place that I would never wish my worst enemy to end up in.
We actually do manage to find one pub quite near the ground and proceed to get lashed before gaining entry. I had a feeling that anaesthetic might be required for this experience. Naperville’s Cardinal Stadium holds about 6,000 to 7,000 and it fills up completely on match days, so you need to purchase tickets in advance. The college football team uses the stadium and the pitch still has the American Football lines running clearly under the Association Football markings. It may not have confused the players, but it irritated me, particularly when play was on the wings.
There is a brass band, accompanied by a squad of irritating nerds who persist in a chanting so unimaginative the entire effect conspires to make the followers of Livingston FC seem like the coolest dudes in town.
I’m trying not to be disrespectful to my friends who are really into their team, but this is not the football experience, as I know it. My girlfriend picks up the vibe, though, and, while she’s big enough to say that the New Year 4-4 draw at the Edinburgh Derby she enjoyed with me was a completely different experience, she still gave me a hard time.
“You know the Ugly American, that boorish person who travels and wants everything to be like it is in the States'” she quizzed. I grimaced in acknowledgement, knowing what was coming next. “Well, you’re the Ugly Scotsman, nothing anywhere is as good as it is over in Britain.”
She then produced a list of all the things I’ve cited as better, which was quite humbling, as I’d never realised that there were so many.
It made me understand that we can all be chauvinists and I am perhaps too ready to point my finger on occasion.
But this is football, something too important to be interfered with by people who don’t have it in their soul. Don’t get me wrong; as somebody who was a spotty youth when he last threw a punch in anger at a football ground, I’m not advocating a free-for-all return to the mass violence of the 1970s and 1980s, where the stadiums were combat zones.
If America, with its gun culture, imported our hooliganism, well, you can forget Vietnam. But so much of life has been sanitised and football should still be a place where you can go with your pals, get drunk, be abusive (what else, after all, are refs, other teams’ players and rival fans for') and generally act the clown.
This suburban phenomenon wasn’t even always like that in America. The first cultural impetus in the American domestic league came from football-daft Central and South American immigrants. They’ve been marginalised though, as the Wasp ‘Soccer Mom’ now rules the roost.
Let’s hope that this is one American trend we’re not daft enough to copy. I never thought that I would say this, but over here I prefer the baseball. At the Sox or the Cubs I can get a drink and hang out with my buddies. I can also indulge in some casual, mildly profane observations without some tub of lard in a tracksuit turning round and pursing at me as if I’m a child molester.
There are certain things that we do better than America and the beautiful game of Association Football is certainly one of them. Let’s keep it that way.