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Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ – New York Red Bulls

30 Jun

New York Red Bulls – 2

New England Revolution – 1

Major League Soccer – 10th June 2011

The much maligned British rail system does have a few things going in its favour. For example, the fact that the tracks are owned by one governing body, rather than individual companies, mean that if you want to get a ticket from – say – Glasgow to Southampton, you only have to buy one ticket. You don’t have to get one train ticket from Glasgow to Carlisle, then one to Manchester, then one to Birmingham, then one to Southampton. Admittedly it’s rather expensive, but it’s only one train ticket. Compare that to the 20 minute journey from Manhattan Island, New York to Harrison New Jersey, in which I had to buy three separate tickets. Even so, it was $6.25, which was nothing.

The reason anybody goes to Harrison is visible when you pull into the station, the Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls. Major League Soccer is growing in popularity in the USA, with large Hispanic communities and families with young children leading the charge. New York Red Bulls are one of the larger teams in the Eastern Conference of the Major League, growing in popularity since 2007, when the team (formally New York & New Jersey Metrostars)  was bought by Red Bull. The team became known as the New York Red Bulls, with a huge amount of rebranding and financing that saw them move stadiums, sign Thierry Henry, and generally improve their status. This has seen them as current Eastern Conference champions.

Being a minor sport, the club has to do a lot to get people through the door, and as such it was nice to receive an email hours before the game telling me of where the best places to drink (the Coors Light Beer Garden), some of the amenities on offer and a little bit about the game. Marvellous, as it really helped me when I arrived – I suggest more clubs in the UK do something similar to this.

Americans have much to learn about beer gardens

I arrived a couple of hours before kick off in the Coors Light Beer Garden. After being ID’ed 4 times I finally got a beer, unfortunately it was rather sparse. With only a few people there. I guess the concept of getting smashed is alien over here. Luckily I got speaking to a couple of individuals who had rather thick Birmingham accents. Turns out one of them was Luke Rodgers dad. For those unfamiliar with MLS or lower league football, Luke Rodgers career has seen him at Shrewsbury Town, Notts County, Crewe Alexandra, and now Thierry Henry’s strike partner at New York Red Bulls. Much beer and banter was had, and although I did try to sneak into the Skybox for a free beer and a photo with me and Henry, it didn’t happen. Instead I took my seat at the upper level, half way across for the game.

Luke Rodgers' Dad!

Another difference between football here and the UK is that drinking is practically encouraged here (in moderation), with each seat in the “premium section” having two beverage holders in front of them. Marvellous.

I made full use of it, then obtained my tea of chicken strips, chips and a couple more beers and was ready to watch the game.

God Bless America....

When the game began I was surprised. Not with the quality of the football, which was Championship to League 1 standard (with the exception of Thierry Henry), but for the passion of the fans. Without a national football identity the MLS (at least the Red Bulls) have adopted the best of many cultures. Its singing is reminiscent to the large Mexican & Mediterranean nations, with large roars when goals get in. The chants are deep and many are adopted from Europe (including a “England” chant for New England, which converted me into a Red Bulls fan), but yet it’s undeniably American, with the food, drink and pre game entertainment very American, although there was no need to keep the crowd interested during the game, as they were hooked.

(New) In-gur-land, (New) In-gur-land, (New) In-gur-land....

From the kick off, New York aggressively attacked the away end (I use that term lightly, the away fans were located in a small section of the ground in the upper tier), with Luke Rodgers forcing a few chances and a few missed crosses, but Revolution worked their way into the game, forcing a penalty on the 30th minute. A well struck penalty which was admirably saved by Greg Sutton. Following this, Red Bulls seemed to spur on, taking the lead 5 minutes before time when a cross from the right wing was turned into the net by Revolution’s Ryan Colchrane. Come the half time break, Red Bulls were 1-0 up.

It was here when a peculiarity of sporting events in the US was emphasised, with special “Nights”. Most games in baseball have games dedicated to a certain section of fans or have a themed night. Tonight in the Red Bull arena it was “Croatian Night”. Loads of Croatian tops were in attendance including a huge one in the stands to the right of me, and I was given a hand flannel by a delightful young native of Zagreb. Best of all though, was the parading on the pitch at half time by Croatian Legend Davor Suker, who announced a further linkup between New York and Croatia. Quite what exactly  the underlying meaning was for this meet up was I’m not sure, but even so, it was nice.

The World's Largest Breakfast Table Cover...

The second half begun with Ryan Colchrane compunding his already nightmare game. Thierry Henry danced the ball past him to slot the ball in the back corner. That boy was well above everybody else on the pitch, and was obviously one of the first picks for the MLS All Star Team. Zak Boggs however may have something to say about that with a 35 yard strike to reduce the deficit to one, but Red Bulls hung on to win the game 2-1.

Henry. Better than Everbody.

Following the game, I managed to get chatting to a few fans. Yes the game wasn’t the best quality (Henry aside, who probably could play with a ridiculous hangover and still be the best player on the park), but the atmosphere was electric, and considering MLS is one of the least promoted sports in the US, it’s quite refreshing to see amazingly passionate fans, which ironically you don’t seem to get at many other US sporting events (more on that in my next post).

"Our Home, Your Hell" - a fair reflection on New Jersey....

Then again, it’s worth remembering that I wasn’t watching a European match, instead I was in the Big Apple. I found a quicker way back to Manhattan than the ridiculous system I took to arrive at the stadium. On the train home I got chatting to a couple of Red Bulls fans about fantasy football, Swansea’s chances for the “BPL” (yes, it’s now the British Premier League over in the States), and had an overall intelligent conversation about New York. Almost a European conversation, until I emerged from the subway, and saw I was standing outside Ground Zero.

Overall, if you get a chance to watch an MLS game, do so. You’d be pleasantly surprised.

700th Anniversary Stadium – Chiangmai FC

28 Mar

The first guest post! The honour befalls John Wilson of John is a mate of mine from school, fellow Colwyn Bay Sheddite, and a United fan. Him and his girlfriend Jemma have been travelling the world for the last 3 months. Whilst in Thailand, he went to watch Chiangmai FC. Here’s the report.

Chiangmai FC – 1

Cash Today Chanthaburi FC – 1

Thai Division 1 League – 20th March 2011

Travelling for almost 8 months, we left with a very open mind and equally open schedule but what we both wanted to do form the start is to watch live sports where ever possible. The first opportunity came in Changmai, northern Thailand. This would be my first time watching a match outside of the UK (and Jemma’s first ever game) and we weren’t disappointed by the experience.

Arriving after a 30 minute Tuk Tuk ride from the centre of Changmai, which we managed to negotiate (while probably still getting ripped off) for £10 return, we were at the 700 Stadium in the centre of a sports complex including gyms, various sports courts and training facilities. Outside the pretty impressive stadium, we were greated with a large number of Changmai fans all stocking up on supplies for the game. Here, which we have since discovered, you don’t go at half time for a pie & a pint, you stock up and take it all in. You can buy a crate of beer and bags of ice to keep them cool and take them all in with you. You can also buy all sorts of food, Western snacks or Thai specialities, the choice is yours. We got ourselves a few beers, a Fanzine which is written in Thai so can’t read it and a Changmai FC scarf to show our support.

Thai Tigers. Thaigers.

Paying £1.80 each for the most expensive tickets including a small donation to the Japanese disaster fund, we went into the stadium and took our seats. We managed to sit on the halfway line, about 10 rows back and would have a great view of all the action. The stadium here has one large, mostly seated stand and 3 terraces around an athletics track. Pre-match formalities out of the way, including a minutes silence for the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami and the Thai national anthem the game was underway.

Respectfully observed minute silence.

The opening exchanges were scrappy, misplaced passes and first time control from both teams but the first opportunity for an opening goal fell to Chanthaburi, with their forward shooting and just missing the far corner with the keeper left scrambling. Early on, players from both teams were trying the patience of a very lenient referee who wasn’t in a hurry to hand out yellow cards. Petulant fouls here & there, play acting and time wasting still couldn’t draw a card.

Midway through the first half, Changmai escaped the first of two, what we both thought were clear penalty chances. A Changmai defender clumsily bringing down the Chanthaburi forward as he beared down one on one with the keeper. After that, both teams had the odd opportunity which neither could convert and the referee’s whistle brought to an end a pretty average first half of football. Most of the first halves entertainment came from the mascot and the drummers who tried their hardest to get the crowd going and to create an atmosphere.

Half Time: 0-0

Chiang Mai had some dodgy looking cheerleaders.

During half time, and as a result of our failure to prepare before the game left us sitting waiting for the game to restart. There wasn’t much in the way of half time entertainment but there was a few speaches and a presentation for the fundraising for the Japanese victims. Unfortunately, but as expected, the presentation was all done in Thai so we don’t know exactly what was said or how much it raised, but I’m sure it’ll all help.

The second half got underway and was much the same as the first half, a little scrappy but there was a little more pressure as Changmai seemed to grow with confidence. This improvement though didn’t deliver anything and again Chanthaburi looked more likely to score and it wouldn’t be long before they did. A mix up at the back allowed the Chanthaburi forward in on goal, and seeing the keeper off his line, he managed to lift the ball over him with a cheeky little chip. 1-0 to Chanthaburi.

Can Chiang Mai come back and win?

Needless to say, the Changmai fans went crazy, trying even harder to lift their team and even harder to attack the away team and as the second half progressed, the goal down Changmai continued further to press for a goal. A couple of good efforts, including a sweet long range effort from outside the box drawing a good save from the Chanthaburi keeper. In doing so, he became yet another injury of the game. By the end of the game, we would loose track of the amount of times both teams required the physio’s attention and between the physio & the stretcher teams of both sides, they probably covered more ground than either team player.

The game continued in the same manner, with the time quickly passing for Changmai to find the elusive equaliser and before long, the fourth official raised the board to indicate 5 more minutes of scrappy play which would surprise us both to be the best 5 minutes of the game. Changmai, who we’re fortunate not to give a penalty away in the dying moments of regular time for what from the stands was a clear penalty, a decision which further infuriated the away team bench, managed to float a freekick in from deep in their own half, a brief scramble in the box and the Changmai forward manages to get the ball across the line from no more than 5 yards out. Cue the celebrations from the home fans. The response was incredibly intense, much more than I’ve ever experienced in the UK and you could feel the relief of the home supporters.

The final whistle then blew straight after the restart. That wasn’t the end of the action though, it just meant the Chanthaburi bench could voice their frustrations on the referee for a poor performance which even as a Changmai fan for the day, he did make some poor decisions and probably deserved the police escort off the pitch as protection.

Final Score: 1-1.

The fans didn't care much for the ref.

To be honest, Changmai were lucky to just concede the one goal, they could easily have let in more had the 2 clear penalty claims had gone their way not to mention the close efforts in either half for Chanthaburi. None the less, passion for the Division 1 (semi-professional I believe) football team here in Changmai is extraordinary, even if the quality of play on the pitch is scrappy most of the time. Watching the game is certainly going to be a highlight of the trip and in the future a very good yard stick to measure other events we’ll be attending.

And that elusive question for a budget conscious traveler, was it worth the £20 or so for us both to have an evening out surrounded by noisy, quite possibly drunken Thai people? You bet it was.