After getting a taste of real soccer with Real Madrid-Barcelona, I think I’ve joined the millions of non-Americans addicted to the sport. One game wasn’t enough – I need more.
Hmm… Manchester United vs. Manchester City. Yeah, that should work.
Just like Phoenix Landing, Banshee Pub in Dorchester is already mostly full when I arrive early Monday afternoon, and by game time the bar is packed. United fans wear bright red, City fans sky blue. Sometimes the teams’ fans intermingle, sometimes they sit amongst themselves.
Historically, Manchester United has been the far better team. They’ve won their league (Football League First Division until 1992, Premier League ever since) 19 times, including last season. Manchester City, by comparison, has won it twice: 1937 and 1968. The two teams had played the Manchester Derby 162 times before Monday’s matchup, and United had gone 68-44-50.
“Manchester City, they’re kind of like the New York Mets of England,” says Jon Martin, a BC Law student from North Carolina.
Whenever one team in a rivalry repeatedly succeeds and the other repeatedly fails (Yankees-Mets, Lakers-Clippers), a rivalry can turn nasty. Red Sox fans know all about that, especially before 2004. United and City fans know all about that, too.
“I’ve never met a United fan that I respect,” says Evan Grondksi, a City fan from Providence.
“As an American, you can tell that most of them don’t really know much about the game,” Grondski continues. “They’re the kind of people who would go to the casino and root for the house. I don’t really think there’s any real soul or passion.”
As much as City fans may dislike United fans, United fans hate City fans right back.
“I feel bad for them,” says Eliot Cohen, a United-fan IT guy from South Boston. “It’s sad, really. They exist just to hate Manchester United.”
Between the mutual misanthropy of the fans, a match-up between the top two teams in the English Premier League, and soccer superstars like Wayne Rooney (who looks like a cross between Matt Smith from Doctor Who and an English bulldog), this could be another spectacular soccer experience. Everyone in Banshee Pub breaking into screaming applause when the players walk onto the pitch – they haven’t even kicked a ball yet – makes me all the more hopeful.
“It’s gonna be a loud room,” warns Jake Goisman, the biggest soccer fan I know who also has the same parents as me.
The room does indeed get quite loud, but most of the match is a hodgepodge of badly exaggerated injuries, badly placed passes and badly missed shots on goal.
“United’s sitting back, hoping for the draw,” says Josh Robison, an athletic training and physical therapy major at BU. A draw would leave United in charge of the EPL.
Overall, a pretty dull game for the 650 million watching:
Vincent Kompany‘s header gives City a 1-0 victory and (for the moment) first place in the EPL with two games left. City fans finally feel optimistic fore the first time in 40+ years.
“We’re top right now, so we just can’t lose,” says Justin Gamble, a social worker and City fan from Dorchester. “We win, we’re good.”
Throughout the game, the crowd grows increasingly restless, increasingly frustrated with both teams. Neither side seems particularly interested in the game. And when EPL fans get frustrated, they get vulgar. After all:
No one quite matches that gentlemen’s gift of the gab, but they do put together some truly horrific strings of profanity. Threats of bodily harm, very nasty words for women, f-bombs in grammatically mysterious parts of sentences – I’m not a prude, but I think even Louis CK would say, “Tone it down a bit.”
“You fucking wankers!” is the most vulgar expression I’m comfortable repeating, but trust me: I heard much, much worse.
I don’t remember so much cursing watching Real-Barca a few weeks ago. Both teams’ fans just seemed too happy to swear like that. When a team scored a goal, fans jumped up and down, sang and danced. Smiles and high fives all around. They were having fun.
Now, neither league’s style of play is better than another, nor do I “blame” the EPL for its fans’ more “colorful” language. How a team carries itself determines how their fans carry themselves, and the EPL’s fans perfectly match the league’s attitude.
“The intensity and the heart that [EPL players] play with, and the physicality … I think Americans especially identify with this league the most,” Gamble says.
Maybe. And maybe we just like getting angry about sports. At Banshee Pub, shouting replaced singing, closed fists replaced random hugs, desperation replaced pleasure. A need to win took the place of the joy of the game.
Spanish soccer is the “beautiful game.” English soccer is the “only game.”
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed watching the Manchester Derby, and I enjoyed watching it at a packed bar of undeniably passionate soccer fans, both foreign and domestic.
So if you’re trying to get into international (aka “good”) soccer, ask yourself whether you’d prefer perfect passing or physicality and contact. Ask yourself whether you want to experience soccer’s joy or its rage. Ask yourself whether you’d rather learn a few curse words you didn’t know existed or have total strangers, probably already sweaty from jumping up and down, bear hug you.
You can’t go wrong either way.
Matt Goisman is going to write about a game each and every week from America’s #1 city for sports: Here. We’re calling it 52 Games, because that’s what we’re going to end up with. Last week Matt watched the Boston Cannons’ season opener at Harvard Stadium. This week, he returned to Banshee Pub for Manchester United-Manchester City soccer. Next week: baseball with the Northeastern Huskies! Keep up with him here.