BY CHARLIE HATCH
In American folklore, when the British redcoats came to Massachusetts in 1775 during the Revolutionary War, the message amongst the colonists was ‘one if by land, and two if by sea’. They came by land.
In mid-November 2015, it was the Americans who came to New York City by land, air or subway (or my trek via a 13-hour shoddy bus ride to China Town) to see the British — two of them, with friends — packed in a Brooklyn convention center to celebrate ‘BlazerCon’.
Redcoats were swapped for blazers (tweed ones were the most memorialised). Guinness was poured. Meat pies were consumed.
This was a modern-day revolution of sorts, only through ‘soccer’.
The footballing revolution is starting to grow in America. While the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the creation of Major League Soccer have given us a foundation, it’s broadcasting rights within the English Premier League and embarrassingly, FIFA video games, which have rapidly grown the sport’s popularity.
BlazerCon was supposed to be a celebration of such growth; where Michael Davies and Roger Bennett from the “Men in Blazers” podcast and television show produced the largest gathering of football’s heavyweights in the country’s history to discuss the game and its future.
Being in the presence of Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore back in England probably produces whistles and jeers as ‘modern football’ has engulfed the matches and clubs of yesteryear. (For the record, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest are unknown here.)
New York City greeted Scudamore with cheers and support for his focus on growing the league’s popularity worldwide (again, it can be argued at the expense of those who once walked the terraces and now sit in seats).
Scudamore’s visit, to us, acknowledged that we have an impact too. For supporters who’ve followed the league, a club or certain players over the years, it was much appreciated.
But to an outsider, or perhaps an English match day regular, the newfound appreciation could be considered snobbish or artificial.
The truth is, us Americans just don’t want to be left out. Clubs are supported with passion, even if it’s a newfound phenomenon.
NBC Sports Network, which owns the rights the Premier League broadcasts in the States, has been a massive contributor to the sport’s jumpstart.
Both Scudamore and executive producers from the channel said viewership was up 150 per cent from in the first three years broadcasting every match live either on television or through online streaming. This is NBCSN’s fourth season.
And to be honest, it’s apparent.
For Jack Hall, a Southampton season ticket holder who just moved to New York permanently in October 2015, he believes football in America only goes back essentially to the start of the broadcast rights in 2012/13.
Whereas back home in Southampton, Hall might converse with friends about the club from watching the Saints weekly, he might encounter fans Stateside wearing the new lime green away kit because it looks cool, or because Southampton has become a ‘hipster’ team to follow. (I have no doubts that Crystal Palace will be treated the same here shortly.)
‘It’s actually really, really cool’, he said of seeing Southampton fans and football fans alike embracing the game.
‘(Football’s) definitely more than underground. I feel like there’s a resistance from the main body of Americans, people who are big into basketball or (American) football, like the same way I would be if it was the other way around if I was in England’.
But at what point does curiosity become ignorance or snobbery? That’s the line American football fans struggle with.
Tony Wallwork is a Manchester United season ticket holder who attends every match at Old Trafford. At one point during our conversation, a United fan in a Juan Mata jersey walked over and joined the conversation.
‘You like Mata, do ya?’ Wallwork said in a thick Mancunian accent. The American fan didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
And that’s the issue.
Americans are new to this, and our fandom is ready to be exploited — at the cost of our embarrassment.
Hall used Manchester United as a case study.
It’s apparent the vast majority of supporters of arguably football’s biggest club don’t live in Manchester; nor do they attend matches. But does that mean they aren’t loyal fans? No, Hall said.
‘So all it is expanding that’, he continued. ‘There are Saints fans here who’ve never been to Southampton and it’s exactly the same thing. And anyone who says it’s not genuine, then you could say most of football isn’t genuine. It doesn’t take away from the towns in England who still support their clubs’.
Premier League support in America is in its infancy. The fact that I support Norwich City, a club ‘so miserable they dropped to the second tier’, is considered a phenomenon. (For the first time in five years, I met another Canary at BlazerCon.)
For the time being, we’re just trying to fit in.
So when Everton manager Roberto Martinez spoke to the Brooklyn crowd about team chemistry and financial strategies for the January window, he treated the American ears as if they were in Merseyside.
In a Brooklyn bar following the event, my sister, in her John Stones jersey, spoke to Bennett, one of the event’s hosts and a well-documented Everton fan, about the centre-back’s future as a Toffee.
Bennett just looked at her and gave her a hug.
It was a simple gesture, but its implications were clear.
Americans might be a little slower to the world’s game, but that doesn’t mean we don’t carry passion for the club crests on our shirts or scarves.
This is just the beginning of our revolution.
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