I received a call from a friend back in July of ’08 about an opportunity to attend a sporting event I had never experienced before and was a little skeptical as to if I would have a good time. I needed to give an answer right away to get tickets so I used Katt Williams’ logic that “Life is too damn short” to make my decision easier and go. This wasn’t a football, hockey, baseball or even basketball game. It would be my first and last since then, soccer game. It just so happened that the soccer team I rooted for was going to be on a U.S. tour for a few days. FC Barcelona is the team I am talking about and it, at the time, was loaded with superstars such as Samuel E’to, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, and my current favorite player then, Ronaldinho. Had I turned this opportunity down I would have missed out on a rare chance to experience an out of this world atmosphere. Barcelona would go on to win the Champions League in the 08-09 season, which basically made them the best club team in the world that year.
The game’s start time was 7 p.m. on a Sunday night in September and their opponent was Chivas de Gudalajara out of Mexico who I was well unaware of. The venue was to be Soldier Field in Chicago, which is located across the street from the Field Museum and a short walk from Lake Michigan. The capacity of Soldier Field is near 61,500 people.
With excitement for the game and work awaiting Monday morning at 10, my three companions and I set off Saturday night for Lacrosse to get a head start on the 6 hour drive that lay ahead. The morning beckons and for breakfast are a few bowls of cereal before the road trip continues. Give or take 4 hours later we make it to Chicago which is a change for 4 kids from a city of 8,320. Getting to the parking garage is a little hassle, but we manage and unload our grilling materials. Let me tell you that the grilling area that we ended up in was no Miller Park. Anyways we make do and cook some brats and kick around a soccer ball in the spirit of the atmosphere and have a good time.
45 minutes before game time we return the grill and materials to the car and head for the gates. Soldier Field has an old rustic, coliseum look to it from the front, but the inside is modern and up to date. On the inside there are $5 hotdogs, $7 beers, and vendors trying to sell off overpriced merchandise just as any other stadium, just in a different language this time. We find our seats in the third deck and wait for warm-ups. I might be under exaggerating when I say that the crowd was 85-15% in favor of Hispanics, but we were far in the minority like the United States in 20 years.
Believe it or not the warm-ups were entertaining because of the skill level and superstars on Barcelona. Speaking of that I forgot to mention that Ronaldinho was transferred 3 weeks before the match and Lionel Messi was off training with Spain for the 2010 World Cup. With the disappointment of that, the game still lived up to the potential. Barcelona ended up winning 5-2, with all 7 of the goals being highlights (see link--> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxIBl0_vbyU).
Almost as entertaining as the game was the atmosphere at the stadium. It had to be near 85% full and the place was rocking from start to finish. You think the fans for the Seahawks or Michigan Wolverins are loud but tryout a soccer game at a neutral site with the home fans both being thousands of miles away. Being a previous owner of a vuvuzuela, I know how fun they are until one person, or a whole stadium constantly blows them all the time for no other reason than to intimidate the opposing fans who are blowing them right back. Also, I learned soccer fans (whether you believe it or not) or the most ruthless, dedicated fans in sports that I have ever seen. They don’t just cheer because of a strikeout, or a touchdown, or a big hit, but they cheer just because they are in the stadium. Their clubs have firms which are dedicated fans who fight the fans of the other teams just for the sport and apparently these two clubs had firms in the stadium because a ruckus broke out late in the game in the south end zone over who knows what.
With all of that being said, Barcelona put on a show and won 5-2 which I consider a success for my first soccer or fútbol experience. We took in the last few breathes of the pristine cut grass and headed for home and work. It is still a wonder to me as to why Americans do not accept soccer like they do the other 4 major sports or even Nascar. Soccer games, like hockey games, are definitely events that need to be attended in person to receive the full experience, but the atmosphere is unreal and unlike a baseball game that can run 4 hours, soccer games will almost always be under 2 hours. As I end this piece I would like to let you know again that I had a great time and I would recommend it to anyone, fan or not, to add a soccer game to their bucket list.
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