Traveling throughout England the past two weeks has made me feel alienated and welcomed at the same time. People go out of their way to help you if you ask, but I still feel I’m a tourist, never able to fully fit into the culture. I’ve chatted with locals about linguistic differences and the cuisines native to Britain. Finally I took in their sport.
I journeyed to Manchester with a group of three other guys to attend the USA vs. North Korea women’s football match. As the day progressed from London to Manchester, I began to feel more and more at home, beginning with an American couple waiting for the train with us.
They asked if we were joining them on the journey to the match, which we obviously were, decked out in full USA gear. They told us this is the only event they had tickets to before coming to England, yet they have managed to get tickets to several events since arriving. They taught me the valuable lesson of interacting with locals more than just passing glances. Many Londoners have extra tickets they are willing to give away to waiting foreigners, but without any contact you have no chance at nabbing admission.
The travel to Manchester was uneventful on the train, with half the group passing out after a long night. Arriving in Manchester brought more frenzied crowds of Americans completing the same pilgrimage as us. While waiting for the Metrolink (the city’s local street-car rail service) a pair of Brits approached us and told us not to buy tickets for the ride. They saved us a few pounds by telling us our game tickets are valid transport tickets also.
Not only did they help us save money, one of them wore an Alex Morgan jersey in support of USA Soccer. The American Invasion was almost complete. The jersey-wearer spoke of her excitement to finally see one of the world’s elite women’s football teams. Only Great Britain as an opponent would have stopped her from rooting for the USA women.
Arriving in the stadium is an experience, with nearly century-old entry gates adding to the history of the venue. Experiencing this with an American dominated crowd felt like an afternoon at Wrigley Field. Four out of five fans spoke with American accents. Never did I think I would hear more voices from home in England. For two glorious hours of football, it sounded and felt like a home match.
The greatest moment of the match was the National Anthem. In my career working baseball with the Fort Wayne TinCaps I have heard a couple hundred live renditions of our anthem. Never had I sung along or felt the impact of the words until hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play gloriously in Old Trafford. I had chills up and down my body, and I proudly sung every word. Chants of U-S-A throughout the match and the wave circling the stadium completed the picture perfect American sporting event.
Returning home finished out my American day, when we sat next to four people who follow @BSUattheGames on twitter, and most of whom live in Indianapolis. The group shared stories with us about their adventures in London, while we shared our fun, including having a local offer us free tickets while eating lunch (again it’s all about interaction and being in the right place at the somewhat right time). They made the entire experience of doing journalism around the games worthwhile, by telling us they follow our posts closely, checking up on our latest tweets.
I don’t know what adventures await me, but wherever I go I will make sure I say hello or strike up conversations with sports fans of all nationalities.