Finally I have been to a football game in the USA. It was at Citifield in Queens; a baseball stadium and home to the New York Mets.
After buying my ticket ($30), I chatted to a couple of NYCFC fans wearing what to me seemed at first glance to be Manchester City tops. The two clubs share the same owner and colours.
They asked me which Premier League team I supported. My how I laughed as I pointed out my ‘We want our Charlton back’ badge and explained. I’m married to a team currently punching below it’s weight in England’s third rung.
As for the baseball ground setting of the match, it was all slightly discombobulating, and as such exactly the unusual experience I’d hoped for.
NYCFC usually plays at the Yankies stadium in the Bronx and here they were in Queens. The team’s fans were wearing what at first glance appeared to be Manchester City tops, they sold hot dogs in the stands and you could drink beer whilst watching the game (though a sign stated alcohol sales stopped at 70 minutes).
Pre match routine
My pre match warm up entailed a late lunch at a neighbourhood Mexican.
I knocked back a couple of Corona beers & enjoyed a chicken burrito; paying a modest $20 for the pleasure. All in all a decent enough substitute for a pre-match pint of IPA at the Oak in the shadow of the Valley SE7.
Fuelled and ready, I made my way to the stadium. This was a journey which entailed walking by enormous car parks designated for fans arriving at Citifield.
A smile crossed my face as I noted how parts of the parking had become a temporary picnic zone.
Football fans of all ages had parked up, some planting NYCFC flags and many bringing out tables, coolers and picnics to enjoy ahead of the game.
They had plenty of time. Kick off was, I thought, billed as being at 4pm. The match didn’t start then.
Can we start now?
Instead, 4pm was marked by the countdown clock suddenly adding on another 20mins & groundsmen feverishly watering the pitch.
The teams eventually came out through a tunnel of honour provided by uniformed members of NYPD and NY Fire Dept.
Then there was a rather splendid rendition of the star spangled banner and a guest sponsor pushed a button to trigger smoke to explode from funnels. This last act is it transpires the signal for the referee to blow his whistle.
Without doubt Major League Soccer was excelling in ensuring an OTT American style intro to the game. They even provided a big screen expert commentator to explain how important the match was.
And now some football
The crowd wasn’t exactly whipped into a frenzy, but there was a decent atmosphere. There were even some moments of baiting the opposition fans, who seem to number about 100.
Oh, by the by, the opposition was Colombus Crew.
And when the sport did eventually got underway it was a decent enough affair. The atmosphere magnified by the use of amplified sound and large screens repeating the action.
The stadium made for weird angles of seating round the football pitch. Subs warmed up between the benches and the stand rather than along the touchline.
It was honours even at 1-1 by halftime.
Meeting the locals
NYFC had also only sold the lower level seats of the Mets home. It must be quite a place when there’s a capacity baseball crowd.
I’d hoped for some banter with home fans but there wasn’t anyone sitting next to me, or in front of me to chat to. I did however trade a few football comments with the man sitting behind me.
He rather quickly shifted the topic to the arts and told me he had once worked at a fetish club in London. Call me narrow minded if you will, but I found this angle of discussion a bit off topic and didn’t turn round to chat with him much after that.
Heading to final whistle
For the final ten minutes of the game I took a stroll around stadium at the balcony level.
It’s like walking around the area beneath the stands at Brighton’s Amex stadium, as you can do a complete circle of the pitch. The difference between Citifield and Falmer is that in Queens you can see the pitch as you stroll around.
That atmosphere was most animated behind one of the goals, which the more strident NYC fans had nominated as their home end for the day, drums and all.
On the pitch, by injury time at the end of 90 minutes it was 2-2. NYC captain and local hero David Villa stepped up to take a last gasp penalty to seal the win and get his hat trick.
The fairytale ending was not to be though as Captain Villa’s effort was saved and the points shared. Honours even a fair result, though New York had dominated possession.
I headed back to the subway, as the sun was setting on an interesting afternoon at Citifield. The NYCFC fans I met who had promised me I’d enjoy the game were right. That said, they wrong on one important count, it was football being played and not soccer.