Up Pompey: A Clueless American Sportswriter Bumbles Through English Football by Chuck Culpepper; Orion Books(UK Only)
I think it is hard being a fan.
When I first heard about this book, I wanted to read it because it was about my team. After I read it, I realized that it was not about Pompey, but about the journey of a man from a trained, neutral observer of all things sports in America to a supporter of a team he’d never heard of playing a sport he’d hardly ever noticed.
Chuck Culpepper moved to London after getting married. Twice-nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Chuck had become the London correspondent for his Los Angeles-based newspaper and was looking for stories. It was his ear that first brought his attention to Pompey. I can relate because the Pompey Chimes caught my attention as well.
The book is laid out chronologically. His journey begins near the end of the 2005-06 season as Pompey is struggling to avoid relegation. Known as “The Great Escape”, Harry Redknapp had returned from coaching the Scummers to save Portsmouth. They would go on to finish 17th, thus avoiding the drop. The passion of those fans caught Chuck Culpepper’s attention as he had never experienced American fans cheering for a team at the bottom of the table. His travels took him to several premiership matches, but it was always the Pompey fans that kept him coming back, either to watch Portsmouth on the road or to visit Fratton Park.
Who knew a blue bear could be so important?
Being an observant sportswriter, Chuck noticed a blue bear riding the train to Fratton Park. Okay, honestly, most of us would have noticed a blue bear. How could you not? After introducing himself, they spoke briefly and parted ways, except that you could spot him from across the stadium. Meeting him at several other matches, Chuck would go on to get adopted by this blue bear. This blue bear would teach him about the history and traditions of Fratton Park, the Pompey faithful, and most importantly how to handle a few beers in the pub before the match. It was this blue bear who would finally give him permission to use the word ‘we’ when referring to Pompey. Sportswriters don’t tailgate in America, but supporters in England must go to the pub before the match.
This book is aimed at the English Football Supporter that doesn’t understand how different sports are in America. As an American, it was fascinating to read his explanations of all the strange things we do in our sports. Comparing Manchester City and the Los Angeles Clippers is a great explanation, although as he points out, at least Manchester City has won something.
Written with self-deprecating humor, Chuck Culpepper’s bumbling adventure through the landscape of English football, from not understanding why he can’t walk up and buy a ticket to trying to figure out why someone would wear a blue bear suit not only to the match but to the pub before AND after a match, will show you just how we Americans view English football close up. What he came to realize was that he had missed all of the emotions involved in being a fan. That’s why it’s so hard to be a fan.