As Fall taps on our shoulders and scatters around the corner here in the States, the impending chase to catch it can only mean one thing: College Football. I recently received another story idea from a reader of EPL Talk asking to take a glance at the rituals of college football, more specifically, tailgating in America and compare them to those of the Premier League and English football in general.
Easier said than done because my first trip to England is still a month away and we’re contrasting two totally different cultures, but the reader’s email got me thinking again about the sense of community pertaining to soccer here in the US compared to that of other mainstream sports. Tailgating is always going to be an American tradition, but one of the questions I want to pose is, will soccer in the US embrace tailgating? On some level I’m sure it already has (more on that later), so how do pre match traditions in England compare to those in the US, if at all?
If you’re unfamiliar with tailgating in the US, it’s likely you’ve never visited the south. I live in Lexington, KY which is just about the exact ending point of the US South and pretty close to what would be the starting point of the North. Lexington is the home of the University of Kentucky and subsequently an entity called the Big Blue Nation – UK’s rabid fan base for collegiate sports.
Largely known for it’s basketball program, UK still somehow turns out some 70,000+ on Saturdays in the Fall to Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Kentucky Wildcats football team and no more than a ten minute drive from my home. On a normal game day in September, October, November or December, fans will start to gather at Commonwealth as early as 7:00 or 8:00 AM to start tailgating.
Tailgating in America can last 8-10 hours and is as big or sometimes bigger than the actual football game itself that lasts somewhere between 3-4 hours. Think of tailgating as the main party where the game itself is only an after thought.
Once a spot in the massive parking lot is secured, some of the best food, appetizers, snacks and to some, most importantly of all, beer and alcohol start to emerge. As the hours tick by and kickoff approaches, tailgaters become more drunk, more boisterous (sound familiar? – there’s a similarity), and the parking lot continues to fill. People of all types, sizes, ages and backgrounds occupy a massive lot that just a day ago was reserved for UK students attending class.
Tailgating in American has become a national pastime that in certain areas can easily rival baseball, going to the movies or staying in to watch TV. Trust me on this, some people plan their entire Fall seasons – major purchases, work, time off, vacations, weddings – around tailgating. Tailgaters spend loads of money in preperation and the local economy thrives. Tailgating like any other American tradition has evolved over the years from a few guys sipping beer and warming hotdogs behind their car to lavish sets, thousand dollar tents, HD TV systems powered by generators, enough food to feed three large families and enough beer to drink until one falls down.
So, what does this growing tradition have to do with the Premier League and English football? Well, not much of anything really, but that’s why it interests me. Why is this tailgating phenomena only popular in the US? In England, the more ritualistic fans likely wake up to a full English breakfast if the match is an important one, meet with friends and later head to the pub for pig snacks and beers until a 3 PM kickoff.
Unless I’m mistaken, the idea of tailgating doesn’t exist in England or anywhere else in the world for that matter, but why? Maybe it’s because of the usually dreadful weather, maybe it would be a logistical nightmare, maybe English grounds, particularly the older ones, don’t have large parking lots, or maybe it’s likely because of the troubled past of English football. Would large scale gatherings full of rabid fans drinking large quantities of alcohol just outside the grounds be tolerated in England? Doubtful.
Are you now starting to see a trend develop through both cultures? Can you notice a semblance of a common denominator between the two?
The English were drinking in Pubs before and after football matches long before a ball was ever kicked in anger in the US. They’ve got it down to a science, no, an art, and I plan on joining them upon my arrival. So, realistically the two countries share only two major threads in common when it comes to how their respective brands of football are experienced.
1. Both like to drink &
2. Both spend a lot of money enjoying the whole experience.
It’s as simple as that. Alcohol and spending enough cash to make it all happen.
Think about the English fan traveling to away matches all year long. Although it’s less likely a college football fan will travel more than once away because of the distance, the money spent would definitely be more or equal to that of the English fan because of the tailgating materials, season tickets, parking passes and food & drink.
Whether or not soccer here in the US will embrace tailgating is yet to be seen. In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter. Americans have already, to an extent, embraced the pub culture the English have perfected. The college football faithful will continue to invent new and expensive ways to out do their neighbors in the parking lots of University’s across the country while the cash and alcohol continue to flow, as will the English in their own way.
In review, and at the end of the day, I guess the two cultures aren’t that different after all.